J. et al v. Department of Education, State of Hawaii et al
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS OFFICER. Signed by JUDGE DERRICK K. WATSON on 2/24/2015. ~ The Court grants Parents' motion to make certain documents part of the record (Dkt No. 52 ). The Admini strative Hearings Officer's February 24, 2014 decision is hereby AFFIRMED. (ecs, )CERTIFICATE OF SERVICEParticipants registered to receive electronic notifications received this document electronically at the e-mail address listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF). Participants not registered to receive electronic notifications were served by first class mail on 2/25/2015 the date of this docket entry Modified on 2/24/2015 (ecs, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF HAWAI`I
In the Matter of
CIVIL NO. 14-00121 DKW-KSC
TYLER J., by and through his Parents,
CHERYL ANN and KEVIN J.,
ORDER AFFIRMING THE
DECISION OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION,
STATE OF HAWAII, and School for
Examining Essential Questions of
Sustainability (“SEEQS”) a Public
Charter School, State of Hawaii,
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS OFFICER
This appeal concerns the administrative hearings officer’s (“AHO”)
determination of Tyler J. (“Student”) and Cheryl and Kevin J’s (“Parents”) request
for due process following the issuance of Student’s May 6, 2013 Individualized
Education Program (“IEP”) for the 2013-14 school year. Because Parents have not
shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the AHO’s February 24, 2014
decision should be reversed, the Court affirms that decision.
Student was 11 years old at the time of the AHO’s February 24, 2014
decision (“Decision”). He has been eligible to receive special education and
related services pursuant to the IDEA under the category of “other health
disability.” Decision at 4. The AHO found that Student “displays some behaviors
consistent with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), [but] he has not been medically
diagnosed . . . .” Id. In relevant part, the IEP describes Student’s medical history
and diagnoses as follows:
[Student]’s medical history includes nocturnal enuresis until the age
of five years, follow-up visits with specialists for stomach issues,
allergies, asthma, a possible autoimmune condition, a history of
febrile seizures, and Junior Rheumatoid Arthritis. He is prescribed
medications. Mother is planning to have Tyler start sessions with
Psychiatrist William Bolman to address behavioral concerns. There is
a family history of Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Diabetes,
and Ehrlos-Danlos Syndrome.
Pet. Ex. 6 (IEP) at 2. The AHO also noted that “[t]he psychiatrist’s November 21,
2013 child psychiatric evaluation reported Student with an Asperger Syndrome
diagnosis.” Decision at 4; see Pet. Exs. 3, 4.
Although there does appear to be some confusion as to Student’s specific
timeline of attendance at various schools leading up to Parents’ due process
request, including some misstatements of that timeline by the AHO, none of those
discrepancies are material. Student was homeschooled until his fourth grade year
when Parents enrolled Student “at Hawaii Tech Academy, a charter school that
offers in-class instruction once a week and an online curriculum supplemented
with materials that are brought home.” Resp. Ex. 10 at 000124. However,
Student’s attendance at Hawaii Tech Academy was very brief, and Parents
resumed homeschooling for the remainder of his fourth grade year.
Student attended Ma‘ema‘e Elementary School for his fifth grade year.
According to Parents, the IEP team at Ma‘ema‘e “went above and beyond in
making [Student’s] fifth grade year a success.” Record on Appeal (“ROA”) Ex. 1
(Due Process Request) at 000004. The IEP at issue in this appeal was developed
toward the end of Student’s fifth grade year at Ma‘ema‘e.
Student’s DOE home school for his sixth grade year would have been
Kawananakoa Middle School. However, prior to attending Kawananakoa, Parents
removed Student from the DOE system and enrolled him in the School for
Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability (“SEEQS”), a charter school.
Decision at 4. Parents explained the reason for this change as follows:
We were told by the Principal of Kawananakoa (during the orientation
of the incoming 6th graders—who is now retired) that KMS does not
have the resources to accommodate the needs of Tyler. We moved on
without a desire to go back.
