On October 17, 2013, the Office of Administrative Hearings issued three decisions in cases against the Contra Costa County Probation Department with largely similar facts. (Case Nos. 2013080462, 2013080449, 2013080471). In the decisions, OAH held that if a County Probation Department prevents a County Office of Education from carrying out its duty to provide eligible students detained in juvenile hall with special education services, the role of “responsible public agency” falls on Probation.
More specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that a responsible public agency exist for each student eligible to receive special education services. If a county office of education cannot carry out its federally mandated duty to provide special education services, the obligation to educate the student must fall on another public entity. In the cases above, the Contra Costa County Office of Education was unable to carry out its duty to serve special education students in juvenile hall because Probation placed the students in a security program which prevented the students from attending school or receiving educational services in their housing unit. In such circumstances, the hearing officer found that OAH could properly exercise jurisdiction over Probation in a special education due process matter.
The hearing officer agreed with expert testimony that likened the education of institutionally segregated wards to that of students placed on home-hospital instruction. In the latter case, local educational agencies are responsible for home-hospital instruction, typically for one hour per day, to special education students who are unable to attend school due to a medical condition or other reason. By analogy, because Probation determines when a student may return to a juvenile hall school or level of access to home-hospital instruction while the child is on a security program, Probation is a jointly responsible agency. In such narrow circumstances, Probation’s responsibilities include child find duties and the provision of special education services for students with an IEP.