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 Article of Interest - Recent Court Cases

Sixth Circuit Court Holds That "The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)" Does Not Mean a Neighborhood School

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MCLAUGHLIN v. HOLT PUB. SCH. BD. OF EDUC., No. 01-1521 (6th Cir. February 24, 2003)

In part: "The plaintiffs, Carl and Mary Sue McLaughlin, filed suit in district court pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq., seeking to overturn the order of a state hearing review officer in favor of the defendant school board in a dispute over the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their daughter, Emma McLaughlin, that had been proposed by Holt Public Schools for the 1999-2000 school year. The district court reversed the administrative ruling, holding that the school system must afford the child the appropriate educational program outlined in the IEP at the school in her neighborhood rather than the facility some distance from her home that was identified by the defendants as the most appropriate
educational setting for a student with Emma's particular needs. This placement, the district court ruled, constituted the "least restrictive environment" under the requirements of the Act. . . .


States and school districts should be afforded some discretion in determining what type of program is appropriate based on the individual needs of a disabled child. See id. at 566 ("The primary responsibility for formulating the education to be accorded a handicapped child, and for choosing the educational method most
suitable to the child's needs, was left by the [IDEA] to state and local educational agencies in cooperation with the parents or guardian of the child."). In this case, numerous school officials testified that the categorical classroom placement was necessary based on Emma's goals and needs and based on a comparison of the teaching methodologies. We need not detail that evidence here, because there is no dispute about the facts that support the experts' testimony. It is sufficient to note that, giving the appropriate deference to the findings of the administrative hearing officers, the plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proving that the 1999 IEP plan was inappropriate for Emma. . . .

It follows that the judgment of the district court must be REVERSED and the case REMANDED for entry of an order sustaining the decision of the state hearing review officer."


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