HOOKS v. CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DIST. No. 98-17271.
228 F.3d 1036 (2000)
William and Catherine HOOKS, individually and as parents and natural guardians of Christopher Hooks, a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT and Brian Cram, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Clark County School District, Defendants-Appellees.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Filed September 21, 2000.
Jon Okazaki, Office of General Counsel, Las Vegas, Nevada, for the defendants-appellees.
Before: GOODWIN, BRUNETTI, and THOMAS, Circuit Judges.
GOODWIN, Circuit Judge:
William and Catherine Hooks appeal the dismissal of their action against Clark County School District and its Superintendent. Their case presents novel issues regarding (1) the interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (1996) ("IDEA"), and (2) the constitutionality of denying benefits to home-educated children. We hold that, pursuant to the IDEA, States have discretion in determining whether home education constitutes an IDEA-qualifying "private school." Further, the challenged regulatory scheme does not unconstitutionally offend equal protection principles or infringe on the parents' liberty interest in guiding their child's education.
Christopher Hooks is a child who receives his education at home from his parents. In August 1996, Christopher was
In Nevada, children taught at home can be excused from Nevada's compulsory attendance law by receiving an exemption under Nevada Revised Statute ("NRS") 392.070 (1997) (the "home-education exemption"). Exempted educational environments avoid certain regulatory requirements imposed on institutional "private schools" in Nevada. See, e.g., NRS 651.050(2)(k) (1997) (imposing requirements on "private schools"); NRS 394.251 (1997) (same); NRS 394.130 (1997) (same).
The Hooks family has applied for and received the home-education exemption since the 1994-95 school year. For the 1996-97 school year, the Hooks family requested that Christopher be exempted from Nevada's compulsory attendance law and also that he receive speech therapy services provided in Nevada's schools. As noted, the school district refused the services.
By letter in March 1997, the school district explained that the school district's Policy 5111(IV) provides that, in accordance with Nevada law, students who receive the home-education exemption "do not have access to instruction and/or ancillary services with the public schools." Id. The school district suggested that the parents either (1) seek an exception from the Board of Trustees, or (2) enroll Christopher in the school district, where he would have an individualized education plan tailored to his needs. The Hooks family chose neither option.
Instead, in June 1997, the Hooks family filed a complaint with the Nevada Department of Education (the "NDOE"), which the NDOE rejected. The NDOE relied on a policy letter from the United States Office of Special Education Programs ("OSEP"), which declares that States have discretion to determine whether or not home education qualifies as a "private school or facility" that implicates IDEA requirements. See U.S. Dept. of Educ., OSEP, Policy Letter to Williams, 18 IDELR 742 (Jan. 22, 1992). Because exempted home education does not qualify as a "private school" under Nevada law, NRS 394.103 (1997), the NDOE upheld the school district's policy.
In January 1998, the parents filed a federal action, alleging that the school district's policy violated the IDEA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parents sought (1) declaratory relief that Christopher is entitled to receive speech therapy services, (2) reimbursement for the parents' payments for private speech therapy services, and (3) attorneys' fees. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the school district, and the parents appealed. We affirm.
JURISDICTION & STANDARD OF REVIEW
We have jurisdiction to review the summary judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we review de novo. See Washington v. Garrett,
I. Change in Nevada Law
After this action was commenced, the Nevada legislature amended state law to provide that "[t]he board of trustees of
Pursuant to this legislation, the school district concedes that it is now required to provide speech therapy to eligible home-educated children, and Christopher has been assessed and deemed eligible for speech therapy services. Thus, there is no need for us to consider whether the district court erred by refusing to enter a declaratory judgment. We remand that matter to the district court for its consideration in light of Nevada's new law.
