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Rachel H. v. Department of Education

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 29, 2017

Rachel H., by and through her Parents, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Department of Education, State of Hawaii, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted June 15, 2017 Honolulu, Hawaii

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii D.C. No. 1:13-cv-00263-HG-BMK, Helen W. Gillmor, Senior District Judge, Presiding

          Jay S. Handlin (argued), New York, New York, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Kaliko'onalani D. Fernandes (argued), Holly T. Shikada, and Gary S. Suganuma, Deputy Attorneys General; Clyde J. Wadsworth, Solicitor General; Douglas C. Chin, Attorney General; Department of the Attorney General, Honolulu, Hawaii; for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Raymond C. Fisher, Richard A. Paez and Jacqueline H. Nguyen, Circuit Judges.

          SUMMARY [*]

         Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

         The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of the Hawaii Department of Education in an action brought on behalf of a student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

         The panel held that there was no procedural violation of the IDEA, and the student was not denied a free appropriate public education, when the anticipated school where special education services would be delivered, in light of a planned move to a new school district, was not identified. The panel held that the IDEA does not require identification of a particular school in every instance. Rather, the requirement that an individualized education program identify the "location" in which special education services will be provided means that the IEP must identify the general setting or type of environment.

          OPINION

          FISHER, Circuit Judge:

         Rachel H.'s parents brought suit on her behalf against the Hawaii Department of Education, alleging she was denied a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This alleged denial did not stem from any substantive failure to include any particular special education service in her individualized education program. Rather, Rachel's parents argued their daughter was denied a free appropriate public education because of a purported procedural error, specifically, not identifying the anticipated school where special education services would be delivered in light of a planned move to a new school district. Because we hold the IDEA does not require identification of a particular school in every instance, we affirm the district court's summary judgment for the Hawaii Department of Education.

         I.

         Rachel has Down syndrome, but this has not stopped her from spending "her entire educational life fully included with typical students in a general education setting." In 2012, Rachel was finishing ninth grade at a private school paid for, in part, by the Hawaii Department of Education (Department) under a settlement agreement with Rachel's parents. In May of that year, the Department held an individualized education program (IEP) meeting to determine the special education services Rachel would receive in the upcoming school year. During the meeting, Rachel's father urged the Department to continue paying for Rachel's tuition at the private school, but the Department declined. Although agreeing that Rachel qualified for numerous special education services, including one-on-one adult support, the Department's offer of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) provided that her IEP would be "implemented on a public school campus."

         At the time of the May 2012 IEP meeting, all parties involved understood that the "public school campus" offered by the Department was Kalani High School. However, neither Rachel's IEP nor the prior written notice of the proposed changes formally identified the ...


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