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13-069

Application of a STUDENT WITH A DISABILITY, by his parent, for review of a determination of a hearing officer relating to the provision of educational services by the New York City Department of Education

Appearances: 

New York Legal Assistance Group, attorneys for petitioner, Ya-wen A. Chang, Esq., of counsel

Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel, attorneys for respondent, Jessica C. Darpino, Esq., of counsel

Decision

I. Introduction

            This proceeding arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482) and Article 89 of the New York State Education Law.  Petitioner (the parent) appeals from the decision of an impartial hearing officer (IHO) which denied her request to be reimbursed for the costs of the student's tuition at the Rebecca School for the 2011-12 school year.  The appeal must be dismissed.

II. Overview—Administrative Procedures

            A party aggrieved by the decision of an IHO may subsequently appeal to a State Review Officer (SRO) (Educ. Law § 4404[2]; see 20 U.S.C. § 1415[g][1]; 34 CFR 300.514[b][1]; 8 NYCRR 200.5[k]).  The appealing party or parties must identify the findings, conclusions, and orders of the IHO with which they disagree and indicate the relief that they would like the SRO to grant (8 NYCRR 279.4).  The opposing party is entitled to respond to an appeal or cross-appeal in an answer (8 NYCRR 279.5).  The SRO conducts an impartial review of the IHO's findings, conclusions, and decision and is required to examine the entire hearing record; ensure that the procedures at the hearing were consistent with the requirements of due process; seek additional evidence if necessary; and render an independent decision based upon the hearing record (34 CFR 300.514[b][2]; 8 NYCRR 279.12[a]).  The SRO must ensure that a final decision is reached in the review and that a copy of the decision is mailed to each of the parties not later than 30 days after the receipt of a request for a review, except that a party may seek a specific extension of time of the 30-day timeline, which the SRO may grant in accordance with State and federal regulations (34 CFR 300.515[b], [c]; 8 NYCRR 200.5[k][2]).[1]

III. Facts and Procedural History

            The parties' familiarity with the facts and procedural history of the case and the IHO's decision is presumed and will not be recited here.[2]  Briefly, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) convened on March 21, 2011, to formulate the student's individualized education program (IEP) for the 2011-12 school year (see generally Parent Ex. J).  The parent disagreed with the particular public school site to which the district assigned the student to attend for the 2011-12 school year and, as a result, notified the district of her intent to unilaterally place the student at the Rebecca School (see Parent Ex. G; see also Dist. Ex. 10).  In a due process complaint notice, dated June 27, 2012, the parent alleged that the district failed to offer the student a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for the 2011-12 school year (see generally Parent Ex. A at pp. 1-3).

            An impartial hearing convened on August 16, 2012 and concluded on February 27, 2013 after four days of proceedings (Tr. pp. 1-292).  In a decision dated March 20, 2013, the IHO determined that the district offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year (IHO Decision at pp. 7-15). [3]

IV. Appeal for State-Level Review

            The parties' familiarity with the particular issues for review on appeal in the parent's petition for review and the district's answer thereto is also presumed and will not be recited here. The gravamen of the parties' dispute on appeal relate to whether the assigned public school site could appropriately implement the student's March 2011 IEP.  More particularly, the parent challenged whether the assigned public school site provide the student's related services as set forth in the March 2011 IEP ("push-in" services versus "pull-out" services), whether it was appropriate to provide the student's related services in a shared therapy room, whether the student would be appropriately functionally grouped at the assigned public school site, and whether the assigned public school site could meet the student's sensory needs.  In response, the district asserts that the parent's challenges to the assigned public school site are speculative, and therefore, must be dismissed.[4]

V. Applicable Standards

            Two purposes of the IDEA (20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482) are (1) to ensure that students with disabilities have available to them a FAPE that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living; and (2) to ensure that the rights of students with disabilities and parents of such students are protected (20 U.S.C. § 1400[d][1][A]-[B]; see generally Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 557 U.S. 230, 239 [2009]; Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206-07 [1982]).

