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June 7, 2006

HSLDA to Sue School District over IDEA

Despite a victory in Missouri where Home School Legal Defense Association successfully defended a homeschooling family from having to submit to unwanted special needs testing, the cause of homeschool freedom has hit a temporary roadblock in New York. Last week, a New York State hearing officer ruled that a New York member family, the Durhams*, would be forced to submit to a special needs evaluation under the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

The Durham family has been homeschooling for years due to their strong religious convictions. The Livonia Area School District, attempting to force their special needs son to submit to a public school evaluation, claims that state law and the IDEA requires such an evaluation, even though the child has already been privately evaluated and the family desires no public school special needs services. When the Durhams refused to let the school district evaluate their son, the District called a due process hearing, in which the hearing officer ruled that the school district had a right to conduct an evaluation, even though the Durhams objected.

HSLDA appealed the Durham’ case to a State Review Officer in July 2005. While the appeal was pending, the United States Department of Justice submitted an amicus brief in support of HSLDA’s interpretation of IDEA, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit unanimously ruled in Fitzgerald v. Camdenton R-III1 that, “Congress intends that a district may not force an evaluation under the circumstances in this case. Where a home-schooled child’s parents refuse consent, privately educate the child, and expressly waive all benefits under the IDEA, an evaluation would have no purpose.”

This reasoning in the Fitzgerald victory should have had the same application in the identical Durham appeal, but the New York State Review Officer (SRO) had a different opinion. Ignoring both the clear intent of Congress and the cogent reasoning of the Eighth Circuit, the SRO substituted his own opinion that federal law mandates an evaluation even if the parents object.

HSLDA plans to take this case to the next level by filing a lawsuit against the school district on the Durhams’ behalf in the federal district court where we expect the court to side with the Eighth Circuit.

* Family's name has been changed to protect their privacy.

1 Fitzgerald v. Camdenton R-III School District, 439 F. 3d 773, 206 L. Ed. Rep. 837, C.A. 8 (Mo) March 01, 2006 (No. 04-3102)

 Other Resources

Court Case: Livonia Central School District v. D Family

Court Report, November/December 2005
A Not So Bright Idea: School Districts Misinterpret Special Needs Law