J.T. v. District of Columbia, No. 20-7105, 2022 WL 126707, 80 IDELR 62 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 11, 2022) (unpublished), aff’ing 496 F. Supp. 3d 190, 77 IDELR 160 (D.D.C. 2020), is a case that concerned parental objections to the school (actually the choice of two schools) that the District of Columbia system identified for a student with autism. The student’s 2018-19 IEP called for minimal noise in his classroom and a maximum class of six students. The public school system’s social worker suggested possible schools to the parent, who rejected the first one, saying it was too far from the student’s home, the classroom was too noisy, and the class had a size of more than six. The parent filed a due process complaint, but the hearing officer rejected the parent’s contentions and dismissed the case. The school system offered another school, but the parent again declined, citing reasons that were largely the same. The parent filed for due process again and the hearing officer ruled for the school system. The parent then filed in district court, and the district court granted summary judgment to the school system. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
The parent contended that the school system frustrated her ability to participate in the placement decision. The court noted that under previous caselaw a school district’s educational placement does not necessarily include the selection of a specific institution. The court said, however, that even if the parent did have the right to participate in selecting the school, she would need to show under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(3)(E)(ii)(II) that the school system’s conduct significantly impeded her opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. On this point, the court said, “Here, as both the hearing officer and the district court explained, DCPS actively worked to involve J.T. in school selection. J.T. had many opportunities to raise concerns on that point, including on school visits and in ongoing discussions with the student’s case worker. And she did convey various concerns in those discussions. In sum, DCPS did not significantly impede her participation rights.” 2022 WL 126707, at *2.
On the substantive claim in the case, that the schools offered were not appropriate, the court emphasized testimony from the school system that the proposed schools could implement the IEP in full. The court rejected the position that attendance at the schools required too long a commute, stating that transportation is to be provided in conformity with the IEP, and the student’s IEP did not mention any problem with long rides even though the parent testified that the student was prone to motion sickness. The parent complained that the classrooms in the proposed placements were too noisy, but the court cited school system testimony that one of the placements had procedures in place to minimize noise, and that the other placement had only one student in the class who was nonverbal and unable to communicate without making noises. The parent complained about class size, but the court noted that the hearing officer credited testimony that the class sizes would not exceed six. The court said it would not second-guess the hearing officer’s conclusions.
Although not a published full decision, this case fits in with any number of cases that reject parents’ objections to the specific school assigned to the student by the school district. See, e.g., Brad K. v. Board of Educ. of City of Chi., 787 F. Supp. 2d 734, 56 IDELR 197 (N.D. Ill. 2011). In this case, the court appeared to have been impressed with the efforts of the school system to involve the parent in the placement decision and find a school that offered a class that could implement the student’s IEP.