However, neither the appeal nor the action is moot, because the new law does not resolve the reimbursement claim for the payments already made by the parents for Christopher's therapy, to which we now turn. Cf. Capistrano Unified School Dist. v. Wartenberg,
II. Statutory and Regulatory Scheme
The IDEA and accompanying regulations provide for special services for three categories of children: (1) students in public schools; (2) children placed in private schools by a public agency; and (3) children placed unilaterally in private schools by their parents. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(1) (1994); 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.400-300.452 (1996); Nieuwenhuis v. Delavan-Drien School Dist.,
The Hooks family argues that Christopher is a child of the third category, i.e., a child placed unilaterally in private school by his parents, and thus that he qualifies for services. The regulations in effect at the time of Christopher's request provide that where "parents choose to place the child in a private school or facility," 34 C.F.R. § 300.403(a) (1996), provision shall be made for "special education and related services of [such a] private school child [ ]," 34 C.F.R. § 300.452 (1996), "[t]o the extent consistent with their number and location in the State." Id. (emphasis added). The amended, current version of the IDEA regarding "private elementary and secondary schools" reads in similar fashion. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(10)(A)(i) (2000).
The question we confront is whether Christopher qualifies as a "private school child," i.e., a child placed in a "private school or facility." Neither the IDEA nor the regulations defines or explains what constitutes a "private school."
III. State Discretion Under the IDEA to Define "School"
The school district contends, and the district court held, that state law controls the definition of "private school" under the IDEA, and that therefore Christopher does not qualify, because exempted home education does not qualify as a "private school" in Nevada. "Private schools," under pre-1999 Nevada law, "means private elementary and secondary educational institutions. The term does not include a home in which instruction is provided to a child excused from compulsory attendance pursuant to NRS 392.070." NRS 394.103 (1997) (emphasis added). Thus, Christopher does not qualify as a "private school" child under Nevada law, and thereby does not qualify for ancillary services under the school district's policy.
The Hooks family does not dispute the school district's interpretation of Nevada law, and we do not address that issue of
Instead, we hold that the IDEA leaves discretion to the States to determine that home education that is exempted from the State's compulsory attendance requirement does not constitute an IDEA-qualifying "private school or facility." In holding that this matter is left to the States, we affirm the district court.
We start with the words of the statutory and regulatory provisions. The common meaning of those words — their plain language — does not require that exempted home education qualify as a "private school or facility." A "school" can be commonly defined as an "institution for the instruction of children." Webster's II, New Riverside University Dictionary 1045 (1994) (emphasis added); and an "institution" can be commonly defined as an "established organization or foundation, esp[ecially] one dedicated to public service." Id. at 633; cf. Black's Law Dictionary 800, 1344 (6th ed.1990) (similarly defining "[i]nstitution" and "[s]chool"). Moreover, a "facility" can be commonly defined as "[s]omething created to serve a particular function," such as "a new mental health facility." Webster's II, New Riverside University Dictionary 460 (1994) (emphasis in original); cf. Black's Law Dictionary 591 (6th ed. 1990) (similarly defining "[f]acility").
These common definitions comport almost precisely with Nevada's definition of a private school as a private "institution," which excludes an exempted private home. NRS 394.103 (1997). Under these common definitions, such a home is neither a "school," a "facility," an "institution," an "established organization," nor something created to serve the "particular function" of education. We do not offer this analysis to suggest, and we do not hold, that a State can never define "private school" broadly enough to include home education within the sphere of IDEA-benefitted educational environments. We merely conclude that the plain language does not compel such a broad definition.
Second, we look to the interpretation embraced by the policy letter issued by OSEP, which is charged with implementing and enforcing the IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. § 1402(a) (2000). According to OSEP, the "determination of whether a home education constitutes private school placement must be made on the basis of state law." OSEP Policy Letter to Williams, 18 IDELR 742, 744. The Supreme Court has taken guidance from an OSEP policy letter, as we do today, to define an ambiguous provision of the IDEA. See Honig v. Doe,
Third, Congress explicitly ratified OSEP's view that States must define the ambit of "private schools." Specifically, the amended IDEA provides inter alia that "[t]he term `elementary school' means a nonprofit institutional day or residential school that provides elementary education, as determined under State law." 20 U.S.C. § 1401(5) (2000) (emphasis added). Elsewhere, the new IDEA's definition of "secondary school" is likewise committed to "State law." 20 U.S.C. § 1401(23) (2000).
