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NINTH CIRCUIT RULES IN FAVOR OF STUDENT IN LAUSD RESIDENTIAL CASE

M. S. v. LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Argued and Submitted December 4, 2018 Pasadena, California

Filed January 24, 2019

Summary of Decision:

The panel filed an order affirming the district court's memorandum and order, which reversed an administrative law judge's decision in an action brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), asserting that a student was denied a free and appropriate public education. The panel agreed with the district court's conclusion that the student was denied a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) because the Los Angeles Unified School District was required to consider whether a residential placement should be offered to her for educational purposes as part of her individualized education plan notwithstanding that another county agency, the Department of Children and Family Services, had residentially placed her for mental health treatment under state law, and pursuant to a juvenile court order.

The panel agreed that the LAUSD had an independent obligation to ensure that a continuum of alternative placements was available to meet the student's educational needs and to consider whether a residential placement was necessary for educational purposes and not merely necessary quite apart from the learning process.

Order:

The district court correctly concluded that M.S. was denied a FAPE because LAUSD was required to consider whether a residential placement should be offered to M.S. for educational purposes as part of her individualized education plan (IEP) notwithstanding that another county agency, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), had residentially placed her for mental health treatment under state law, and pursuant to a Juvenile Court order. In a thorough and well-reasoned opinion, the district court concluded that the LAUSD "had an independent obligation to 'ensure that a continuum of alternative placements [was] available to meet [M.S.'s educational] needs,' 34 C.F.R. ยง 300.115(a)-and to consider whether a residential placement was '[] necessary for educational purposes' and not merely 'necessary quite apart from the learning process.'" See Clovis Unified Sch. Dist. v. Cal. Office of Admin. Hearings, 903 F.2d 635, 643 (9th Cir. 1990).

Takeaway from the Case:

School districts are required to consider whether a Student should be placed within a residential placement under the IDEA, even if another agency has already residentially placed the student for mental health treatment purposes. Thus, districts cannot dodge their responsibility to provide students a FAPE and districts continue to have an "independent obligation to ensure that a continuum of alternative placements [are] available" to meet the student's educational needs.

Danielle Augustin is a founding partner of Augustin Egelsee LLP, a law firm representing children and families with special education needs. Danielle has been practicing law for 20 years, first as a deputy district attorney in Orange County, California, then as a special education student attorney for the past 15 years. For more information about special education law, go to: www.OcKidsLaw.com or call 714-282-1242.

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