Sarah L. Garcia

Partner | Walnut Creek, San Diego

Attorney Insights
Tel: 925.953.1620
Fax: 925.953.1625
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Sarah L. Garcia is a Partner in Lozano Smith's Walnut Creek and San Diego Offices and co-chair of the firm's Students Practice Group. Ms. Garcia specializes in Special Education and Student law.

Additional Experience

Prior to joining Lozano Smith, Ms. Garcia worked as Special Counsel in the San Francisco area where she represented school districts in due process hearings, expulsion proceedings, special education mediations, and on-site OCR investigations. Her representation has included prevailing on behalf of school district clients as both Petitioner and Respondent before OAH and supporting those cases through successful appeals at the Ninth Circuit. Representative cases on which Ms. Garcia prevailed included issues related to least restrictive environment, the district's right to assess, deaf education, appropriateness of IEP goals, appropriateness of District assessments, behavior support, inclusion, requests for private schools and private services, and the appropriateness of related services offered including ABA, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and assistive technology support.

Presenter Experience

Ms. Garcia has presented at the ACSA Special Education Symposium on a variety of topics including Deaf Education, Serving Students in the Least Restrictive Environment, and Language Access. Additionally, she was the keynote speaker for the first ever Stanislaus County Autism Conference. She presents annually at Lozano Smith's Special Education Legal Consortium and regularly for districts and SELPAs.


Ms. Garcia teaches a School Law course in the Mills College graduate program.

New Laws Grant Diplomas To Terminally Ill And Students That Have Departed California

By: Sarah GarciaBrittaney Contreras-

January 2019 Number 3 Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a pair of laws related to granting honorary or retroactive high school diplomas for particular groups of students. Assembly Bill (AB) 2109 authorizes the granting of honorary diplomas to students who are terminally ill and, AB 3022 authorizes the retroactive granting of high school diplomas to students who have departed California against their will. AB 2109: Diplomas for Terminally Ill Students Existing law allows the gran...

Pregnant and Parenting Pupils Afforded New Accommodations Beginning January 1, 2019

By: Sarah GarciaMichelle Sliwa-

December 2018 Number 91 Beginning January 1, 2019, significant amendments to the Education Code provide pregnant and parenting pupils with new rights and accommodations designed to afford them the opportunity to succeed while protecting their health and the health of their children. In 2015, over 24,000 children were born to individuals between the ages of 15 and 19 in California. Fewer than 4 in 10 young mothers graduate from high school by the age of 18, and 70 percent of young paren...

Juvenile Court School Students Gain New Educational Options

By: Sarah Garcia-

May 2018 Number 18 A new law permits students enrolled in juvenile court schools to voluntarily defer or decline the issuance of a diploma for meeting state graduation requirements so that the student may take additional coursework at the juvenile court school or, once released, at a school operated by a local educational agency (LEA). Assembly Bill (AB) 1124, which went into effect on January 1, amended Education Code section 48645.3 and added Education Code section 48645.7. Prior law...

California Adds “Nonbinary” Gender Option to Identification Documents, Impacting All Public Entities

By: Dulcinea GranthamSarah GarciaJoshua Whiteside-

March 2018 Number 13 On October 15, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 179, known as the "Gender Recognition Act," which adds a "nonbinary" gender option to state driver's licenses, identification cards, and birth certificates. Most of this bill's provisions are set to take effect on September 1, 2018, including a provision allowing an individual to petition a California court to recognize their gender as nonbinary, which would then allow them to subsequently request a new...

Schools May Discipline Students for “Liking” Offensive, Targeted Social Media Posts

By: Sarah GarciaJoshua Whiteside-

December 2017 Number 87 A federal district court has ruled that schools may discipline students for "liking" offensive, targeted social media posts. In Shen v. Albany Unified School District, a Northern California district court concluded that a school could discipline students for liking or for writing approving comments on racist and offensive social media posts targeted at other students, even if the posts were created off campus. However, the court also ruled that the school's addi...

Legislative Update: New Immigration Laws Protect Undocumented Students

By: Sarah Garcia-

October 2017 Number 64 On October 5, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of bills aimed at enhancing protections for immigrants. Three of the bills have significant implications for schools and students. The three bills become effective January 1, 2018. Assembly Bill 699: Mandates New Supports and Policies for Immigrant Families Assembly Bill (AB) 699 requires schools and school districts to provide an array of new supports for immigrant families and limits the assistance sc...

Supreme Court Clarifies Educational Progress Standard for Students in Special Education

By: Sarah Garcia-

March 2017 Number 12 In a much anticipated decision, a unanimous United States Supreme Court has ruled that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) must be reasonably calculated to enable a child with a disability to make appropriate educational progress in light of the child's circumstances. (Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist. RE-1 (March 22, 2017, No. 15-827) ___ U.S. ___ <

United States Supreme Court to Consider How Much Educational Benefit IDEA Requires

By: Sarah Garcia-

October 2016 Number 75 The United States Supreme Court has decided to take up an issue that has long divided federal courts: How much educational benefit must Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) provide to special needs students? On September 29, the high court granted review of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827), a case decided by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on August 25, 2015. In that case, the court affirmed a lower court holding that ...

New State Guidance Pending on English Learners in Special Education

By: Sarah Garcia-

September 2016 Number 66 Assembly Bill (AB) 2785 was signed by the Governor on September 24, 2016. AB 2785 requires the California Department of Education (CDE) to develop a manual providing guidance to local educational agencies (LEA) on identifying, assessing, supporting and reclassifying English learners who may qualify for special education services, and also, pupils with disabilities who may be classified as English learners. Other states offer similar guidance. Last year, the U.S...

Special Education Eligibility Influenced by Pre-Referral Interventions

By: Sarah GarciaJennifer Baldassari-

September 2016 Number 62 A recent Ninth Circuit decision, L.J. v. Pittsburg Unified School District (9th Cir., Sept. 1, 2016, No. 14-16139) __ F.3d __ [2016 U.S.App. LEXIS 16201], underscores the importance of accounting for pre-referral interventions when evaluating special education eligibility. Rejecting the assertion that specific pre-referral services were general education interventions, the Ninth Circuit held the student required and benefitted from specialized services and should ...

Parent Perspective and Prospective Services Tip the Scales in Evaluating Value of Statutory Settlement Offer

By: Sarah GarciaJennifer Baldassari-

October 2015 Number 59 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has warned districts that an award to parents in a due process hearing which may cost a district less than what it offered in its ten-day statutory offer does not necessarily protect the district from an attorneys' fee demand. (T.B./Wyner v. San Diego Unified School District (9th Cir. 2015) 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 13365.) The Ninth Circuit made it clear the value of a settlement offer is about more than money. In the recent case of...

Bullying of Students with Disabilities Triggers Affirmative Obligations Under Section 504 and the IDEA

By: Sarah Garcia-

November 2014 Number 89 The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a "Dear Colleague" letter (OCR Letter) on October 21, 2014, guiding schools on how to respond to harassment or bullying complaints involving students with disabilities who receive special education or related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). While "Dear Colleague" letters are non-binding, they communicate details regarding ex...

State Board of Education Amends Special Education Regulations Effective July 1, 2014

By: Sarah Garcia-

August 2014 Number 54 On July 1, 2014, amendments to the state special education regulations went into effect, found in title 5, sections 300-3088 of the California Code of Regulations. Many of the regulations had not been updated since December 1987. Since then, other sources of special education law, including the California Education Code, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the federal regulations to the IDEA, have been changed. The State Board of Education (SBE...

Court Declares Least Restrictive Environment Mandate Applies to Extended School Year Placements

By: Sarah Garcia-

April 2014 Number 24 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently considered whether the requirement to serve special education students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) applies to extended school year (ESY) placements. (T.M. ex rel. A.M. v. Cornwall Cent. School Dist. (2d Cir. April 2, 2014) __ F.3d __ 2014 WL 1303156.) The court held the LRE requirement applies to ESY placements, concluding the LRE requirement carries the same force during the summer months as dur...

False Alarm! CDE Reverses Own Changes to Initial Assessment Timelines, Reinstating Exception for School Breaks Over Five Days

By: Sarah Garcia-

January 2014 Number 8 Uncertainty and confusion developed in October 2013 when the California Department of Education (CDE) stated an intention to change the way initial assessment timelines are calculated. On January 17, 2014 CDE issued guidance reversing that decision and advising school districts to continue to utilize the school break exception to the 60-day assessment timeline, in compliance with the California Education Code. In California, the timeline for completing an initial ...

Back to School Reminder: IEP Edition

By: Sarah Garcia-

August 2013 Number 52 It's that time of year! The beginning of the school year can be one of the busiest times of year in special education, densely packed with assessments and IEP team meetings. With that in mind, the Lozano Smith Special Education Practice Group offers some guidance to ensure a smooth and successful school year. Many of the reminders below stem from a recent case from the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), Aspire Public Schools (2013) OAH No. 2013040872. Parent...

Court of Appeal Says That the Dismissal of a Charter School Student Does Not Require an Expulsion Hearing

By: Edward SklarSarah Garcia-

July 2013 Number 40 In Scott B. v. Board of Trustees of Orange County High School of Arts (June 14, 2013) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ 2013 WL 2687979, the court of appeal upheld the "dismissal" of a charter school student without an evidentiary hearing or written findings. The court determined that the charter school, as a school of choice not bound by California Education Code section 48918, was allowed to "dismiss" a student. In its decision, the court distinguished between "dismissal" and "exp...

State Board of Education Proposes Amendments to Special Education Regulations

By: Sarah Garcia-

June 2013 Number 28 The California State Board of Education recently issued a notice of its intent to propose changes to the California Code of Regulations pertaining to special education. (See the notice, proposed regulations, and initial statement of reasons on the CDE website.) The proposed changes relate to the administration of special education instruction and related services for students with individualized education programs (IEPs). The proposed amendments would update and con...

Districts Have Absolute Duty to Update IEPs Annually, Despite Parents' Lack of Cooperation

By: Sarah Garcia-

October 2012 Number 61 The Ninth Circuit has reasonably held that school districts must hold annual IEP team meetings for each special education student, regardless of whether litigation is pending or the parents are not cooperative. (Anchorage Sch. Dist. v. M.P. (9th Cir. 2012) 689 F.3d 1047.) In 2007, a disagreement developed between the Anchorage School District and M.P.'s parents regarding her special education program. The District attempted to revise M.P.'s IEP at the beginning o...