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NEW PALTZ CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT v. ST. PIERRE

February 4, 2004.

NEW PALTZ CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff
v.
LINDA ST. PIERRE, on behalf of M.S., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERICK SCULLIN, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff New Paltz Central School District commenced the instant litigation pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq. ("IDEA"), seeking a declaration from the Court that the impartial hearing officer's ("IHO") and state review officer's ("SRO") findings were erroneous. Both the IHO and SRO determined that Plaintiff failed to offer Defendant Linda St. Pierre's child, M.S., a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") for Page 2 the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 school years. As a result, Plaintiff was ordered to reimburse Defendant for the expenses of M.S.'s placement at a private residential school during those years.*fn1

  II. BACKGROUND*fn2

  Defendant's child, M.S., began attending Plaintiff's schools in the fourth grade. He was often on the honor roll and scored in the 99th percentile on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills ("CTBS"). He was recommended for accelerated math in the seventh grade and received glowing comments from his eighth grade teachers.

  In the summer of 1997, prior to his 9th grade year, M.S's parents began divorce proceedings. Defendant sought assistance from Plaintiff for her son because he was exhibiting uncontrollable behavior at home, he was often angry and upset, and his academic performance was substantially declining. The school psychologist, Joan Vreeland, observed that M.S. was either sad or angry and that he rarely smiled or made eye contact with adults. Although M.S. saw several psychologists, he showed no signs of improvement.

  During the summer of 1998, Defendant suspected that M.S. was using drugs and contacted Plaintiff. As a result, M.S. was placed in an out-patient substance abuse program, Page 3 which was ultimately unsuccessful. According to Ms. Vreeland, M.S.'s academic performance was substandard, his school attendance record was poor and his behavior at home worsened.*fn3 Ms. Vreeland referred Defendant to the Family Foundation School and ultimately recommended placement there.*fn4

  On September 7, 1999, Dan Seyler-Wetzel, Plaintiff's Coordinator of Special Education, advised Defendant that she should write a referral to the Special Education Office. Defendant prepared a letter on September 8, 1999, requesting that Plaintiff's Committee on Special Education ("CSE") evaluate her son for a suspected emotional disability. Defendant never sent the letter, however, because Ms. Vreeland advised her that such a referral was unnecessary.

  In a September 9, 1999 memorandum to the interim superintendent, Barbara Clinton, the school's principal, stated that both she and Ms. Vreeland believed that M.S. needed a placement at the Family Foundation School and requested that Plaintiff pay the tuition. Plaintiff denied their request for payment of tuition.*fn5 On September 16, 1999, M.S. began attending the Family Foundation School at Defendant's expense. Page 4

  On March 30, 2000, the superintendent asked Defendant whether she wished to make a referral to the CSE. By letter dated April 25, 2000, Defendant formally requested that the CSE evaluate her son.

  On July 13, 2000, the CSE classified M.S. as emotionally disturbed. In reaching this determination, the CSE performed and considered the following evaluations: (1) health record; (2) psychological evaluation; (3) educational evaluation; (4) teacher report; and (5) a social history. The CSE did not arrange for or consider a student observation at the Family Foundation School, a student psychiatric evaluation or a functional behavioral assessment.

  On July 28, 2000, the CSE recommended a residential school placement and established an individualized education plan ("IEP"). On January 16, 2001, the CSE chairperson determined that Kids Peace would meet M.S.'s needs.*fn6

  M.S. markedly improved while at the Family Foundation School, thereafter graduating from the school in June 2001. The Family Foundation School principal reported that M.S. had maintained an average of 88 and passed five New York State Regents exams with an average of 89. He was later accepted by several colleges.

  Defendant requested an impartial hearing on October 26, 2000, challenging whether Plaintiff provided M.S. with an FAPE in September 1999 and requesting reimbursement for all costs associated with M.S.'s attendance at the Family Foundation School for the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 academic years. The hearing commenced on February 27, 2001, before an IHO.*fn7 Page 5

  On June 7, 2001, the IHO rendered his decision, determining that Plaintiff should have referred Defendant's son to its CSE in September 1999, since both the school's principal and psychologist stated that M.S. belonged in a residential school at that time. He also found that the CSE appropriately classified M.S. as having an emotional disturbance and, therefore, disabled under the IDEA, despite the fact that not all necessary evaluations were performed. Finally, the IHO determined that Plaintiff failed to provide M.S. with an FAPE and ordered Plaintiff to reimburse Defendant for tuition, room and board and laptop computer expenses. Thereafter, Plaintiff appealed the IHO's decision to the SRO. On March 27, 2002, the SRO affirmed the IHO's findings. Plaintiff then commenced the instant action.

  Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking a declaration that the findings of the IHO and the SRO were erroneous. Giving due deference to these factual findings, which are amply supported by the administrative record, the Court will address each of Plaintiff's arguments. See Muller, 145 F.3d at 102.

  ...


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