U.S. District Court Affirms Validity of IDEA Regulations Requiring IEEs at Public Expense

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In Phillip and Angie C. v. Jefferson County Board of Education , 111 LRP 55718 (N.D. Ala. Aug 17, 2011), the U.S. District Court in Alabama overturned a magistrate judge's opinion (56 IDELR 225) invalidating  the IDEA regulations allowing parents to obtain independent educational evaluations(IEE)  at public expense. Although at a very low-level in the federal judiciary hierarchy, the magistrate's decision was concerning because it questioned the validity of IDEA regulations and policy that had been in effect since 1977. Moreover, sometimes school administrators and their attorneys use lower court decisions to support their actions, even if the decisions, like this one, are far out side the mainstream. Fortunately, the district court ruled that, even though the IDEA statute did not specifically state that parents can obtain an IEE at public expense, the U.S. Department of Education could require IEEs at public expense through regulations. In fact, regulations are intended to fill the gaps in the statute. Additionally, since the federal regulation requiring IEEs at public expense had been in place since 1977, school districts cannot claim they were unaware that accepting IDEA funds might require them to pay for IEEs.

In the case the district had argued that the parents were not entitled to an IEE at public expense, because they had not informed the district that the parents disagreed with the school district's evaluation. The court, however, ruled that the mother's refusal to sign the evaluation report, was sufficient to inform the district that the parents' disagreed with the district's evaluation. Moreover, the parents were not required to inform the district about the specifics of their disagreement with the district's evaluation.The district then argued that the parents had obtained an independent evaluation without notifying the district. The court, however, ruled that parents are not required to notify the district before the parents obtain the IEE.

This is a good decision supporting the validity of the IEE process in federal regulations. I would, however, advise parents that if they disagree with the school district's evaluation, they should be more clear in indicating their disagreement than just failing to sign the signature line on the evaluation form.  It would be prudent to notify the district in writing that the parents disagree with the school district's evaluation. If possible, it would also be helpful to advise the district about specifics of the disagreement.