            A FAPE is offered to a student when (a) the board of education complies with the procedural requirements set forth in the IDEA, and (b) the IEP developed by its CSE through the IDEA's procedures is reasonably calculated to enable the student to receive educational benefits (Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206-07; R.E. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 694 F.3d 167, 189-90 [2d Cir. 2012]; M.H. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 685 F.3d 217, 245 [2d Cir. 2012]; Cerra v. Pawling Cent. Sch. Dist., 427 F.3d 186, 192 [2d Cir. 2005]).  "'[A]dequate compliance with the procedures prescribed would in most cases assure much if not all of what Congress wished in the way of substantive content in an IEP'" (Walczak v. Florida Union Free Sch. Dist., 142 F.3d 119, 129 [2d Cir. 1998], quoting Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206; see T.P. v. Mamaroneck Union Free Sch. Dist., 554 F.3d 247, 253 [2d Cir. 2009]).  While the Second Circuit has emphasized that school districts must comply with the checklist of procedures for developing a student's IEP and indicated that "[m]ultiple procedural violations may cumulatively result in the denial of a FAPE even if the violations considered individually do not" (R.E., 694 F.3d at 190-91), the Court has also explained that not all procedural errors render an IEP legally inadequate under the IDEA (M.H., 685 F.3d at 245; A.C. v. Bd. of Educ., 553 F.3d 165, 172 [2d Cir. 2009]; Grim v. Rhinebeck Cent. Sch. Dist., 346 F.3d 377, 381 [2d Cir. 2003]; Perricelli v. Carmel Cent. Sch. Dist., 2007 WL 465211, at *10 [S.D.N.Y. Feb. 9, 2007]).  Under the IDEA, if procedural violations are alleged, an administrative officer may find that a student did not receive a FAPE only if the procedural inadequacies (a) impeded the student's right to a FAPE, (b) significantly impeded the parents' opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding the provision of a FAPE to the student, or (c) caused a deprivation of educational benefits (20 U.S.C. § 1415[f][3][E][ii]; 34 CFR 300.513[a][2]; 8 NYCRR 200.5[j][4][ii]; Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 550 U.S. 516, 525-26 [2007]; R.E., 694 F.3d at 190; M.H., 685 F.3d at 245; A.H. v. Dep't of Educ., 394 Fed. App'x 718, 720, 2010 WL 3242234 [2d Cir. Aug. 16, 2010]; E.H. v. Bd. of Educ., 2008 WL 3930028, at *7 [N.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2008], aff'd, 361 Fed. App'x 156, 2009 WL 3326627 [2d Cir. Oct. 16, 2009]; Matrejek v. Brewster Cent. Sch. Dist., 471 F. Supp. 2d 415, 419 [S.D.N.Y. 2007], aff'd, 293 Fed. App'x 20, 2008 WL 3852180 [2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2008]).

            The IDEA directs that, in general, an IHO's decision must be made on substantive grounds based on a determination of whether the student received a FAPE (20 U.S.C. § 1415[f][3][E][i]).  A school district offers a FAPE "by providing personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction" (Rowley, 458 U.S. at 203).  However, the "IDEA does not itself articulate any specific level of educational benefits that must be provided through an IEP" (Walczak, 142 F.3d at 130; see Rowley, 458 U.S. at 189).  The statute ensures an "appropriate" education, "not one that provides everything that might be thought desirable by loving parents" (Walczak, 142 F.3d at 132, quoting Tucker v. Bay Shore Union Free Sch. Dist., 873 F.2d 563, 567 [2d Cir. 1989] [citations omitted]; see Grim, 346 F.3d at 379).  Additionally, school districts are not required to "maximize" the potential of students with disabilities (Rowley, 458 U.S. at 189, 199; Grim, 346 F.3d at 379; Walczak, 142 F.3d at 132).  Nonetheless, a school district must provide "an IEP that is 'likely to produce progress, not regression,' and . . . affords the student with an opportunity greater than mere 'trivial advancement'" (Cerra, 427 F.3d at 195, quoting Walczak, 142 F.3d at 130 [citations omitted]; see T.P., 554 F.3d at 254; P. v. Newington Bd. of Educ., 546 F.3d 111, 118-19 [2d Cir. 2008]; Perricelli, 2007 WL 465211, at *15).  The IEP must be "reasonably calculated to provide some 'meaningful' benefit" (Mrs. B. v. Milford Bd. of Educ., 103 F.3d 1114, 1120 [2d Cir. 1997]; see Rowley, 458 U.S. at 192).  The student's recommended program must also be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) (20 U.S.C. § 1412[a][5][A]; 34 CFR 300.114[a][2][i], 300.116[a][2]; 8 NYCRR 200.1[cc], 200.6[a][1]; see Newington, 546 F.3d at 114; Gagliardo v. Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist., 489 F.3d 105, 108 [2d Cir. 2007]; Walczak, 142 F.3d at 132; G.B. v. Tuxedo Union Free Sch. Dist., 751 F. Supp. 2d 552, 573-80 [S.D.N.Y. 2010], aff'd, 486 Fed. App'x 954, 2012 WL 4946429 [2d Cir. Oct. 18, 2012]; E.G. v. City Sch. Dist. of New Rochelle, 606 F. Supp. 2d 384, 388 [S.D.N.Y. 2009]; Patskin v. Bd. of Educ., 583 F. Supp. 2d 422, 428 [W.D.N.Y. 2008]).

