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Schied v. Board of Education of the Penfield Central School District

October 11, 2006

MARY SCHIED AND DANIEL SCHIED, ON BEHALF OF KATHERINE SHIED
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE PENFIELD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siragusa, J.

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This case, brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Pub. L. No. 91-230, as amended, codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. It is before the Court on the parties' motions (## 8 & 10) for summary judgment. Each party seeks review of the administrative determination that Katherine Schied could receive a free appropriate public education in the Penfield public schools. Plaintiffs seek reversal of that decision and reimbursement for private school costs, while defendant seeks an affirmance of the determination. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendant's application, and, accordingly, denies plaintiffs' motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs seek reimbursement for expenses resulting from their enrollment of their daughter, Katherine, in a private school, which they contend was necessary because the Penfield School District ("School District") could not provide the education for their daughter as recommended by the School District's Committee on Special Education ("CSE"). Defendant contends it can provide an appropriate free and adequate public education, and, therefore, plaintiffs' unilateral placement of their daughter in a private school was, and remains, unnecessary.

Except as indicated below, the following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiffs Mary and Daniel Shied are the parents of Katherine Shied, a student classified as a child with a disability under the meaning of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). Katherine and her parents reside within the School District and, consequently, the School District is obligated under IDEA to offer a free and appropriate education ("FAPE") to Katherine. Katherine attended school in Penfield from the third through sixth grades. During sixth grade, she attended regular classes but, because of identified disabilities, was provided with an individualized education program ("IEP"). Both sides agree that Katherine achieved success in sixth grade. However, plaintiffs maintain that her success came at a cost of significant emotional stress, demonstrated by her need for increased medication as prescribed by her psychiatrist.

The School District created a new IEP for Katherine for seventh grade, which included many recommendations for consultant teacher services, resource room visits, counseling, testing accommodations, supplementary aides and services, and assistive technology devices. The seventh grade IEP contemplated that Katherine would attend school at Penfield's Bay Trail Middle School ("Bay Trail"), her home school. Plaintiffs, though, contend that the seventh grade IEP failed to address Katherine's lack of progress in reading decoding. As a result, plaintiffs maintain that, for seventh grade, they opted to send Katherine to the Norman Howard School, a private school serving only special education students.

On August 30, 2004, the CSE proposed an IEP for Katherine's eighth grade school year of 2004-2005. The CSE's recommendation included four nonintegrated 12:1 classes for language arts, math, science and social studies and lists the program or service recommended, the starting and ending dates, the ratio, frequency, period, duration, and location. (IEP 2004-2005 at 1.) Under location for each class is listed the phrase, "Non-Integrated." (Id.) While plaintiffs accept the CSE's recommendation, they concluded that, based upon Mr. and Mrs. Schied's observations of the programs at Bay Trail, the School District would be unable to actually implement the non-integrated special class requirements of Katherine's IEP. However, defendant disagrees with this conclusion and states,

[a]t the end of the Aug. 2004 CFC meeting, Plaintiff Mary Schied asked to see the program at Bay Trail but never asked to see the exact configurations that Katherine Schied would attend if her parents withdrew her from the private school and allowed her to return to the public school. (Defendant's Statement in Response to Plaintiffs' Rule 56 Statement ¶ 53.) Katherine's parents chose, instead, to continue her at the Norman Howard School. They also requested an impartial hearing seeking reimbursement for tuition at the Norman Howard School for the period from May 6, 2004 through June 30, 2005.

In that regard, an impartial hearing was held on September 16, 17, 22 and 23, 2004. Randy Hartmann, a school psychologist and the CSE chairperson, testified before the Impartial Hearing Officer. During direct examination by counsel for the School District, Dr. Hartmann was asked, "[s]o in her 12:1:1*fn1 class, she wouldn't be interacting with non-disabled peers, would she?" He responded, "[n]ot in the 12:1:1 program. However, the classroom is in the context of a public school, suggest by virtue of being in a school, there are specials and lunch and there is [sic] all kinds of other activities she could be involved in that was appropriate for her." (Hearing Transcript, Vol. II (9/17/04) at 397.) Joseph Kruger, the Special Education Administrator at Penfield's Bay Trail Middle School, testified that he could meet the 12:1 IEP requirement for Katherine at the Bay Trail school. (Hearing Transcript, Vol. II, (9/17/04), at 290-93.) He further testified that the 12:1:1 class would not entail interaction in those academic classes with non-disabled students. (Id. at 397.) The IEP contemplated that she would continue to be educated at her home school, Penfield's Bay Trail Middle School.

The Hearing Officer ruled that the School District had offered a FAPE for the period May 6, 2004 through June 30, 2005. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a petition for review of the impartial hearing decision with the New York State Education Department Office of State Review. In a decision dated January 18, 2005, the State Review Officer ("SRO") found that the School District's IEPs for 2003-2004, and 2004-2005 offered a FAPE to Katherine. Specifically, he noted that the August 30, 2004 IEP for the 2004-2005 school year, which "proposed [a] 12:1 special class, wherein services are delivered by a special education teacher and a teaching assistant in a small group instructional setting" met Katherine's needs. (Def.'s Appendix to Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts, Ex. A, at 11.) Accordingly, the SRO dismissed plaintiffs' appeal.

STANDARDS OF LAW

District Court Review under IDEA

Defendant points out the unusual procedural practice with regard to reviewing IDEA cases. (Def.'s Statement in Response to Pls.' Rule 56 Statement, at 1.) The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 84 ...


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