STEVEN R.F., a minor by and through his mother Carrie Fernandez, Plaintiff - Appellee,
HARRISON SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 2, and various of its elected and appointed representatives in their official capacities, Defendant-Appellant.
from the United States District Court for the District of
Colorado (D.C. No. 1:17-CV-00629-RBJ)
R. Stanek, Anderson, Dude, and Lebel, Colorado Springs,
Colorado (William K. Dude, Anderson, Dude, and Lebel,
Colorado Springs, Colorado, and W. Stuart Stuller, Caplan
& Ernest, LLP, Boulder, Colorado, with him on the
briefs), appearing for Appellant.
Michael C. Cook, Cook Varriano, P.C., Colorado Springs,
Colorado, appearing for Appellee.
BRISCOE, LUCERO, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.
BRISCOE, CIRCUIT JUDGE
appeal, Defendant-Appellant Harrison School District No. 2
asks us to reverse the district court's ruling that it
violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA) by failing to provide Plaintiff-Appellee Steven R.F.
with a free appropriate public education. Because we conclude
that the case is moot, we dismiss this appeal, vacate the
district court's ruling, and remand with instructions to
dismiss as moot.
IDEA provides federal funds to states for educating children
with disabilities, guaranteeing disabled children between the
ages of three and twenty-one access to a free appropriate
public education (FAPE). 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400(d),
1412(a)(1). A FAPE "emphasizes special education and
related services designed to meet [the child's] unique
needs." Id. § 1400(d). A child's
individualized education program (IEP) governs how a school
will provide him or her a FAPE. See id. §
1414(d)(1)(A). The IEP is a written statement developed in a
meeting attended by the student's parents, teacher, and a
special education professional that summarizes the
student's abilities, outlines goals for the student's
education, specifies the services the student will receive to
achieve those goals, and establishes criteria to evaluate the
student's progress. Id. § 1414(d)(1).
IDEA also requires state and local educational agencies
receiving funding under the Act to "establish and
maintain procedures . . . to ensure that children with
disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural
safeguards with respect to the provision" of a FAPE.
Id. § 1415(a); see also Honig v. Doe,
484 U.S. 305, 311-12 (1988). For example, the IDEA requires
that a child's parents be notified by the school district
of any proposed change to the child's educational
placement. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(3). It also requires that
the parents be permitted to participate in discussions
relating to their child's evaluation and education.
Id. § 1414(d)(1)(B)(i). And it requires states
to allow parents the opportunity to bring a complaint about
"any matter relating to the identification, evaluation,
or educational placement of [their] child, or the provision
of a [FAPE] to such child." Id. §
R.F. is a fourteen-year-old boy with severe autism. [App.,
Vol. II at 438.] In 2013, the District agreed to place Steven
at the Alpine Autism Center, a private out-of-district
facility in Colorado Springs. [Id.]
2014, the District proposed to move Steven from Alpine to a
public school called the School of Excellence (SOE) for the
2014-2015 schoolyear. [Id.] Steven's mother,
Carrie Fernandez (Mother), objected and filed a state
complaint asserting various IDEA violations. After an
investigation, the State Complaint Officer (SCO) agreed with
Mother and issued a written decision (2014 SCO Order). As a
remedy, the SCO ordered, among other things, that the
District could not change Steven's placement until: (1)
staff members from any new placement "proposed by"
the District "have observed [Steven] . . . at [Alpine]
to understand the nature of [his] educational and behavioral
functioning" and (2) the District "convenes an IEP
meeting, facilitated by a neutral facilitator (not employed
by the School District) . . . and develops an IEP that
includes a description of placement sufficient to allow
[Mother] to understand what is being proposed." App.,
Vol. II at 618. Steven remained at Alpine for the 2014-2015
and 2015-2016 schoolyears. [See id. at 442.]
March 29, 2016, and April 5, 2016, the District held
Steven's IEP meeting for the 2016-2017 schoolyear.
[Id. at 444.] The IEP meeting was facilitated by the
District's school psychologist, Michelle McFall.
[Id.] Toward the end of the meeting, after agreeing
on required aspects of the IEP, the attendants discussed what
facility Steven would attend. [Id. at 446.] Amy
Lloyd, the District's special education coordinator,
proposed three alternatives: Roundup Fellowship, Alpine, and
the SOE. [Id.] The team decided on the SOE, over
Mother's objection. [Id.] At the time of the IEP
meeting, no staff members from either the SOE or Roundup had
observed Steven at Alpine. [See generally id. at
the meeting, McFall prepared a "Prior Written Notice of
Special Education Action" summarizing the IEP Team's
discussions and decisions. [Id. at 447;
accord App., Vol. III at 676-79.] The notice
identified the SOE as Steven's placement for 2016-2017,
but did not identify ...