We did research and applied [Student] to be placed at SEEQS (School
for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability). BEFORE
applying, [mother] repeatedly asked if SEEQS was appropriately able
to accommodate [Student’s] needs as an autistic (Asperger’s) child.
[Mother] was assured this was the case. [Parents] trusted [that
SEEQS] were more organized and prepared.
ROA Ex. 1 (Due Process Request) at 000005.
At the time, SEEQS was a new charter school and was still getting
organized. For example, at the beginning of Student’s sixth grade year, SEEQS
“had not received the required permits to hold classes in its building” and
consequently “conducted its 2 classrooms in a chapel and outdoors, under a tentlike structure.” Decision at 5. Additionally, SEEQS did not initially obtain a copy
of Student’s IEP. Mother testified that she sent a copy of Student’s IEP to the
SPED teacher at SEEQS shortly after the first meeting of SEEQS staff, parents and
teachers, ROA Ex. 1 (Due Process Request) at 000005. Several SEEQS leaders
and teachers testified that SEEQS received Student’s IEP, along with a packet of
others, during the first or second week of school. See, e.g., Hearing Tr. at 146:3–8,
Shortly after beginning at SEEQS, Student’s SPED teacher became ill and
the general education teachers filled in to implement Student’s IEP. Hearing Tr. at
289:24–290:19; Decision at 6. A new SPED teacher began in mid-September a
few weeks after the departure of the first one. A few weeks later, on October 4,
2013, Parents participated in a student-led conference. This conference was the
last straw in Parents’ apparent dissatisfaction with SEEQS. According to Parents:
[At the conference,] [w]e tried to convey our challenges with the
school as it pertained to [Student] and his education, growth and
maturation or lack thereof. . . . We were very concerned that [Student]
could not and did not present to us any completed assignments. We
were very disturbed that he continuously wrote out he didn’t
understand, complete, participate or was ousted from his assignments.
No one knew what we were talking about—they did not read his
personal evaluations. . . . We walked away from that meeting
convinced that SEEQS was not able to meet his basic needs as stated
in the IEP, disappointed that it was obvious they did not have a clue as
to what kind of child [Student] is (as an autistic child) and w[e were]
very distraught at the lack of communication we had from the school
with regard to his not turning in homework regularly.
ROA Ex. 1 (Due Process Request) at 000006–000007. Consequently, soon after
that conference, Parents withdrew Student from enrollment at SEEQS.
Decision at 9. Parents then enrolled Student at Variety School, which Student
briefly attended. Ultimately, Parents returned to homeschooling Student, when the
DOE and Parents could not reach an agreement for the DOE to pay for Student’s
attendance at Variety School. Hearing Tr. at 26:22–27:1.
On October 17, 2013, Parents filed their due process request for review of
the May 6, 2013 IEP as it was implemented at SEEQS. The IEP provided Student
with special education and a variety of other supplementary aids and services,
program modifications, and supports.1 Pet. Ex. 6 (IEP) at 8.
Specifically, the supplementary aids and services, program modifications, and supports
provided in the IEP include: preferential seating, repeated directions, check for understanding,
visual cues for instruction/directions, copy of teacher’s notes from class instruction, daily planner
check, extended time for homework and quizzes/tests, and use of an iPad in the classroom.
After a hearing on Parents’ due process request on January 23–24, 2014, the
AHO issued a decision on February 24, 2014, concluding that:
Petitioners have not shown that procedurally and substantively,
the May 6, 2013 IEP denied Student a FAPE.
Specifically, Petitioners have not shown that:
- The DOE failed to implement Student’s May 6, 2013
IEP; failed to provide the preferential seating and other
accommodations listed in the May 6, 2013 IEP until the
last 2 weeks of the first quarter; or that the DOE failed to
communicate with parents, despite parents’ emails,
phone calls, and visits;
- The program offered through the May 6, 2013 IEP was
not appropriate, and Student has not improved in any
area, and has regressed academically. Further,
Petitioners have not shown that Student was not making
meaningful educational gains at the DOE charter school,
or that the DOE charter school inappropriately allowed
Student to opt-out of assignments and make inappropriate
- The placement at the DOE charter school was
inappropriate, not safe, or that bullying was not properly
Further, Petitioners have not shown that the private school
would provide an appropriate program and placement for Student.
