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E.M. v. Lewisville Independent School District

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

January 11, 2017

E. M., A MINOR; S.M., NEXT FRIEND; AND C.S., NEXT FRIEND
v.
LEWISVILLE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Submit Additional Evidence to the Record (Dkt. #18). After considering the relevant pleadings, the Court finds the motion should be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a student with a disability who attended school within the Lewisville Independent School District (“LISD”) until December 2014. The LISD was responsible for providing Plaintiff with a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (the “IDEA”).

         On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a special education due process hearing request with the Texas Education Agency pursuant to the IDEA alleging that the LISD failed to provide Plaintiff with a free appropriate public education during the 2013-2014 school year and 2014-2015 school year. The due process hearing was held before a Special Education Hearing Officer (“Hearing Officer”) in March 2015. On May 22, 2015, the Hearing Officer issued a decision finding that the LISD provided Plaintiff a free appropriate public education as required by the IDEA. On August 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Court appealing the Hearing Officer's decision.

         On June 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion to Submit Additional Evidence to the Record (Dkt. #18). Plaintiff seeks to introduce twenty-two exhibits which Plaintiff asserts were denied admission at the administrative due process hearing. Plaintiff further seeks to introduce evidence not available at the time of the administrative due process hearing, including recent progress reports and evaluations provided by private therapy providers. On June 17, 2016, the LISD filed a response (Dkt. #20).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Although the role of the judiciary under the IDEA is limited, and the choice of educational policies and methods is in the hands of state and local school officials, “a federal district court's review of a special education hearing officer's decision in a due process hearing is virtually de novo.” S.H. ex rel. A.H. v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., 487 Fed. App'x. 850, 855-856 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). While the district court must give “due weight” to the hearing officer's decision, it must reach an independent decision based on a preponderance of the evidence before it. Klein Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Hovem, 690 F.3d 390, 394 (5th Cir. 2012); Houston Indep. Sch. Dist. v. V.P. ex rel. Juan P., 582 F.3d 576, 583 (5th Cir. 2009); Houston Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Bobby R., 200 F.3d 341, 347 (5th Cir. 2000) (“Bobby R.”). The Court's task, therefore, is not to second guess a school district's decisions or impose its own plans for the education of disabled students; rather, it is the narrow one of determining whether a school district complied with the IDEA. White ex. Rel. White v. Ascension Parish Sch. Bd., 343 F.3d 373, 377 (5th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         As to what evidence the Court is to consider, the statutory framework of the IDEA provides:

         In any action brought under this paragraph, the court-

(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings;
(ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and
(iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court ...

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