10th Circuit Rules that District Courts Cannot Delegate the Responsibility to Remedy an IDEA Violation to the IEP Team

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In M.S. by J.S. v. Utah Schs. for the Deaf and Blind, 116 LRP 19237 (10th Cir. 05/10/16), the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the District Court cannot delegate the responsibility to determine the appropriate placement for a deaf/blind student to the IEP team.

M.S. Had been a student in the residential program at the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind (USDB) since 2004. In 2010 USDB announced it was closing its residential program. M.H.'s parents opposed that decision as did other parents. After intervention by an advocacy group, USDB relented and continued the residential program. However, there remained other disputes regarding M.S.'s placement. Eventually, the case was heard by the Utah federal district court. The case had numerous issued, but, most importantly here, the Court determined USDB and the Provo School District were not appropriate placements for M.S. The parents sought placement at the Perkins School for the Blind, a private program.  Rather than order that placement, the District Court sent the case back to the IEP team to determine the future placement. The case was appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 10th Circuit overruled the district court. The Court noted that a school district employee cannot be a hearing officer under the IDEA. Similarly, since most members of the IEP team were school district employees, the Court determined that the IEP team could not be the entity responsible for determining the remedial placement for the student. The Court stated:

""Allowing the educational agency that failed or refused to provide the covered student with FAPE to determine the remedy for that violation is simply at odds with the review scheme set out at [20 USC 1415(i)(2)(C)]," U.S. Circuit Judge Michael R. Murphy wrote. The panel further noted that such an approach could create an "endless cycle" of litigation, requiring the parent to seek a due process hearing each time she disagreed with the proposed remedy."

Thus, neither district courts nor due process hearing officers can send cases back to the IEP team to design the remedy for a denial of a free appropriate public education. This is a very significant decision. Historically, it has been common that hearing officers and courts rely on IEP teams to determine the remedy for violations of the IDEA.

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