Decision at 24.
Parents’ appeal of this decision is presently before the Court.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
“The IDEA is a comprehensive educational scheme, conferring on disabled
students a substantive right to public education and providing financial assistance
to enable states to meet their educational needs.” Hoeft ex rel. Hoeft v. Tucson
Unified Sch. Dist., 967 F.2d 1298, 1300 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Honig v. Doe, 484
U.S. 305, 310 (1988)). It ensures that “all children with disabilities have available
to them a free appropriate public education [(“FAPE”)] that emphasizes special
education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare
them for further education, employment, and independent living[.]” 20 U.S.C.
§ 1400(d)(1)(A). The IDEA defines FAPE as special education and related
services that -(A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision
and direction, and without charge;
(B) meet the standards of the State educational agency;
(C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary
school education in the State involved; and
(D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education
program required under section 1414(d) of this title.
20 U.S.C. § 1401(9). To provide a FAPE in compliance with the IDEA, a state
educational agency receiving federal funds must evaluate a student, determine
whether that student is eligible for special education, and formulate and implement
an IEP. 20 U.S.C. § 1414. The IEP is to be developed by an “IEP Team”
composed of, inter alia, school officials, parents, teachers and other persons
knowledgeable about the child. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B).
“Procedural flaws in the IEP process do not always amount to the denial of a
FAPE.” L.M. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 556 F.3d 900, 909 (9th Cir. 2009)
(citations omitted). Once a procedural violation of the IDEA is identified, the
court “must determine whether that violation affected the substantive rights of the
parent or child.” Id. (citations omitted). “[P]rocedural inadequacies that result in
the loss of educational opportunity, or seriously infringe the parents’ opportunity to
participate in the IEP formulation process, clearly result in the denial of a FAPE.”
Id. (alteration in original) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Compliance with the IDEA does not require school districts to provide the
“absolutely best” or “potential-maximizing” education. J.W. v. Fresno Unified
Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 431, 439 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). Rather, school districts are required to provide only a “‘basic floor of
opportunity.’” Id. (quoting Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v.
Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 201 (1982)). The FAPE need only be “appropriately
designed and implemented so as to convey [the][s]tudent with a meaningful
benefit.” Id. at 433 (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Standard of District Court Review
The standard for district court review of an administrative decision under the
IDEA is set forth in 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C), which provides:
In any action brought under this paragraph, the court—
(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings;
(ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and
(iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence,
shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.
This standard requires that the district court give “‘due weight’” to the
administrative proceedings. Capistrano, 556 F.3d at 908 (quoting Rowley, 458
U.S. at 206) (some citations omitted). The district court, however, has the
discretion to determine the amount of deference it will accord the administrative
ruling. J.W. ex rel. J.E.W. v. Fresno Unified Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 431, 438 (9th Cir.
2010) (citing Gregory K. v. Longview Sch. Dist., 811 F.2d 1307, 1311 (9th Cir.
1987)). In reaching that determination, the court should consider the thoroughness
of the hearings officer’s findings, increasing the degree of deference where said
findings are “‘thorough and careful.’” Capistrano, 556 F.3d at 908 (quoting
Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist. v. Wartenberg, 59 F.3d 884, 892 (9th Cir. 1995)).
The district court should give “substantial weight” to the hearings officer’s
decision when the decision “evinces his careful, impartial consideration of all the
evidence and demonstrates his sensitivity to the complexity of the issues
presented.” Cnty. of San Diego v. Cal. Special Educ. Hearing Office, 93 F.3d
1458, 1466–67 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Such
deference is appropriate because “if the district court tried the case anew, the work
of the hearing officer would not receive ‘due weight,’ and would be largely
wasted.” Wartenberg, 59 F.3d at 891. “[T]he ultimate determination of whether
an IEP was appropriate,” however, “is reviewed de novo.” A.M. ex rel. Marshall v.