            An appropriate educational program begins with an IEP that includes a statement of the student's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (see 34 CFR 300.320[a][1]; 8 NYCRR 200.4[d][2][i]; Tarlowe v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 2008 WL 2736027, at *6 [S.D.N.Y. July 3, 2008] [noting that a CSE must consider, among other things, the "results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation" of the student, as well as the "'academic, developmental, and functional needs'" of the student]), establishes annual goals designed to meet the student's needs resulting from the student's disability and enable him or her to make progress in the general education curriculum (see 34 CFR 300.320[a][2][i], [2][i][A]; 8 NYCRR 200.4[d][2][iii]), and provides for the use of appropriate special education services (see 34 CFR 300.320[a][4]; 8 NYCRR 200.4[d][2][v]; see also Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 07-018; Application of a Child with a Disability, Appeal No. 06-059; Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 06-029; Application of a Child with a Disability, Appeal No. 04-046; Application of a Child with a Disability, Appeal No. 02-014; Application of a Child with a Disability, Appeal No. 01-095; Application of a Child Suspected of Having a Disability, Appeal No. 93-9).

            A board of education may be required to reimburse parents for their expenditures for private educational services obtained for a student by his or her parents, if the services offered by the board of education were inadequate or inappropriate, the services selected by the parents were appropriate, and equitable considerations support the parents' claim (Florence County Sch. Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 [1993]; Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369-70 [1985]; R.E., 694 F.3d at 184-85; T.P., 554 F.3d at 252).  In Burlington, the Court found that Congress intended retroactive reimbursement to parents by school officials as an available remedy in a proper case under the IDEA (471 U.S. at 370-71; see Gagliardo, 489 F.3d at 111; Cerra, 427 F.3d at 192).  "Reimbursement merely requires [a district] to belatedly pay expenses that it should have paid all along and would have borne in the first instance" had it offered the student a FAPE (Burlington, 471 U.S. at 370-71; see 20 U.S.C. § 1412[a][10][C][ii]; 34 CFR 300.148).

            The burden of proof is on the school district during an impartial hearing, except that a parent seeking tuition reimbursement for a unilateral placement has the burden of proof regarding the appropriateness of such placement (Educ. Law § 4404[1][c]; see R.E., 694 F.3d at 184-85; M.P.G. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 2010 WL 3398256, at *7 [S.D.N.Y. Aug. 27, 2010]).

VI. Discussion

            Upon careful review, the hearing record reflects that the IHO correctly reached the conclusion that the district offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year (see IHO Decision at pp. 7-15).  With respect to the sole issue raised on this appeal—namely, whether the assigned public school site could appropriately implement the March 2011 IEP—although the IHO directly addressed the parent's arguments regarding whether the student would have been functionally grouped with students with similar needs at the assigned public school site and whether the assigned public school site could have met the student's sensory needs and provided him with the related services as reflected in the March 2011 IEP, such arguments necessarily turn on whether the assigned public school site would properly implement the March 2011 IEP.  Here, as it is undisputed that the student did not attend the assigned public school site (see Parent Exs. B at pp. 1-15; D at pp. 1-14; E; F at pp. 1-5; G), the parent cannot prevail on such speculative claims, and thus, it was unnecessary for the IHO to address those claims (R.E., 694 F.3d at 186-88; see F.L. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 553 Fed. App'x 2, 9, 2014 WL 53264 [2d Cir. Jan. 8, 2014]; K.L. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 530 Fed. App'x 81, 87, 2013 WL 3814669 [2d Cir. July 24, 2013]; P.K. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 526 Fed. App'x 135, 141, 2013 WL 2158587 [2d Cir. May 21, 2013]; see also C.F. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 746 F.3d 68, 79 [2d Cir. Mar. 4, 2014]; C.L.K. v. Arlington Sch. Dist., 2013 WL 6818376, at *13 [S.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2013]; R.C. v. Byram Hills Sch. Dist., 906 F. Supp. 2d 256, 273 [S.D.N.Y. 2012]).

