Ninth Circuit overturns district court ruling in case involving how a California school district assesses learning disabilities

June 21, 2016

Nixon Peabody filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Learning Rights Law Center

Chief Communications Officer
Allison McClain

Los Angeles, CA. In a reversal of a district court ruling, the Ninth Circuit overturned a decision in Timothy O. v. Paso Robles Unified School District. This decision is a decisive win for parents and guardians on the issue of a school district’s duty to assess for learning disabilities, including autism. Nixon Peabody represented the Learning Rights Law Center, filing an amicus curiae brief in this case on the Center’s behalf.

Both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and California state law mandates that school districts fully assess a student at the first suspicion of disability. If a school district is informed of suspicion of autism based on either parental concerns, opinions of outside experts or the child’s own conduct and behavior, it must provide an assessment, and then develop its own appropriate educational and intervention plan.

In its decision, the Ninth Circuit found that by relying on the regional center assessment instead of conducting its own, Paso Robles Unified School District failed to assess the student in question and never developed an appropriate individualized education program (“IEP”). As a direct consequence, the education and development of that student suffered.

“Parents of children with special needs have been watching this case closely because it examines a school district’s affirmative obligations when faced with a reasonable suspicion of autism,” said Sarah Erickson André, a commercial litigation partner in Nixon Peabody’s Los Angeles office. “This case highlights the importance of early intervention and particularized education that children with disabilities require and from which they benefit enormously.”

Nixon Peabody’s legal team was led by Sarah Erickson André, labor and employment associate Irene Scholl-Tatevosyan, and former labor and employment associate Michael Curtis.

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