Facts: The student qualified for special education as a student with autism and attended school in the Houston Independent School District. The student had a history of difficulty focusing, need for frequent redirection, constant movement, and an inability to complete open-ended tasks. The student was placed in total inclusion for several years, but made little progress. The student’s assessments showed deficits in Reading and Math and particularly Written Expression. The student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the 2014-2015 school year provided for Resource Math and in-class support. The IEP, however, removed Resource Reading that had previously been provided and there was no explanation for doing so in the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) Committee deliberations. The IEP also failed to provide any goals in Written Expression. The student’s annual ARD was not convened until October of that school year, after the first grading period. Although the student had not been successful in the full inclusion setting, the ARD Committee continued the student’s full-inclusion placement. After no progress had been shown, the parent withdrew the student to enroll in a private placement. Prior to the start of the next school year, the district proposed an IEP for the student. The parent did not receive notice of the student’s ARD Committee meeting and it was conducted without her. No one who attended the ARD meeting had personal knowledge of the student and no one from the private setting was invited to attend or provide input. The parent ultimately requested a due process hearing and sought reimbursement for the student’s private placement.
Holding: The hearing officer concluded that the District had denied the student FAPE and that the student was entitled to reimbursement for the cost of private tuition. According to the hearing officer, the District’s placement and program decisions for the student were based upon the services available, rather than on the student’s individualized needs. The record showed that the District did not provide the student any meaningful special education support and the student had failing grades as a result. The education program provided by the district was not individualized to the student, was not provided in the least restrictive environment, was not provided in a coordinated and collaborative manner by key stakeholders, and did not provide the student with academic and non-academic benefits. The hearing officer also concluded that the student’s private placement was appropriate and ordered the district to reimburse the parent for two school years, as well as private tutoring, and pay for an additional year of private school tuition as compensatory education.