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Karl v. Board of Education of Geneseo Central School District and Gordon Ambach

June 18, 1984

LISA KARL, BY HER PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, HAROLD AND VIRGINIA KARL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE GENESEO CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT AND GORDON AMBACH, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, AND THE LIVINGSTON-STEUBEN-WYOMING COUNTIES BOARD OF COOPERATIVE EDUCATIONAL SERVICES, AND CHARLES HOLOWACH, AS DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, (Michael A. Telesca, Judge), ordering under the Education of the Handicapped Act a student-adult ratio of nine-to-one in plaintiff's vocational class. Reversed. Judge Pratt dissents in a separate opinion.

Winter and Pratt, Circuit Judges, and Metzner, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Winter

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from Judge Telesca's order entered under the Education of the Handicapped Act ("Act"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., directing the defendants to maintain a student-adult ratio of nine-to-one in plaintiff's vocational education class. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Lisa Karl, is a handicapped 21 year old woman who is classified as educable mentally retarded. In the fall of 1978, Ms. Karl transferred to the Geneseo Central School District ("Geneseo") from a private religious school. The Committee on the Handicapped ("COH") of the Geneseo Board of Education ("Board") assigned Ms. Karl to a basic resource room academic program for similarly handicapped students, provided her with additional remedial reading instruction, and entered her in classes in home economics and physical education.In the fall of 1979, the COH recommended that Ms. Karl be enrolled in a vocational, commercial housekeeping course offered by the Livingston-Steuben-Wyoming Counties Board of Cooperative Educational Services ("BOCES"). After objections from Ms. Karl's parents concerning certain scheduling conflicts, the Board decided instead to provide Ms. Karl with an individualized tutorial program. To that end, the Board hired Jean Dutchess, a home economics teacher, to tutor Ms. Karl on a one-to-one basis in housekeeping skills, kitchen skills, commercial cleaning techniques and work organization techniques. Ms. Karl's individualized education program ("IEP") for the 1979-80 school year thus consisted of morning sessions in the resource room, remedial reading instruction, physical education classes and afternoon tutorials.

The COH recommended that during the 1980-81 school year Ms. Karl spend her afternoons at the BOCES special education commercial housekeeping course for simlarly handicapped pupils. Ms. Karl's parents objected, and to accommodate them, the Board once again hired Ms. Dutchess to provide a personalized tutorial course in basic life skills. This academic schedule continued during afternoons for the next two years.

In March, 1982, the COH considered several options for Ms. Karl's IEP during the 1982-83 school year. One of these was to combine Ms. Karl's continued morning program in the resource room with afternoon vocational training in commercial food preparation in a mainstream BOCES classroom. The use of mainstreaming, the practice of educating handicapped children in regular classes attended by nonhandicapped students, is favored by the Act. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(5).

Ms. Karl's parents favored the mainstreaming option but only so long as the student-adult ratio in the food preparation course did not exceed six-to-one. The course as offered had a twelve-to-one ratio. Pursuant to advice from Ms. Dutchess, the COH rejected the food service training and recommended instead that Ms. Karl enter a work-study program administered by the BOCES. After the Board approved that option, Ms. Karl's parents requested that her IEP be reviewed in an impartial due process hearing, which under the Act, New York is required to hold. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(2). See also N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404 (McKinney 1981).

On September 16 and 23, 1982, Hearing Officer William Nowlin heard testimony concerning Ms. Karl from her parents, her instructors, a school psychologist and the coordinator of the BOCES work-study program. Nowlin was informed that Ms. Karl had a second grade reading comprehension level and could follow directions only if they were constantly repeated. On October 6, 1982, Nowlin determined that Ms. Karl should be placed in the commercial food preparation program rather than the work-study program. However, he directed that one additional teacher's aide be hired for the food preparation course so that the student-adult ratio would not exceed nine-to-one.

The Board appealed Nowlin's decision to the New York State Commissioner of Education, Gordon Ambach, who upheld Ms. Karl's placement in the commercial food preparation program but reversed Nowlin's decision requiring a nine-to-one student-adult ratio. On January 31, 1983, the Board implemented Ambach's decision and enrolled Ms. Karl in the BOCES food service class with its twelve-to-one student-adult ratio.

On April 7, 1983, Ms. Karl's parents filed the instant complaint on Ms. Karl's behalf alleging violations of the Act and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

Noting that he "share[d] the concern of the Karls and the Hearing Officer that it may be unrealistic to expect one teacher and one aide to adequately handle such a wide variety of students," Judge Telesca held that "the appropriate educational program for Lisa Karl is one that maintains a student-adult ratio of no more than 9:1." In addition, he indicated that his obligation to defer to the judgment of state educational authorities was greatly diminished or eliminated by the failure of Commissioner Ambach and Hearing Officer Nowlin to agree on a program. Finally, Judge Telesca rejected the Board's argument that the purpose of mainstreaming would be defeated if the Act were held to apply to such programs and to authorize judicial alteration of the composition of mainstream classes.

The Board appeals from that decision. In view of our disposition of this appeal, we need not describe the numerous other ...


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