Monrovia Unified Sch. Dist., 627 F.3d 773, 778 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing
Wartenberg, 59 F.3d at 891).
A court’s inquiry in reviewing IDEA administrative decisions is twofold:
First, has the State complied with the procedures set forth in the Act?
And second, is the individualized educational program developed
through the Act’s procedures reasonably calculated to enable the child
to receive educational benefits? [Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206–07]
(footnotes omitted). If these requirements are met, the State has
complied with the obligations imposed by Congress and the courts can
require no more. Id. at 207.
J.L. v. Mercer Island Sch. Dist., 592 F.3d 938, 947 (9th Cir. 2010) (some citations
The burden of proof in IDEA appeal proceedings is on the party challenging
the administrative ruling. Hood v. Encinitas Union Sch. Dist., 486 F.3d 1099,
1103 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). The challenging party must show, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the hearing decision should be reversed. J.W.,
626 F.3d at 438 (citation omitted).
Parents assert that the AHO incorrectly concluded that SEEQS implemented
the May 6, 2013 IEP such that there was no denial of FAPE.2 However, because
Parents have not satisfied their burden of showing by a preponderance of the
evidence that the AHO decision should be reversed, that decision is affirmed.
As a threshold matter, the Court notes that Parents are pro se in this appeal,
and also represented themselves before the AHO. In their opening brief of this
appeal, Parents filed only a two-page document—essentially, a list of arguments
with no reference to evidence in the record. Parents did not file a reply brief. At
the hearing, and in light of Parents’ pro se status, the Court allowed Parents to file
a supplemental brief, with specific direction to include administrative record
citations to support their arguments.
In addition to their supplemental brief, Parents filed a motion for the Court
to consider documents regarding Student’s Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis, the
dates of Student’s attendance at Ma‘ema‘e Elementary, and the circumstances and
dates of Student’s attendance at Variety School. Dkt. Nos. 52, 55. Because the
IDEA permits the Court to “hear additional evidence at the request of a party,”
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C), the Court grants Parents’ motion to make these
documents part of the record in this case. The Court notes, however, that none of
On appeal, Parents do not challenge the adequacy and appropriateness of the IEP itself to
address Student’s needs. Their challenge relates to the implementation of the IEP at SEEQS.
these documents appear to provide any new information that is not already
contained in the administrative record. For example, the Court has already noted
above the correct dates of Student’s attendance at various schools, which
information was gleaned from the existing record, as illustrated by the DOE’s
response brief.3 Dkt. No. 56 at 2. Also, the reports of Dr. Bolman and Dr.
Okamoto regarding Student’s Asperger’s diagnosis are similarly already part of the
administrative record. See Pet. Exs. 3, 4.
The Court now addresses, in turn, each of Parents’ contentions on appeal.
Student’s Eligibility Under “Other Health Disability”
Parents’ initial brief expresses discontent with the fact that the IEP listed
Student as eligible for services under the category of “other health disability,”
instead of “autism.” Parents assert that autism should have been the appropriate
category given Student’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum
disorder. The DOE explained in 2012, in a notice from the principal at Ma‘ema‘e,
that “[a]lthough [Student] displays some behaviors consistent with ASD [(autism
spectrum disorder)], he has not been medically diagnosed and the team felt that the
category of OHD [(other health disability)] better represented his disability at this
point in time.” Resp. Ex. 5 (5/9/12 Prior Written Notice) at 000039. After this
Parents contend that the AHO’s misstatements of Student’s educational timeline should be a
basis for reversal. However, because the AHO’s conclusions were not based on the specific
timeline in any way, these misstatements provide no basis for reversal.
notice, but before the drafting of Student’s May 6, 2013 IEP, Dr. Bolman
diagnosed Student with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
Pet. Ex. 3.
As the DOE correctly points out, Parents only raised this concern for the
first time as part of their initial filing before this Court—it was not part of their due
process request, nor was it an issue addressed by the AHO. “As a general rule,
arguments not raised at an administrative hearing cannot be raised for the first time
on appeal to the district court.” James M. v. DOE, 803 F. Supp. 2d 1150, 1164 (D.
