(CN) - The Compton Unified School District violated the educational rights of a high-school freshman who played with dolls in class and performed at a fourth-grade level by allowing her to move up to the eleventh grade instead of placing her in special education classes, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Teachers reported that freshman Starvenia Addison was "like a stick of furniture" in class, and that her work was "gibberish and incomprehensible," yet she made it to the eleventh grade.
The girl "sometimes refused to enter the classroom, colored with crayons at her desk, played with dolls in class, and urinated on herself in class," the ruling states.
After failing every academic subject in the fall of her tenth-grade year, a counselor considered Addison's performance a "major red flag."
An assessment determined that Addison should have been in special education classes.
She sued school district in federal court, claiming she was denied the right to a free appropriate public education. The district court agreed that the school had failed Addison.
On appeal, the school district argued that because it simply chose to ignore Addison's disabilities and take no action, it hadn't affirmatively refused to act. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows parents to initiate a due process hearing when there's a refusal to change the identification, assessment or educational placement of a child.
The 2-1 appellate panel in Pasadena rejected the school's argument and affirmed the lower court's ruling.
"We read statutes as a whole and avoid statutory interpretations that would produce absurd results," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel.
He said the district has a legal duty to "identify, locate and evaluate" students in need of special education services.
"Addison's claim is cognizable under the IDEA," the court concluded.
In dissent, Judge N. Randy Smith said "it is not enough that Addison shows a statutory violation, she must also establish that the statue creates a private cause of action."
Smith argued that without a "sufficiently developed" record, he "cannot harmonize the language of the statute with a private cause of action for negligence."
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