L.H. v. Hamilton Cty Dept. of Educ. – August, 2018
L.H. is a 15 year-old boy with Down Syndrome and by all accounts is a personable and kind boy. He is also enthusiastic to learn. To accommodate L.H.’s intellectual disability, the IEP team, comprised of the parents and staff prepared an IEP with goals and objectives. As L.H. prepared to begin third grade, the school district unilaterally moved him from his mainstreamed classroom with non-disabled children to a segregated classroom for children with disabilities in a different school.
The self-contained classroom used an online software program that was not peer reviewed nor tied to the state’s general education standards. The educational program did not provide report cards or track educational progress under state standards.
L.H.’s parents rejected the school’s IEP and filed an IDEA Due Process Complaint. The hearing officer ruled against the parents. The parents appealed, and ended up in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion affirmed the district court decision finding that the school district violated IDEA when it demanded that a second grade student with Down syndrome be removed from his general education classroom in his neighborhood school to a segregated special education classroom comprised solely of children with disabilities at another school. Rejecting the school district’s argument that that L.H. could receive more “meaningful educational benefit” from placement in the special education classroom at the separate school, the Sixth Circuit reiterated that the LRE is a “separate and different” measure than that of “substantive educational benefits” and that, “in some cases, a placement which may be considered better for academic reasons may not be appropriate because of the failure to provide for mainstreaming.”
In a stern condemnation of the school district’s actions violating L.H.’s right to be educated in the LRE, the Sixth Circuit stated that the school district’s approach “is the type of approach that the IDEA was designed to remedy, not encourage or protect.” The Sixth Circuit further explained that “these actions at Normal Park (home zoned school) do not demonstrate a failure of mainstreaming as a concept, but a failure of L.H.’s teachers and the other staff to properly engage in the process of mainstreaming L.H. rather than isolating him and removing him when the situation became challenging.”
This decision is an up-to-date victory on behalf of children who strive to be educated in their general education classroom. The Oberti and Holland decisions remain “good law”, although they are 20+ years old. L.H. reminds us that the least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate is alive and well!