Parents sued a school district, alleging that it had failed to identify their child’s disability and need for special education services in a timely manner. They further alleged that once the disability was identified, the district failed to appropriately implement the plan that was developed.

The student registered with the district at the beginning of fifth grade. Before that, he attended two different private schools designed for students with social-emotional challenges. Upon his enrollment in public school, the parents provided the district with a letter from the student’s psychiatrist that stated he suffered from ADHD and would benefit from accommodations.

On the first day of school, teachers discovered violent images of murder and death drawn by the student. The parents conferenced with the principal and informed administrators that the student transferred from a therapeutic school, and that he had difficulty with transitions and suffered from oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorder, anxiety and depression. The parents provided the district with contact information for the child’s counselor from his prior school, and that counselor worked with the school on strategies to deal with the student.

Despite this, the student disrupted class daily and engaged in acts of verbal and physical aggression. On Oct. 8, the district determined that the student qualified for 504 accommodations and developed a behavior intervention plan, which had minimal impact on the student’s behavior. On Jan. 9, the student assaulted his teacher by kicking and punching her. The teacher brought assault charges against the student and the district convened a second 504 meeting on Jan. 15, at which time the parents were informed that the student would be referred for a special education evaluation.

An ARD meeting was held on March 11 and a BIP was developed. The parents also agreed to enroll the student in an adaptive behavior program. While enrolled in the program, the student maintained passing grades in all classes and passed the STAAR test; however, he continued to exhibit behavioral problems and had to be restrained and put in timeout on multiple occasions.

On May 5, police were summoned to the student’s classroom after he repeatedly struck his teacher with a closed fist and charged at her. The next day, the district shortened the student’s school day to three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon. The student left the school and was enrolled in a private school.

The parents sued the school district, seeking reimbursement for private school tuition. The district court ruled in favor of the parents, finding that the district had failed to identify the student’s disability in a timely manner and that the student was entitled to reimbursement for private school tuition. The district appealed that ruling.

The court of appeals held that the district violated its obligation to refer the student for special education services in a timely manner. The district knew that the child likely had a disability as early as Oct. 8, yet did not refer the student for an evaluation for special education services until Jan. 15, 99 days later. The court stated that this delay may have been reasonable had the district used that time to take steps to identify and evaluate the student’s disability, but it did not do that.

The district was aware on Oct. 8 that general behavior interventions were not working; therefore the continued use of those interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the law. The court also held that once the IEP was developed, the district failed to follow it when it placed the student in timeout when it was not allowed for by the IEP and shortened the student’s school day. The court did find however, that it was acceptable for the district to restrain the student and to contact the police, even when those actions were not specifically authorized by the IEP.

The court of appeals ruled that the parents were entitled to relief of some kind and asked the district court to review the case and determine whether the parents should be entitled to reimbursement for private school tuition. The district court's ruling on reimbursement is pending.