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COPAA Urges Fifth Circuit to Uphold District Court’s Well-Reasoned Decision

Tuesday, January 8, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jamie Anderson

COPAA filed an amicus brief on December 17, 2018 in the case of Spring Branch Independent School District v. OW. Selene Almazan and Jessica Salonus drafted and filed the brief on behalf of COPAA. Sonja Kerr and Dorene Philpot, longtime COPAA members, represent the family. Disability Rights Texas filed a brief in support of the family as well.


The IDEA mandates that courts make independent determinations as to whether a school district has complied with IDEA based upon the evidence in the record.  While the district court’s role is to provide an “independent review of the administrative record and make a determination based upon the preponderance of the evidence,” the district court must also “give due weight to state administrative proceedings, mindful that the judiciary generally lacks the specialized knowledge and experience necessary to resolve persistent and difficult questions of educational policy.”  20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii); Hardison v. Bd. of Educ. of the Oneonta City Sch. Dist., 773 F.3d 372, 386-86 (2d Cir. 2014); M.H. v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Educ., 685 F.3d 217, 240 (2d Cir. 2012). 


Here, the hearing officer’s thorough decision detailed the factual findings based upon the testimony and evidence in the administrative record.  The District Court then provided its virtual de novo review and examined the evidence in the administrative record, while providing “due weight” to the hearing officer’s determinations and affirmed the decision of the administrative hearing officer.  On appeal in the Fifth Circuit, this Court must review the district court’s decision as a mixed question of law and fact: reviewing its legal questions de novo and reviewing its findings of underlying fact within its decision for “clear error.”  E.g., Krawietz v. Galveston Indep. Sch. Dist., 900 F.3d 673, 676 (5th Cir. 2018).  In doing so, Amicus respectfully requests that this Court find that there is no clear error in the District Court’s factual findings, and therefore, affirm the District Court’s decision. 

COPAA’s Brief in Spring Branch ISD v. OW.

Appellant’s Brief in Spring Branch ISD v. OW.

Disability Rights Texas’s Brief in Spring Branch ISD v. OW.

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