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Parent fails to show IDEA hearing was flawed

Where a parent argued the findings of an administrative law judge, or ALJ, who presided over a hearing on whether a school district complied with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, were not entitled to deference, primarily for lack of detail, her argument was rejected. The ALJ demonstrated her “careful consideration” by making nuanced factual findings.


Hind Bouabid filed a petition asserting that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, or CMS, failed to provide her daughter, A.C., with a free appropriate public education in violation of the IDEA. After a 10-day hearing, an ALJ ruled for Bouabid on two of the seven issues she had raised but against her on all others.

Bouabid sought review in federal court, contending that the ALJ had improperly delegated the remedy for the two issues and erred in deciding the rest. Bouabid further argued that the ALJ’s adverse findings were not entitled to deference, primarily for lack of detail. The district court was unpersuaded and granted summary judgment to CMS.

Alleged errors

Bouabid first contends that the district court erred in concluding that the ALJ’s findings were regularly made. She accuses the ALJ of having “omit[ted] critical information on the length of the hearing, amount of evidence presented, number of issues presented, explanation of the credibility of witnesses, [and] findings of fact on critical issues.”

This court’s “regularly made” inquiry does not begin, however, with the ALJ’s written product. To the contrary, it has “typically focused on the process through which the findings were made.” Here, Bouabid takes no issue with the process afforded her by the ALJ prior to the written decision. Nor can she.

Bouabid received a lengthy, 10-day hearing before a third-party administrator, which generated over 2,500 pages of transcript, in which she was able to present more witnesses (nine) and exhibits (45) than the school district did. Bouabid also had the opportunity to deliver opening and closing arguments, cross-examine witnesses and raise evidentiary issues. Bouabid does not refer, indeed, to rulings by the ALJ preventing her from introducing additional evidence or testimony.

The ALJ’s decision met the IDEA’s condition that it be in writing unless the parent has requested an electronic format. It likewise complied with North Carolina’s requirement that it “contain findings of fact and conclusions of law.” Contrary to Bouabid’s depiction, the ALJ did not “omit[]” information as to “the length of the hearing,” “amount of evidence presented” and “number of issues presented.”

Bouabid argues that the ALJ did not explain her witness credibility assessments. This court has held, however, that the ALJ in an IDEA case need not “explain in detail its reasons for accepting the testimony of one witness over that of another.” The ALJ here further demonstrated her “careful consideration” by making nuanced factual findings. The ALJ actually ruled in favor of Bouabid on two issues and found that one of Bouabid’s witnesses was credible, and that two from the school district were not. Finally, Bouabid reproaches the ALJ for “contradictions and inconsistencies,” but her examples are unpersuasive.

The district court’s determination that the ALJ’s findings were regularly made is affirmed. The district court was correct to accord those findings deference and to determine that Bouabid failed to prevail by a preponderance of the evidence on the five issues she disputes.


The ALJ determined that the school district “failed to address the standard of behavior or to provide any benchmark that [A.C.] must meet in order for the IEP team to consider a change to a less restrictive environment than public separate school.” The ALJ accordingly ordered the school district to “revise [A.C.’s] IEP to include benchmark(s) and criteria for least restrictive environment … before … the 2018-19 school year.”

Bouabid argues this relief improperly delegates remedial authority to CMS, letting “the School District [] determine the remedy for its own wrongdoing.” The court finds this argument unpersuasive.

The ALJ ordered the respondent to add “benchmark(s) and criteria” to A.C.’s IEP, whether it agreed that these were necessary or not. The ALJ did not delegate the power to “reduce or terminate” that relief. The ALJ instead precisely identified where A.C.’s IEP had fallen short and instructed CMS as to how to properly cure the deficiency.


Bouabid v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education, Case No. 22-1048, March 15, 2023. 4th Cir. (Wilkinson), from WDNC at Charlotte (Conrad). Kelli Lorraine Espaillat for Appellant. Ashley Frances Leonard for Appellee. VLW 023-2-074. 19 pp.