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Special education
D.O. v. Escondido Union School District Case No. 19-56043 – Federal Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit New
Member(s) Involved: Escondido Union School District
Current status and/or outcome:
The ELA filed an amicus brief before the Ninth Circuit on May 6, 2020. The parties await the court’s decision.
Importance of statewide issue:
While school districts must provide FAPE to eligible students, this case provides an opportunity for judicial guidance regarding when a procedural violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) might constitute a denial of FAPE to a student.
Summary of the case:
Plaintiff student sued Escondido Union School District for a denial of FAPE, primarily based on a procedural violation of the IDEA. Student alleged that he was denied a FAPE because of a four-month delay by the school in offering to conduct an autism assessment after the school learned of a children’s hospital assessment that indicated the student met criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that (1) the four-month delay was not a procedural violation because it was a reasonable delay, and (2) even if it was a procedural violation, the student failed to prove that it denied him FAPE. The district court overturned the ALJ’s ruling, finding that the student was denied an educational benefit since his IEP goals “were likely inappropriate [during the delay] because they were made without sufficient evaluative information about his individual capabilities as a potentially autistic child.” The court found that because the district waited four months to begin the process of gathering information that might reflect an autism diagnosis that reflected different needs than the existing IEP, it was impossible for the district to provide FAPE.

On appeal before the Ninth Circuit, Escondido USD argued that the district court essentially ruled that a procedural violation alone was a per se denial of a FAPE, contrary to current law under which a procedural violation would be held to deny a student a FAPE only if it denies the student an educational benefit or opportunity or if it seriously infringes on a parent’s right to meaningfully participate in the IEP formulation process.