"When a Congress that re-enacts a statute voices its approval of an administrative or other interpretation thereof, Congress is treated as having adopted that interpretation." United States v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Sheffield,
Nevada's 1999 legislation providing for speech therapy for home-educated students is but additional evidence that federal courts need not strain to capture this subject from the States. On this issue, we affirm the district court.
IV. Section 1983 Claims
The Hooks family also brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and contends that the school district's policy violates equal protection and due process principles implicated by the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution. We reject these claims as well, because the challenged regulatory scheme does not regard a suspect classification, impinge upon a fundamental right, or fail to bear a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose.
To withstand Fourteenth Amendment scrutiny, a regulation must bear only a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, unless the regulation implicates a fundamental right or an inherently suspect classification. See City of New Orleans v. Dukes,
A. Due Process
Addressing the first of these issues, we hold that the regulatory scheme does not unconstitutionally infringe on the parents' liberty interest in directing Christopher's education. Subject to "reasonable government regulation," Runyon v. Gonzales,
Courts outside our Circuit have applied the Pierce parental liberty to a right of parents to educate their children at home, and these courts have held that any such right is subject to reasonable regulation. See, e.g., Murphy v. Arkansas,
We locate no infringement here. The school district's policy does not prohibit the Hooks family's desired educational option — indeed, Christopher currently and legally receives his education at home. The school district's policy, in accordance with pre-1999 Nevada law, merely requires that certain benefits attached to school attendance be in fact attached to "school" attendance.
A recent case in the Tenth Circuit concerned a similar issue. In Swanson v. Guthrie Independent School Dist. I-L,
Parents in Nevada who teach their children at home pursuant to the NRS 392.070 home-education exemption are not subject to the same educational and institutional controls that guide educators in institutional private schools or public schools. For example, a "private school" in Nevada is considered a "[p]lace of public accommodation," and thus is subject to expanded legal obligations. See NRS 651.050(2)(k); cf. Clark County School Dist. v. Buchanan, 112 Nev. 1146,
Under the circumstances of this case, attaching receipt of IDEA services to institutional school attendance, and fulfillment of the according regulatory requirements, constitutes "reasonable government regulation" that does not offend our Constitution. Runyon, 427 U.S. at 178, 96 S.Ct. 2586. Put differently, even if the parents have a constitutional right to educate Christopher at home, they do not have a constitutional right to state-funded speech therapy services.
B. Equal Protection
When neither a fundamental right nor a suspect classification is implicated, a classification "must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis" for it. Heller v. Doe,
The appellants challenge two separate governmental directives: (1) the school district's policy denying services to home-educated
Nevada and its school districts have a legitimate interest in promoting educational environments that fulfill those qualifications that the State deems important. Limiting IDEA services to qualified "private schools" reasonably advances that interest by steering scarce educational resources toward those qualified educational environments.
State discretion under the IDEA to define "private schools" also has a rational basis. The appellants contend that even if the school district's policy is constitutional, the IDEA's deference to States on this matter offends rationality by creating haphazard patchwork in which the provision of IDEA benefits varies from state to state. We see no need to rend this patchwork. Indeed, the very complexity of regulatory schemes surrounding state education counsels in favor of Congress leaving some definitional matters to the States.
The Supreme Court has recognized that education is an area "where States have historically been sovereign," United States v. Lopez,
We hold that, pursuant to the IDEA, States have discretion to determine whether home education constitutes an IDEA-qualifying educational environment. We also hold that the school district's policy of limiting IDEA funds to institutional schools does not unconstitutionally offend equal protection principles or infringe on the parents' liberty interest in guiding their child's education. We remand to district court so that it may dispose of this case in accord with this opinion and with new Nevada law.
Accordingly, we AFFIRM in part and REMAND.
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