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Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government requires states to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified disabled students in public schools. The Second Circuit ruled in favor of a student and her parents yesterday against their school district, holding that it is possible for severe bullying to interfere with a student’s right to a FAPE.
The student in the case faced extensive bullying by other students in the school, causing social withdrawal and emotional harm that directly interfered with her academic performance. As a disabled student, she was entitled to a FAPE, and the State had developed an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which assesses a student’s deficiencies and plans the specific ways the State will improve a student’s performance. The IDEA grants parents the right to participate in the IEP’s development in order to ensure a proper FAPE for the child.
The plaintiff parents were aware that their child was continuously bullied and repeatedly informed the school of the situation, but received no response or results. Due to the impact the bullying had on the student’s education, the parents sought to address the issue at meetings regarding the IEP development. However, school officials denied the parents the opportunity to raise that issue during the meetings.
The Second Circuit found that severe bullying can in fact restrict a student’s educational opportunities. The State, therefore, is required to permit parents to be heard when discussing bullying as a consideration during the student’s IEP development. The failure to do so violates the parent’s procedural rights under IDEA, and denies the student his or her right to a FAPE.
The Court required the school district to reimburse the plaintiffs for enrollment in a private school, where the parents felt their child would be in a less hostile and more accommodating environment. Private school reimbursements are available to parents only when the facts of the case warrant such an award. The Second Circuit’s decision largely hinged on the fact that the parents took all the necessary steps in trying to work with the school to resolve the bullying issue, but ultimately felt the school’s failure to reciprocate left private education as the only reasonable method of protecting the student’s educational opportunities.
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