The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") seeks to ensure that children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education. 20 USC §§1400-1485. The IDEA provides federal funds to assist state and local agencies to educate children with disabilities, but conditions funding on compliance with specific goals and procedures.
The IDEA requires states to implement procedural safeguards to ensure disabled children receive an appropriate education. Among these is the right for any party to present a complaint "with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or education placement of the child." 20 USC §1415(b)(6)(A), 34 CFR §300.507.
One [condition of receiving federal funds] is that states enact policies and procedures ensuring that all children with disabilities... who are in need of special education services are identified, located and evaluated. Compton School Dist. v. Addision, 9th Cir. Case. No. 07-55751, 03-22-2010.
California law requires that local educational agencies "shall actively and systematically seek out all individuals with exceptional needs." Cal. Educ. Code §56300. "All children with disabilitys... shall be identified, located, and assessed." Cal. Educ. Code § 56301(a). California law also allows parents to initiate a due process hearing when there is a proposal or a refusal to initiate or change "the identification, assessment, or educational placement" of a child. Cal. Educ. Code §56501(a).
The district court may, in its discretion, award attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. Aguirre v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist., 461 F.3d 1114, 1115 (9th Cir. 2006). Aguirre, held that the degree of success obtained is the most critical factor in determining whether fees are warranted in an IDEA case. And a district court may award "full fees even where a party did not prevail on every contention." Id at 1121.
Because schools face the risk of having to pay the parents' attorney's fees if they fail to meet legal requirements in evaluating children with learning disabilities, most schools will cooperate when this duty is clearly explained to them.
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