Haw. 2011); see also Clyde K. v. Puyalup Sch. Dist., No. 3, 35 F.3d 1396, 1399 n.4
(9th Cir. 1994), superseded by statute on other grounds, as recognized in M.L. v.
Federal Way Sch. Dist., 341 F.3d 1052, 1063 n.7 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Because they
failed to raise the issue at either the administrative hearing or in the district court,
we decline to consider it here.”). Because this issue was not first raised before the
AHO and adjudicated there, the Court is not in a position to reach any
determination of the issue here on appeal.
That said, the Court notes that the record does not evidence the DOE’s
awareness of Dr. Bolman’s Asperger’s diagnosis prior to the drafting of the May
2013 IEP. “‘[A]n IEP must take into account what was, and was not, objectively
reasonable when the snapshot was taken, that is, at the time the IEP was drafted.’”
Adams v. State of Oregon, 195 F.3d 1141, 1149 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Fuhrmann
v. East Hanover Bd. of Educ., 993 F.2d 1031, 1041 (3d Cir. 1993)). In fact, the
record indicates that Parents sent a draft (but not final) version of one of Dr.
Bolman’s reports (that included an Asperger’s diagnosis) to SEEQS on September
3, 2013, several months after the drafting of the IEP. Resp. Ex. 12 at 000150–
000154; see Pet. Ex. 6 (IEP) at 2 (noting that “Mother is planning to have [Student]
start sessions with Psychiatrist William Bolman to address behavioral concerns”).
Additionally, Parents have provided no evidence to suggest that Student’s
IEP should or would have been any different even if Student was listed as eligible
for IDEA services under the category of autism. The AHO recognized, because it
was part of the record before him, that Student was diagnosed by Dr. Bolman with
Asperger’s Syndrome. Decision at 4; see Pet. Exs. 3, 4. However, the category of
Student’s eligibility for special education was of no import in the AHO’s decision.
Further, Parents admitted to the Court at the appeal hearing that because Student
“has already been diagnosed as [eligible for] special ed[ucation], his IEP already
says specific things, specific hours, and whether or not he’s autistic or not really
has no bearing over anything.” In short, there is no evidence in the record to
indicate that making Student eligible to receive special education under either the
category of “autism” or “other health disability” would make any difference in the
actual programs and services planned for in the IEP. Parents would need to show
that having Student categorized as eligible under “other health disability” resulted
in the loss of some educational opportunity. There is no such evidence.
Implementation of the IEP by SEEQS
Parents contend that SEEQS failed to implement the IEP and that this
amounted to a denial of FAPE. The AHO concluded that there were no procedural
inadequacies in the implementation of the IEP by SEEQS, and even if that were
not the case, there was no denial of educational benefits or FAPE. Decision at 17.
The Court agrees with the AHO that none of the instances noted by Parents
amounts to a material failure to implement Student’s IEP.
The Ninth Circuit set forth the following explanation of a “material failure to
implement an IEP” that violates the IDEA:
A material failure occurs when there is more than a minor discrepancy
between the services a school provides to a disabled child and the
services required by the child’s IEP. . . . [W]e clarify that the
materiality standard does not require that the child suffer
demonstrable educational harm in order to prevail. However, the
child’s educational progress, or lack of it, may be probative of
whether there has been more than a minor shortfall in the services
provided. For instance, if the child is not provided the reading
instruction called for and there is a shortfall in the child’s reading
achievement, that would certainly tend to show that the failure to
implement the IEP was material. On the other hand, if the child
performed at or above the anticipated level, that would tend to show
that the shortfall in instruction was not material. We also emphasize
that nothing in this opinion weakens schools’ obligation to provide
services “in conformity with” children’s IEPs. § 1401(9). IEPs are
clearly binding under the IDEA, and the proper course for a school
that wishes to make material changes to an IEP is to reconvene the
IEP team pursuant to the statute—not to decide on its own no longer
to implement part or all of the IEP. See §§ 1414(d)(3)(F), 1415(b)(3).
