The IDEA is a federal law enacted to ensure every child with special needs is afforded a free and appropriate education. Prior to 2004 the IDEA did not contain a statute of limitations. In 2004, Congress reauthorized the IDEA and added a two-year statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law which sets out the maximum time that parties have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of the alleged offense.
Parents and school districts are entitled to file due process complaints with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free and appropriate public education of such child. (20 USC Section 1415(b)(6)(A)). The two-year statute of limitations for filing due process applies equally to a parent’s request for an IEE. (Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School Dist. v. Parents (2012) OAH #2012051153).
Calculating the Two-Year Statute of Limitations
20 USC Section 1415(f)(3)(C) states:
A parent or agency shall request an impartial due process hearing within 2 years of the date the parent or agency knew or should have known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the complaint, or, if the State has an explicit time limitation for requesting such a hearing under this subchapter, in such time as the State law allows.
Since the reauthorization, hearing officers have wrestled with the interpretation of the two-year statute of limitations. In 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held there is no automatic two-year time bar of claims based on the date of the filing of the case. Avila v. Spokane School Dist. 81 (9th Cir. 2017) 852 F.3d 936. The 9th Circuit refused to uphold a strict occurrence rule which would calculate the two-year statute of limitations from the date the due process complaint was filed. Instead, they upheld the discovery rule, which requires courts limit claims to the two-year period that precedes the date when a parent or agency knew or should have known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the complaint. Avila. This is a question of fact for the hearing officer.
Exceptions to the Two-Year Statute of Limitations
There are only two narrow exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations. 20 USC Section 1415(D)(i) and (ii) provide the following exceptions:
- specific misrepresentations by the local educational agencythat it had resolved the problem forming the basis of the complaint; or
- the local educational agency’s withholding of information from the parent that was required under this subchapter to be provided to the parent.
These narrow exceptions require that the LEA’s actions be intentional or flagrant rather than a repetition of an aspect of determining whether a student received a free appropriate public education. Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School Dist.
Hearing officers have recognized that while an IEP’s implementation is on-going, special education law does not recognize the doctrine of continuing violations as an exemption from the two-year statute of limitations. (Parents v. Hermosa Beach City Elementary School Dist. (2011) OAH# 2011081019).
As you negotiate disputes with your local school district, it is important to keep in mind the two-year statute of limitations. If you don’t, you may lose your right to file a claim for violations under the IDEA as well as other federal and state laws.
If you believe you have a claim against your school district, contact Kristin Springer at (925) 551-1041 to determine whether your claim falls within the statute of limitations.
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