Justices Decline Appeals on Special Education, Title IX

By Mark Walsh — January 09, 2012 3 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear appeals in cases involving special education and Title IX.

In one case, the justices declined to hear the appeal of a school district that was ordered to provide compensatory tutoring because it failed to identify a student’s disability.

In the other case, the high court refused to hear the appeal of a group that challenges the U.S. Department of Education’s test for compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

In the special education case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison (Case No. 10-886), the justices had asked the U.S. solicitor general’s office for its views last April on a question under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: whether a parent may bring a claim in a due-process hearing that a district violated the law’s “child-find” provision.

That provision requires that all children with disabilities who are in need of special education services be identified, located, and evaluated.

The Compton, Calif., district appealed lower court rulings that a mother had a valid legal claim under the IDEA that the district had failed to identify her daughter’s disabilities.

According to court papers, when the student was in 10th grade, her teachers became concerned that her work was “gibberish and incomprehensible” and that she had failed every class. The school district referred the girl to a mental health counselor, who recommended that the student be evaluated for learning disabilities. The district did not follow the recommendation, and it promoted the girl to the 11th grade.

The mother later made a request for an individualized education program for her daughter, and the district determined that the girl was eligible for special education services for a learning disability.

The mother brought an administrative claim under the IDEA, arguing that the school district failed under the law’s “child-find” requirement to identify the girl’s disabilities sooner. An administrative law judge largely sided with the family, ordering as much as 150 hours of compensatory tutoring for the girl’s lost educational opportunities.

In a brief filed Nov. 18, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. had told the court it should not take up the school district’s appeal because, among other reasons, the Compton district was mistaken to argue that the child-find provision covers only a school district’s refusal to act to identify eligible children, not its failure to act.

The justices declined the school district’s appeal without comment on Jan. 9.

In the Title IX case, the group Equity in Athletics Inc. challenged the elimination of several men’s sports teams at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. The group also used the case to challenge the federal Education Department’s test for compliance with Title IX, a claim the group has been unsuccessful in making before.

Under that 1979 test, an education institution is in compliance when, first, intercollegiate athletic opportunities for male and female students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments; second, where members of one sex are underrepresented, opportunities are expanded; and third, the institution can show that members of the underrepresented sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program. An institution need only meet any one of the three prongs of the test.

Two lower federal courts ruled against the suit filed by Equity in Athletics, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruling last year that the three-part test is consistent with the text of Title IX and satisfies equal protection principles under the U.S. Constitution.

The justices declined without comment to hear the group’s appeal in Equity in Athletics Inc. v. Department of Education (No. 11-357).

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A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.