Van Duyn v. Baker Sch. Dist., 502 F.3d 811, 822 (9th Cir. 2007).
Although Parents do not argue in terms of a “material failure to implement,”
they point to the fact that SEEQS did not have Student’s IEP by the first day of
school of his sixth grade year, and that this should be the basis for a determination
of a denial of FAPE. The DOE does not dispute that SEEQS did not have the IEP
on the first day of school. But the evidence indicates that, at the latest, SEEQS had
Student’s IEP by the second week of school.4 ROA Ex. 1 (Due Process Request)
at 000005; Hearing Tr. at 146:3–8, 247:7–13. The AHO concluded that:
[E]ven though the DOE did not have a copy of Student’s May 6, 2013
IEP when school started on August 5, 2013, the DOE was not in
violation for failing to implement the IEP. As the evidence showed,
during the first few days of the school year, the emphasis was on
orientation and community building, not focusing on the services and
accommodations listed in the IEP. As noted above, the failure to
implement the IEP must be a material failure. The evidence did not
show a material failure to implement the IEP.
Decision at 17. The Court concludes that the fact that SEEQS did not have a copy
of the IEP on the first day of school did not amount here to a material failure to
implement Student’s IEP.
There is evidence in the record that although SEEQS may not have had a copy of Student’s IEP
on hand on the first day of school, SEEQS was familiar with Student’s IEP “from the very first
day,” Hearing Tr. at 146:11–12, and had reviewed the IEP “[w]ithin the first week of school,”
Hearing Tr. at 306:13–21. By that first week, SEEQS had also developed a “cheat sheet,” a
quick reference guide of Student’s IEP. Hearing Tr. at 148:3–15. Regardless of whether SEEQS
received the IEP in the first or second week of school, the difference did not amount to a material
failure to implement the IEP under Van Duyn.
Stated simply, Parents have failed to provide any concrete evidence that not
having Student’s IEP in the first week of school impeded Student’s educational
progress, evidence that could amount to a material failure to implement the IEP.
As noted by the Ninth Circuit in Van Duyn, Parents could have provided evidence
to establish how the lack of IEP programs in that week negatively affected
Student’s performance and achievement. Instead, Parents seem to be relying on
the fact that not having the IEP on the first day, on its own, amounts to a material
failure. That is simply not the case under the materiality analysis mandated by Van
Duyn. 502 F.3d at 822–825. Without any other evidence of the actual material
impact on Student, and together with the uncontroverted evidence that SEEQS was
actually implementing Student’s IEP within days of the beginning of school,
Parents have not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the AHO’s
determination on this issue should be reversed.5
Parents also briefly argue that SEEQS did not implement the IEP when it did
not provide Student with an iPad. The IEP provides that on a “when needed”
basis, Student should be allowed to “[u]se an iPad in the classroom.” Pet. Ex. 6
In their supplemental brief, Parents also point out that the IEP was effective as of the start of the
school year, and thus there was a denial of FAPE when SEEQS did not implement it on the first
day. There is no dispute from the DOE that the IEP was effective as of the beginning of
Student’s sixth grade year. The AHO, in fact, noted that “the May 6, 2013 IEP and its placement
provision was already in place” on the first day of school at SEEQS. Decision at 21. Student’s
IEP was valid and in place, ready to be implemented from the first day. The Court holds,
however, that the fact that SEEQS may not have initiated all of Student’s IEP programs (that
were already in effect) in the first week of orientation was a minor discrepancy permissible under
Van Duyn and did not amount to a material failure to implement the IEP.
(IEP) at 8. Despite Parents’ protests now that an iPad should have been provided
for Student, Parents have not proffered any evidence that would suggest the iPad
was needed, and thus, that it would be necessary in order for SEEQS to implement
the IEP. To the contrary, the only evidence in the record on this point establishes
that none of the educators at SEEQS ever felt that the iPad was needed when they
were working with Student. See Hearing Tr. at 265:7–17; 334:2–18.
