School district's failure to provide assessment data to parents is a denial of FAPE
On October 1, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals re-affirmed the important and critical role parents play in the IEP and evaluation process. In M.M. v. Lafayette School District, the 9th Circuit found the District violated the IDEA by not sharing assessment data with parents before finding a student eligible for special education.
The Court noted: “A core principle throughout the IDEA is meaningful participation by parents and informed parental consent, making the parents an integral part of the team that determines both whether the child is a child with a disability and the content of the child's IEP. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400(c)(5)(B), 1414(a)(1)(D), 1414(b)(4)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 300.306(a)(1).”
It is not enough for the parents to simply be at the meeting and consent to the evaluation or services. The parents’ participation must be meaningful. The school cannot get meaningful participation without providing parents with assessment data. Without assessment data and appropriate records, any consent obtained by the school is not informed consent. Any IEPs based on that consent may deny the student FAPE.
The student, C.M., qualified for special education following an evaluation conducted by the school district. However, when the IEP team met to decide on eligibility, the school did not share assessment data with the parents that was taken before the evaluation.
As part of the school’s monitoring process, all students were given a few tests to assess their reading readiness. School personnel met to discuss the results of the assessments for all students including C.M.
After C.M. was on an IEP for about 2 years, they filed a due process complaint with a number of claims including that the original evaluation was not valid.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the District failed to follow the IDEA by not providing the parents with the data from those assessments at the evaluation meeting. This is a procedural violation of the IDEA. The parents were not even aware the data existed and they did not need to have requested the documents. The Court held that the District had an obligation to provide the parents with the data even without a request.
Failing to provide the data prevented the parents from giving informed consent to the evaluation and special education services.
While it is important for school districts to follow the procedures of the IDEA, not all procedural violations will result in a win for the parents. The procedural violation needs to impact the child or the parents in some significant way. The case law provides that a procedural violation needs to cause a loss of educational opportunity, deprive educational benefits or “seriously infringe the parents’ opportunity to participate in the IEP formulation process.” The 9th Circuit ruled that C.M.’s parents’ right to participate in the IEP formulation process was seriously infringed.
As a result of this finding, the Court did not even address the parents’ claims that C.M.’s were not designed to provide him with an educational benefit. The procedural violation was sufficient to provide the parents with a remedy.
So, the M.M. case confirms parents’ critical role in the IEP process as well as the school’s duty to share the data it has collected on the student. Without the data, the full IEP team, including the parent, is not able to truly address the student’s needs.