August 9, 2012
On August 7, 2012, the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) issued a significant decision on an issue that arises repeatedly in school districts1 and county offices of education (school districts, independent charter schools and county offices of education shall be referred to as “LEA”) throughout California: How much time can elapse before a parent is barred from requesting an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense?
In Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District v. Student (OAH Case No. 2012051153), OAH ruled that the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (“District”) was neither (1) required to fund the student’s request for an IEE, nor (2) required to file for due process to defend the appropriateness of its prior assessments, when the request for an IEE was made 28 months after the assessments were completed.
Rejecting the student’s argument that a request for an IEE is an ongoing right, akin to an on-going right to request records2, OAH found unequivocally that there was no evidence that Congress or the California legislature intended for students to be able to request IEEs without a time-bar consequence. In dismissing student’s contentions to the contrary, OAH noted that if student’s argument was given legal effect, no request for an IEE would ever be barred by the statute of limitations, thereby forcing LEA’s to fund a requested IEE or litigate the appropriateness of its assessments long after the assessments contained current information.
As indicated in our August 6, 2012 Blog, earlier case law appeared to support the position that the two year statute of limitations applied to requests for IEEs. However, Placentia-Yorba Linda marks the first OAH decision to directly find that an LEA is not legally obligated to fund an IEE or file for a due process hearing to defend its assessment if the parents wait more than two years after the LEA’s assessment to request the IEE.
While there are two narrow exceptions that could extend the statute of limitations period beyond two years, OAH rejected the idea that either exception applied in Placentia-Yorba Linda. Such exceptions to the statute of limitations period can occur in the following two scenarios: (1) when the LEA has made specific misrepresentations that it has resolved the problem forming the basis of the due process hearing request, or (2) when the LEA has withheld information from the parent which is required to be provided to the parents. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(3)(D); Cal. Ed. Code §56505(l). In Placentia-Yorba Linda, the student attempted to apply the second exception, arguing that the procedural rights and safeguards, unchanged since 2009, did not require that an IEE request be made within two years. OAH, however, rejected this argument.
Impact on School Districts
The impact on LEA’s is significant, as this case provides clarification on an issue that had previously been ambiguous, and frequently had been met with the response: “it depends.” What should be expected, however, is an increase in cases in which parent attorneys and advocates attempt to fit the facts of their case into a narrow exception that will extend the statute of limitations period. The encouraging news is that OAH emphasized that such exceptions are to be given narrow and limited application, such that successful application of these exceptions should be fairly infrequent.
1. This includes independent charter schools, which the law deems to be their own LEA.
2. Although not addressed in this decision, our firm has strategy recommendations about repeated requests for records that have already been produced.