The Case of D.R. v Redondo Beach Unified School District
Jean Murrell Adams, Esq.
(9th Cir. December 20, 2022)
When the school district tried to push their child out of general education, these parents fought back—and won!
D.R. thrived in general education. For years, D.R., a child with significant developmental disabilities, spent 75% of the school day in the general education classroom with his peers. He had a full-time behavioral aide who worked one-on-one with him in the regular classroom to help him follow a modified general education curriculum, as well as four hours per week of special education instruction outside the regular classroom in the school’s Learning Center. During that time, he made substantial progress per his yearly IEPs and made close friends with several of his general education classmates. Still, by the 5th grade, school officials felt D.R. needed to spend more than half of his school day in a segregated Special Day Class with other children with disabilities. D.R.’s parents did not believe he should be excluded from the “least restrictive environment” and challenged the school district’s decision.
What is LRE and why is it important? Special education law requires school districts and charter schools to educate children with disabilities in the “least restrictive environment” (often called “inclusion”). They must ensure that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A). This law is very important because before it existed, children with disabilities were often completely excluded from the public school system and from being educated with their peers.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the Court backs inclusion. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California and other western states) had to decide whether the school district’s proposed placement complied with the least restrictive environment requirement under the law. They considered four factors: 1) most importantly, the academic benefits of being in the regular verses the special education classroom; 2) the non-academic benefits of the regular classroom; 3) any negative impact on non-disabled peers; and 4) the cost of providing aids and services needed to educate a child with a disability in the regular classroom.
Education is not one size fits all. The Court sided with D.R.’s parents and said that “a satisfactory education is not a one-size fits-all concept” and that a child’s academic goals should be measured in line with their unique circumstances. Further, the fact that a child receives academic benefit in the regular classroom because of supplementary aids and services doesn’t matter, as those services are required by law. D.R. was making great progress in general education, with supports, therefore the school district’s attempt to move him to a segregated special day class for over half of his day was unjustified and violated the law.
Kudos to our colleague, David W. German, Esq. of the law firm of Vanaman German LLP for his outstanding work in achieving this important decision.
In response to ongoing staff shortages, ADAMS ESQ’s social justice circle is funding academic screenings at no charge to qualifying children with special education needs in California and Nevada. For more information on this program, contact us today at: firstname.lastname@example.org or reach us toll-free at: 1-800-785-6713. You also may want to read and repost our past blogs: “Thanks Governor—5 New Laws We’re Thankful For!”, “Where’s my Special Education Teacher?”, “Hey! Where’s my ESY?”, “Special Education Teaching is Really Hard!”, “The ‘FREE’ in FAPE”, Doubling-Down on Special Education and Look Before You Leap! 5 Things to Know Before Leaving Your Child at School During a Pandemic.