This week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals delineated the scope of the statutory exceptions to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) statute of limitations.
The appellate court decided that a public school district’s failure to designate a struggling student as disabled did not fall within the misrepresentation or withholding information exceptions to the IDEA statute of limitations.
The facts leading up to the case, D.K. v. Abington School District, began in 2003 when D.K. began attending kindergarten in the Abington, Pennsylvania. D.K. struggled in the school system, both academically and socially, for several years. In September 2007, a private specialist diagnosed D.K. as ADHD. After its own round of testing, the school district determined that D.K. was eligible for special education services as a student with "other health impairment," and he was offered an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
D.K.'s parents requested an IDEA due process hearing and an award of compensatory education for September 2004 through March 12, 2008. After the request was denied and the administrative remedies were exhausted, the family took their case to federal court.
The IDEA mandates that public educational institutions identify and effectively educate disabled children, or pay for their education elsewhere if they require specialized services that the public institution cannot provide. Schools must identify children in need of special education services, and provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to disabled students.
The IDEA statute of limitations requires a parent to request a due process hearing within two years of "the date the parent ... knew or should have known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the complaint." Parents have the same two years to file an administrative complaint alleging a violation of the IDEA or §504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The statute of limitations does not apply in cases involving specific misrepresentations by the local educational agency that it had resolved the problem, or cases in which the local agency withheld information from the parent that was required to be provided.
Here, the plaintiffs argued that the school district neglected its duties by failing to identify D.K. as a disabled student based on his subpar behavioral and academic performances in kindergarten through third grade, administering incomplete testing in April 2006 that was ill-suited to diagnose ADHD, and offering inadequate support to D.K. before November 2007.
The Third Circuit disagreed, noting, "It would be wrong to conclude that the School District failed to identify D.K. as a challenged student when it offered him substantial accommodations, special instructions, additional time to complete assignments, and one-on-one and specialist attention en route to eventually finding a disability." The appellate court concluded that D.K. was not entitled to a compensatory education award because he received a FAPE, and that the district court did not err in finding that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations.