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.
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.
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.
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...
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...
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.
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...
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...
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...
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. ___ <https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/1...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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 ...
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.
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...
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...
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...