Mr. M. ex rel K.M. v. Ridgefield Bd. Of Educ

United States District Court, D. Conn.

2007 WL 987483 (D.Conn. Mar. 30, 2007)

This special education decision serves as a warning to school districts regarding the consequences of failing to include parents in the IEP process. In this case, the parents sought reimbursement for private school placement on the ground that the school district denied their daughter an appropriate education and denied the parents the right to participate meaningfully in the IEP process. The hearing officer did in fact find that the district violated certain IDEA procedures– inter alia failing to hold a timely annual review at the end of first grade and failing to include the parents in the final second grade IEP meeting, during which the school rejected the parents’ previous request for a private placement. However, the hearing officer found that despite the procedural violations, the child was not denied FAPE during either school year and she was making some educational progress. Accordingly, the hearing officer determined that the parents were not entitled to reimbursement for the private school placement.

The district court reversed the hearing officer’s determination in part and held that the procedural violations during the second grade school year deprived the child FAPE. The court zeroed in on the fact that the district improperly held an IEP meeting without the parents. (The school and the parents could not agree on a date for the IEP meeting after the parents indicated they wanted to bring their attorney.) The court held that a school may not proceed with an IEP meeting absent the parent unless the school had been “unable to convince the parents that they should attend,” and the school could produce “a record of its attempts to arrange a mutually agreed on time and place, such as … telephone calls … correspondence … and … visits made to the parent’s home or place of employment.” See 34 C.F.R. § 300.322(d)(2006); 64 C.F.R. 12587 (1999).

The school district argued that the parent’s absence did not deny the child FAPE because the parent’s lack of participation did not result in the child losing an educational opportunity. The court rejected the district’s argument, reasoning that the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents must have the ability to participate in the educational decision-making process. The court also reasoned that the majority of federal circuit courts have held that “substantive harm occurs when the procedural violations in question seriously infringe upon the parents’ opportunity to participate in the IEP process.” See Knable v. Bexley City Sch. Dist., 238 F.3d 755 (6th Cir. 2001); Adam J. ex rel Robert J. v. Keller Indep. Sch. Dist., 328 F.3d 804 (5th Cir. 2003); C.M. v. Bd. Of Educ., 128 Fed. Appx. 876 (3d Cir. 2005); M.L. v. Fed. Way Sch. Dist., 394 F.3d 634 (9th Cir. 2005); Blackmon v. Springfield Sch. Dist., 198 F.3d 648 (8th Cir. 1999).

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