Natrona County School Dist. No. 1 v. Ryan

Decision Date15 November 1988
Docket Number88-14,Nos. 88-13,s. 88-13
Citation764 P.2d 1019
Parties50 Ed. Law Rep. 571 NATRONA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1; The Wyoming State Board of Education; and The State Department of Education, Petitioners, v. Joanne RYAN and Edward Ryan, husband and wife, as next friends of Tammy Ryan, Respondents. NATRONA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, Petitioner, v. The STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, State of Wyoming; Lynn Simons, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Wyoming; Dr. Audrey Cotherman, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Wyoming, Respondents.
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Robert H. McCrary and Judith A. Studer of Schwartz, Bon, McCrary & Walker, Casper, for petitioner Natrona County School Dist. No. 1 in Nos. 88-13 and 88-14.

Joseph B. Meyer, Atty. Gen., and Rowena L. Heckert, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner State of Wyo. in No. 88-13 and respondents State of Wyo. in No. 88-14.

John Rivera of the Protection & Advocacy System, Inc., Cheyenne, for respondents Ryan in No. 88-13.

Before CARDINE, C.J., THOMAS, URBIGKIT and MACY, JJ., and BROWN, J., Retired. *

URBIGKIT, Justice.

In this five-way funding dispute, appeal is presented for decision concerning state and local school district educational obligation for a handicapped individual between her twenty-first and twenty-second birthdays. The controversy invokes consideration of the Wyoming Constitution, state educational statutes, state agency administrative regulations, federal statutes, federal regulations, and an operational education funding agreement between the state and federal governments as each affect the operation of the local school district.


Participating parties as the litigation developed before an appointed hearing officer (hearing officer) were Natrona County School District No. 1 (School District); the handicapped individual, Tammy Ryan, through her parents as next friends (Tammy Ryan); the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as a constitutional elected officer (State Superintendent); 1 and the Wyoming State Board of Education (State Board). An obvious non-participant involved party is the federal government by virtue of federal funding for handicapped children's education and the operational intergovernment contract executed by the State Board.

Procedural contest was initially instituted by Tammy Ryan regarding the obligation of the School District to provide an educational program for her beyond her twenty-first birthday. That controversy was assigned by the State Superintendent under state rule and federal statute to a hearing officer as independent of any of the parties. From his adverse decision, the School District petitioned for the present administrative agency appeal to the district court. As phrased in terms of an administrative decision on funding, the State Superintendent's adverse decision to the School District was also removed by petition for review to the district court, and the separately developed proceedings were consolidated by order of the district court. The State Board and State Superintendent also petitioned for review from certain aspects of the hearing officer's decision and are both petitioners and respondents in the present appeal proceeding.

Pursuant to W.R.A.P. 12.09, the district court certified the combined litigation to this court, essentially presenting issues of contest between the School District and Tammy Ryan and the School District with both the State Board and the State Superintendent. The State Superintendent and State Board are petitioners on procedural issues in the hearing, and Tammy Ryan is respondent to objections taken from the hearing officer's decision by the School District, the State Board and the State Superintendent. 2


The central issue raised on appeal by the School District is:

Can the Natrona County School District No. 1 and the State Department of Education provide an education to Tammy Ryan, a person over the age of twenty-one years, through age twenty-two, pursuant to order of an administrative hearing officer, when such action is beyond the scope of state and federal law that limits access to education to those children under twenty-one years of age?

Additionally, the School District raised several secondary issues and phrased them as whether [S]tate or federal funds are available to fund the education of Tammy Ryan beyond her twenty-first birthday in contravention of state and federal law?

[A]ssurances made by the State in the Title VI-B State Plan in order to conform to the requirements of and receiving of funding under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA), and the Wyoming State Board of Education Rules and Regulations Governing Services for Handicapped Children in Wyoming school districts (SBE Rules) which provide that a child may continue to receive educational services through age twenty-two, form a basis to award educational services to Tammy Ryan in derogation of state and federal law?

[A]n Individualized Education Program (IEP), required by federal law for each individual handicapped child, developed by and through actions of a school district employee without formal approval or authorization by the Board of Trustees, can obligate Natrona County School District No. 1 (NCSD # 1) to provide through that IEP a free appropriate education to a person over the age of twenty-one and can such IEP be a guarantee of services to that child through her twenty-second birthday, even if provision of those services is beyond the period of eligibility for educational services provided for under state and federal law?

[T]he State Superintendent can sever the issue of funding from the issue of the duty to provide educational services by invoking Section 7 of the SBE Rules dealing with controversies between the State Department of Education and a unified school district to determine the source of funds, and in that manner determine eligibility for an appropriate public education over the age of twenty-one?

The State Board and the State Superintendent, as respondents, raise the following issues:

1. Is the decision of the hearing officer that Tammy Ryan, a handicapped woman, [TR] is entitled to a free appropriate public education from age twenty-one until age twenty-two arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law? Is it also in excess of the statutory jurisdiction and authority of the administrative forum, lacking statutory right and in violation of procedure required by law?

2. Did the hearing officer have jurisdiction to hear a legal dispute over eligibility for a free public education brought by one too old to be a child of public school age as defined by state law?

3. May a party to a special education due process hearing lawfully subpoena members of a state agency, having no personal knowledge of the petitioners' case, in contravention of SBE Rules, Section 12, and the Administrative Procedure Act, W.S. 16-3-107(h).

Tammy Ryan questions these points:

I. Did the impartial hearing officer have proper jurisdiction to decide whether Tammy Ryan, as a handicapped twenty-one year old student in the Natrona County School District No. 1, was entitled to a free appropriate public education, based on assurance made by the Wyoming State Board of Education to the federal government?

II. Was the decision of the impartial hearing officer in accordance with applicable law when his decision relied upon duly promulgated regulations and other assurances made by the State Board of Education?

A. Was the EHA Title VI-B State Plan, including all its assurances that twenty-one year handicapped students would receive a free appropriate public education, duly adopted pursuant to valid statutory authority?

B. By making the assurances contained in the EHA Title VI-B State Plan submitted to the federal government, did the state obligate itself to provide services to twenty-one year old handicapped students in Wyoming?

We will consider in decision that public education, pursuant to the Wyoming Constitution and statutory system, is the primary responsibility of this state within the principles of federalism. Imposition by external supercission of this basic commitment of Wyoming can only come from explicit requirements resulting contractually by acceptance of federal funds. Consequently, in according primacy to state responsibility, any supervening federal regulation is given strict scrutiny.


The School District filed two petitions for relief for litigative transfer of these educational funding issues to the district court. The first was from the decision of the hearing officer which had declared the School District responsible for the education of the handicapped individual, Tammy Ryan, until her twenty-second birthday. The second was filed in response to a decision of the State Superintendent which denied state funding for the education required by the hearing officer in which the State Superintendent regarded the matter as a controversy between a local school district and the State Department of Education, and had declared that to the extent that federal Title VI-B State Plan flow through funds were available to the School District, it could allocate as needed within the local educational program for funding but could not use state foundation program funds to provide the education to Tammy Ryan or to the others of similar age status.

Generally, in appealing the controversy to the district court, the School District argued that the ruling by the hearing officer, based in part on a United States Supreme Court opinion in Board of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist. Bd. of Ed., Westchester County v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982) defining 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400, et seq. (1976 ed. & Supp. IV 1986), and which resulted in full funding for educational services to ...

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