With the advocacy of education attorneys Michelle L. Cannon and Marcy L. Gutierrez, Rocklin Unified School District recently prevailed in a federal court appeal of a special education due process hearing.
This case involved an appeal of a special education due process hearing where, in the underlying hearing the student’s parents alleged denials of FAPE for two school years, seeking compensatory education, reimbursement for an in-home ABA program, other clinic-based services, and a future order that the student required in-home ABA services, music therapy, and other related services from clinic-based providers in order to receive a FAPE. After a lengthy due process hearing where Ms. Gutierrez defended the district’s program, the Hearing Officer ruled in favor of the district’s IEP in denying the requested future placement and services. While the Hearing Officer found the District’s initial 30-day transitional IEP did not offer the student a FAPE, the Hearing Officer denied the student any remedy and declined to find the student a prevailing party.
In the appeal, the student cited numerous reasons to overturn the SEHO decision. Specifically, the student argued that he achieved prevailing party status because the district offered reimbursement for certain services only after he filed the request for due process. The federal court agreed with the district’s argument that its reimbursement offer was not judicially sanctioned, and therefore declined to reverse any of the Hearing Officer’s prevailing party findings.
This decision is a significant victory for school districts for several reasons. It confirmed that a public school program can meet the requirements of FAPE even when there is a request for in-home ABA services. Further, this decision provides specific clarification regarding prevailing party status, stating that any resolution must have judicial imprimatur to create prevailing party status.