Facts: M.P. filed suit against Aransas Pass Independent School District to appeal the decision of Special Education Hearing Officer (“SEHO”) Lucius D. Bunton. The student had initiated two due process hearings against the district. In both hearings, the hearing officer held M.P. did not meet his burden of proof that the District violated its child-find duty because insufficient evidence existed to show that M. P. had a qualifying disability under the IDEA, despite a series of behavioral incidents at school. The hearing officer held that M.P.’s disciplinary infractions could be handled in a general education environment rather than rising to the level of requiring specialized instruction. Ultimately, the student’s requested relief was denied.
Holding: The trial court concluded that M.P. had not demonstrated that he qualified for special education and related services because of his history of behavioral problems. Although M.P. had provided expert witness testimony suggesting that he had autism and an emotional disturbance that required special education support, the district challenged the expert witness evaluations and offered conflicting evidence and testimony. The trial court noted M.P.’s prior academic success and the fact that the parent had previously agreed that M.P. did not need special education, and found that M.P. was capable of academic achievement without special education support. The evidence was insufficient to explain why M.P.’s behavior had declined and there was no evidence connecting a qualifying disability to M.P.’s behavioral problems. The court stated: “In the complete absence of persuasive evidence of the nexus between disability and special education needs, the Court – like the SEHO – can only conclude that M.P. has failed to meet his burden of proof that his educational difficulties warranted special education and related services. The trial court, therefore, upheld the hearing officer’s decision in favor of the school district.