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Compton Unified School District v. Addison

March 22, 2010

COMPTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STARVENIA ADDISON; GLORIA ALLEN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
COMPTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ALLEN, STARVENIA ADDISON; GLORIA DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California A. Howard Matz, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-06-04717-AHM.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pregerson, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted October 23, 2008-Pasadena, California

Before: Harry Pregerson and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges, and Raner C. Collins,*fn1 District Judge.

Opinion by Judge Pregerson; Dissent by Judge N.R. Smith

OPINION

Compton Unified School District (the "School District") appeals the district court's decision granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of Starvenia Addison ("Addison"), a student in the School District. The School District argues that Addison does not have a cognizable claim against the School District for its failure to identify her disabilities. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review matters of law, such as the jurisdictional issue raised here, de novo, see Johnson v. Special Educ. Hearing Office, 287 F.3d 1176, 1179 (9th Cir. 2002), and affirm.

I. Background

Addison received very poor grades and scored below the first percentile on standardized tests during her ninth-grade year in 2002-2003. The school counselor attributed Addison's poor performance to common "transitional year" difficulties. The counselor did not consider it atypical for a ninth-grader such as Addison to perform at a fourth-grade level.

In the fall of her tenth-grade year, Addison failed every academic subject. The counselor considered these grades to be a "major red flag." Teachers reported that Addison was "like a stick of furniture" in class, and that her work was "gibberish and incomprehensible." Teachers also reported that Addison sometimes refused to enter the classroom, colored with crayons at her desk, played with dolls in class, and urinated on herself in class.

Addison's mother was reluctant to have the child "looked at," and School District officials decided not to "push." Instead, the School District referred Addison to a third-party mental-health counselor. The third-party counselor recommended that the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. Despite the recommendation, the School District did not refer Addison for an educational assessment, and instead promoted Addison to eleventh grade.

In September 2004, Addison's mother wrote a letter to the School District explicitly requesting an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program ("IEP") meeting. The assessment took place on December 8, 2004. The IEP team determined that Addison was eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005.

Addison brought an administrative claim under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1485, seeking compensatory educational services for the School District's failure to identify her needs and provide a free appropriate public education. The administrative law judge found for Addison, and the district court affirmed. This appeal timely followed.

II. Analysis

A. IDEA Claims

[1] The IDEA seeks to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education. 20 U.S.C. § 1400. The IDEA "provides federal funds to assist state and local agencies in educating children with disabilities, but conditions such funding on compliance with certain goals and procedures." Ojai Unified Sch. Dist. v. Jackson, 4 F.3d 1467, 1469 (9th Cir. 1993). One of these conditions is that states enact policies and procedures ensuring that "all children with disabilities . . . who are in need of special education services[ ] are identified, located, and evaluated." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A). This obligation is also known as the "child find" requirement.

[2] The IDEA also requires states to implement a number of procedural safeguards to ensure that disabled children receive an appropriate education. Among these safeguards is the opportunity for any party to present a complaint "with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6)(A). 34 C.F.R. § 300.507 implements this due process complaint requirement.

[3] As another, separate procedural safeguard, the IDEA requires that local educational agencies provide written notice to a child's parents whenever the agency "proposes to initiate or change" or "refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child . . . ." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(3). 34 C.F.R. § 300.503(a) implements these notice requirements.

[4] California, in compliance with the IDEA, mandates that local educational agencies "shall actively and systematically seek out all individuals with exceptional needs." Cal. Educ. Code § 56300. "All children with disabilities . . . shall be identified, located, and assessed." Cal. Educ. Code § 56301(a). California also allows parents to initiate a due process hearing when there is a proposal or a refusal to initiate or ...


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