VII. Conclusion

            Having determined that the evidence in the hearing record supports the IHO's determination that the district offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year, the necessary inquiry is at an end and there is no need to reach the issues of whether the Rebecca School was an appropriate unilateral placement or whether equitable considerations weighed in favor of the parent's request for relief.  I have considered the parties' remaining contentions and find them to be without merit.

            THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

[1] The administrative procedures applicable to the review of disputes between parents and school districts regarding any matter relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a student with a disability, or a student suspected of having a disability, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such student are well established and described in broader detail in previous decisions issued by the Office of State Review (e.g.Application of the Dep't of Educ., 12-228; Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 12-087; Application of a Student with a Disability, Appeal No. 12-165; Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 09-092).

[2] Any additional facts necessary to the disposition of the parties' arguments will be set forth below as necessary to the resolution of the issues presented in this appeal.

[3] At the impartial hearing, the parent stipulated that the March 2011 IEP—both "procedurally and substantively"—offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year, and clarified that the "actual placement" remained as the only issue to resolve in the due process complaint notice (see Tr. pp. 26-28; Parent Ex. A at pp. 1-3).  Nevertheless, the IHO sua sponte addressed additional issues in the decision, including the sufficiency of the evaluative information, annual goals, parent counseling and training, and the 6:1+1 special class placement recommendation, and found that the district offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year (see IHO Decision at pp. 7-13, 15).

[4] The parent did not appeal the IHO's findings related to the sufficiency of the evaluative information, the annual goals, parent counseling and training, or the 6:1+1 special class placement recommendation; therefore, the IHO's determinations have become final and binding upon the parties and will not be discussed in this decision (34 CFR 300.514[a]; 8 NYCRR 200.5[j][5][v]; see IHO Decision at pp. 7-13, 15).

Topical Index

Implementation/Assigned SchoolDeviation from IEP/Failure to Implement IEP Services
Implementation/Assigned SchoolGroupingFunctional
Parent Appeal
Preliminary MattersScope of Hearing

PDF Version

[1] The administrative procedures applicable to the review of disputes between parents and school districts regarding any matter relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of a student with a disability, or a student suspected of having a disability, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such student are well established and described in broader detail in previous decisions issued by the Office of State Review (e.g.Application of the Dep't of Educ., 12-228; Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 12-087; Application of a Student with a Disability, Appeal No. 12-165; Application of the Dep't of Educ., Appeal No. 09-092).

[2] Any additional facts necessary to the disposition of the parties' arguments will be set forth below as necessary to the resolution of the issues presented in this appeal.

[3] At the impartial hearing, the parent stipulated that the March 2011 IEP—both "procedurally and substantively"—offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year, and clarified that the "actual placement" remained as the only issue to resolve in the due process complaint notice (see Tr. pp. 26-28; Parent Ex. A at pp. 1-3).  Nevertheless, the IHO sua sponte addressed additional issues in the decision, including the sufficiency of the evaluative information, annual goals, parent counseling and training, and the 6:1+1 special class placement recommendation, and found that the district offered the student a FAPE for the 2011-12 school year (see IHO Decision at pp. 7-13, 15).

[4] The parent did not appeal the IHO's findings related to the sufficiency of the evaluative information, the annual goals, parent counseling and training, or the 6:1+1 special class placement recommendation; therefore, the IHO's determinations have become final and binding upon the parties and will not be discussed in this decision (34 CFR 300.514[a]; 8 NYCRR 200.5[j][5][v]; see IHO Decision at pp. 7-13, 15).