Finally, to the extent that it is necessary, the Court also concludes that even
if any of the above-mentioned acts was a procedural inadequacy, none of those
errors (or the sum of them) resulted in a denial of FAPE. The Court concludes that
the fact that SEEQS may not have had Student’s IEP during their opening
orientation week and the fact that Student was not provided with an iPad did not
result in the loss of educational opportunity for Student, or violate the substantive
rights of Student or Parents. L.M. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 556 F.3d 900,
909 (9th Cir. 2009).
Parents raise concerns about the safety of Student at SEEQS caused by
bullying and the dangerous conduct of other students. The AHO disposed of these
concerns, concluding that:
Although Mother testified that Student was bullied by another student
who called him derogatory names, gave him the middle finger, and
erased Student’s group math answers off a white board, Mother
acknowledges that the DOE charter school rolled out an anti-bullying
campaign. The evidence showed that the school leader promptly
responded in writing to Mother’s concerns of bullying.
Although parents also brought up safety concerns with students sitting
in the street and pocket knives on campus, the school leader promptly
address[ed] these isolated instances when they occurred. Further,
these instances did not involve Student directly.
Decision at 22. On appeal, Parents take exception to the AHO’s conclusions, but
have provided no evidence to suggest that the AHO’s findings should be reversed.
Even assuming, as Parents contend, that the anti-bullying campaign at SEEQS only
happened because Parents brought the issue to the school’s attention, Parents have
still not provided actual evidence suggesting that the campaign was unsuccessful or
that those efforts failed to curb any bullying of Student. For purposes of this
appeal, the Court’s concern is whether any bullying behavior directed at Student
resulted in the loss of educational opportunity or benefit; but there is simply no
evidence of that. Although Parents may not agree with the methods employed by
SEEQS to address these issues, the fact that SEEQS was addressing them (and the
fact that there is no evidence that those methods were ineffective) indicates that
Student was not being denied a FAPE as a result of any bullying behavior.
Placement at Variety School
Parents also seek placement at Variety School. As the AHO noted, the
question of private placement would only arise if Parents successfully showed that
there was a denial of FAPE. Decision at 23. However, because the Court now
concludes that Parents have not satisfied their burden of proving a denial of FAPE,
the question of placement is moot. See Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 557 U.S.
230, 247 (2009) (“Parents ‘are entitled to reimbursement only if a federal court
concludes both that the public placement violated IDEA and the private school
placement was proper under the Act.’” (quoting Florence Cty. Sch. Dist. Four v.
Carter, 510 U.S. 7, 15 (1993)) (emphasis in original)).
Further, the Court notes that the AHO was correct in concluding that Parents
“did not present sufficient evidence to show that the private school offered a
program and placement that was appropriate for Student.” Decision at 23. “The
burden is on parents seeking reimbursement to demonstrate that the private school
in which they have chosen to enroll their child is appropriate.” Heyly T.S. v.
Hawaii, 2013 WL 1412272, at *6 (D. Haw. April 5, 2013). In most cases,
testimony from parents alone will not be sufficient to establish the appropriateness
of private placement. See id. (“The only evidence Parents presented regarding
[Student’s] current private placement was Parents’ own subjective impressions that
[Student’s] communication skills and eye contact levels had improved since
attending [private school]. . . . Parents could have presented evidence of [private
school’s] programming, staffing, and resources, and their fitness for [Student’s]
particular needs, from a witness qualified to discuss them. They did not.”).
The Court is aware that Parents’ new letter from Dr. Okamoto, which they
attached to their supplemental brief, opines that “Variety School would be an
appropriate placement for [Student], as they can work with his solid intelligence
and problem solving abilities, yet help him progress at interacting with others,
especially peers.” Dkt. No. 55 (attached 12/19/14 Letter from Dr. Okamoto).
However, Dr. Okamoto provides no evidence to support this opinion, and there is
no evidence of Dr. Okamoto’s ability or expertise to opine on what services
Variety School has provided or can provide in order to meet Student’s needs. In
order to show what constitutes a proper placement under the IDEA, Parents must at
least “‘demonstrate that the placement provides educational instruction specially
designed to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, supported by such
services as are necessary to permit the child to benefit from instruction.’” C.B. v.
