The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Did Not Act “Reasonably” When It Chose To Conduct An IEP Meeting Without the Paren’ts’ Presence

THE DISTRICT COURT HELD THAT THE SANTA MONICA-MALIBU UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT VIOLATED A STUDENT’S RIGHTS TO A FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION WHEN IT CONDUCTED AN IEP MEETING WITHOUT PARENT’S PRESENCE

A. Excluding A Student’s Parents From An IEP Meeting Is A Per Se Denial Of A Free Appropriate Public Education

B. The District Did Not Act “Reasonably” When It Chose To Conduct an IEP Meeting Without Student’s Parent’s Presence.

The 9th Circuit Court Affirmed the District Court’s Ruling:

The district court properly concluded that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s failure to include student’s parents at an IEP meeting was a procedural violation of the IDEA.

The IDEA’s implementing regulations require that parents participate in meetings concerning the formulation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the educational placement of their child. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.501(b).

An agency can make a decision without the parents only if it is unable to obtain their participation, which was not the case here. See id. § 300.501(c)(4); Shapiro ex rel. Shapiro v. Paradise Valley Unified Sch. Dist. No. 69, 317 F.3d 1072, 1078 (9th Cir. 2003) superseded on other grounds by 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B).

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has not shown that it was required to meet before the end of the 2009-10 school year to formulate an IEP for the 2010-11 school year.

Therefore, it was not faced with “the situation of complying with one procedural requirement of the IDEA or another.” Doug C. v. Hawaii Dep’t of Educ., 720 F.3d 1038, 1046 (9th Cir. 2013).

The district court properly concluded the procedural violation denied student a free appropriate public education in the 2010-11 school year. See Doug C., 720 F.3d at 1044-47; Amanda J. ex rel. Annette J. v. Clark Cnty. Sch. Dist., 267 F.3d 877, 892 (9th Cir. 2001).

“Procedural violations that interfere with parental participation in the IEP formulation process undermine the very essence of the IDEA.” Amanda., 267 F.3d at 892.

Proceeding without the child’s parents cannot be justified by the scheduling unavailability of District employees; the attendance of parents at IEP Team meetings “must take priority over other members’ attendance.” Doug C., 720 F.3d at 1045; see also Shapiro, 317 F.3d at 1078 (holding a school district may not “simply prioritize[] its representatives’ schedules over that of [the] parents”).

Furthermore, even if student’s parents already had decided to enroll student at the Westview School, their exclusion was not permissible. See Anchorage Sch. Dist. v. M.P., 689 F.3d 1047, 1055 (9th Cir. 2012)

The IDEA, its implementing regulations, and our case law all emphasize the importance of parental involvement and advocacy, even when the parents’ preferences do not align with those of the educational agency.”

AFFIRMED.

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