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Is an Independent Education Plan (“IEP”) a Contract That Would Provide an Exception to Governmental Immunity Under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act?

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In SH v. Campbell County School District, No. S-17-0164, (2018 WY 11) SH, a minor child SH received special education services at the Campbell County School District (“School District”) in accordance with an Individual Education Plan (“IEP”), pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). She was injured when she slipped and fell on the school playground, and she filed a complaint against the School District to recover damages for her injuries. SH claimed that the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act did not bar her suit against the School District, alleging that the IEP was a contract, and therefore the Act’s exception to immunity for contract claims applied.

SH slipped and fell on an icy school playground, sustaining serious injuries, including a fractured femur. This happened, according to the complaint, because the School District’s breach of the IEP contract, which provides for adult supervision throughout the school day. The complaint asserts claims against the School District for breach of contract and for negligence. The district court held that an IEP is not a contract because it lacks the elements of offer, acceptance, and consideration, and it granted the School District’s motion to dismiss. SH appealed.

The elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and consideration. While the district court found that each of these elements was lacking, This Court only examines the element of consideration, whose absence alone is sufficient to conclude that the IEP is not a contract. Consideration is a legal detriment that has been bargained for and exchanged for a promise.

The IDEA requires public schools to have an IEP in effect for each child with a disability within their jurisdiction. An IEP is a plan developed cooperatively by school officials and the child’s parents or guardians that contains a written statement for each child with a disability of the special education and related services” that will be provided. An IEP is not a contract in the traditional sense. It is a legal document produced by an educational agency at the end of a formal, collaborative process. Services are technically not a matter of contractual right, but are educational entitlements conferred by law.

SH argues that there is consideration because her guardians did not choose other school options in reliance on the School District’s promises. But the Court says it is well recognized that the performance of a duty imposed by law is insufficient consideration to support a contract.

Because the IEP is not a contract, it does not create an exception to the School District’s governmental immunity, and the decision of the district court is affirmed.