Garden Grove Unified Sch. Dist., 635 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Frank G. v. Bd. of Educ., 459 F.3d 356, 365 (2d Cir. 2006)). Accordingly, even if
the Court were to conclude there was a denial of FAPE (which it does not), Parents
have not provided evidence that would establish anything specifically with regard
to Variety’s ability to meet Student’s unique needs, and thus cannot establish that
Variety is a proper placement.
Finally, Parents also seek stay put payments from the time of the due process
filing through the conclusion of this case. The stay put provision of the IDEA
Except as provided in subsection (k)(4), during the pendency of any
proceedings conducted pursuant to this section, unless the State or local
educational agency and the parents otherwise agree, the child shall remain in
the then-current educational placement of the child, or, if applying for initial
admission to a public school, shall, with the consent of the parents, be placed
in the public school program until all such proceedings have been
20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). “[T]he stay put provision does not apply unless and until a
request for a due process hearing is filed.” K.D. v. DOE, 665 F.3d 110, 1117 (9th
Cir. 2011). Although the statute itself does not speak of payment or
reimbursement, the Ninth Circuit has interpreted the stay put provision as requiring
a school district to fund the child’s “then-current educational placement” at a
private school, when applicable, during the pendency of any administrative or
judicial proceedings under the IDEA. See Clovis Unified Sch. Dist. v. Cal. Office
of Admin. Hearings, 903 F.2d 635, 641 (9th Cir. 1990) (per curiam). The IDEA
does not define the phrase “then-current educational placement.” The Ninth
Circuit, however, has interpreted the phrase to mean “the placement set forth in the
child’s last implemented IEP.” Capistrano, 556 F.3d at 902–03.
There is no dispute here that Parents unilaterally placed Student at Variety
School. In other words, the DOE never consented, in an IEP or otherwise, that
Variety School was Student’s proper placement. See Pet. Ex. 6 (May 9, 2013 Prior
Written Notice) (“This program [(the May 6, 2013 IEP)] will be implemented at
[Student’s] home school in a combination special education and general education
setting, on a DOE public school campus.”) (emphasis added). Additionally, there
is no administrative or judicial decision in lieu of DOE consent that would
establish that Variety School is the appropriate placement. See K.D., 665 F.3d at
1118 (“Where a parent unilaterally changes the placement of a child, but a
subsequent administrative or judicial decision confirms that the parental placement
is appropriate, the decision ‘constitute[s] an agreement by the State to the change
of placement’ and the placement becomes the ‘current educational placement’ for
the purposes of the stay put provision.” (quoting Clovis, 903 F.2d at 641)).
Consequently, Variety School cannot be Student’s then-current educational
placement for purposes of stay put. Parents are therefore not entitled to stay put
payments for Student’s attendance at Variety School.6
Parents previously provided a copy of a draft settlement agreement between Parents and the
DOE that provided for the DOE to pay for Student’s attendance at Variety for his sixth grade
year. See Dkt. No. 14, Ex. B. However, the parties never reached an agreement on this
settlement offer. Regardless, even if all parties had agreed to that settlement, that agreement still
would not have established Variety School as Student’s then-current educational placement for
stay put purposes, without an additional provision agreed upon by all parties that Variety School
was the appropriate placement going forward. See K.D., 665 F.3d at 1120–1121 (“[W]e hold
that [private school] is not [Student’s] stay put placement because the DOE only agreed to pay
tuition for the limited 2006–07 school year, and never affirmatively agreed to place [Student] at
The Court grants Parents’ motion to make certain documents part of the
record (Dkt No. 52). The Administrative Hearings Officer’s February 24, 2014
decision is hereby AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: February 24, 2015 at Honolulu, Hawai‘i.
TYLER J., et al. v. DOE, et al.; CV 14-00121 DKW-KSC; ORDER AFFIRMING
THE DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS OFFICER
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