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A.C. v. Board of Education of the Chappaqua Central School Dist.

January 16, 2009

A.C. AND M.C., ON BEHALF OF M.C., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CHAPPAQUA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.*FN1



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Brieant, J.) granting summary judgment to Plaintiffs-Appellees.

REVERSED and REMANDED.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge

Argued: December 3, 2008

Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, McLAUGHLIN and B.D. PARKER, Circuit Judges.

The Board of Education of the Chappaqua Central School District ("Chappaqua") appeals from a grant of summary judgment to Plaintiffs A.C. and M.C. by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Brieant, J.). A.C. and M.C. sued under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., seeking reimbursement for their learning-disabled child's private-school tuition.

Dismissing Chappaqua's proposed plan for special-education services for M.C.'s fifth-grade year, the parents declined to send their son M.C. to a public middle school in 2004-2005. They instead enrolled M.C. in the private Eagle Hill School and requested an impartial due process hearing under the IDEA to obtain tuition reimbursement from Chappaqua. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). Although an Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO") granted their claim, a State Review Officer ("SRO") found that M.C.'s parents were not entitled to reimbursement. The parents then pursued their claim in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The district court agreed with the parents and held that Chappaqua had violated both the procedural and substantive requirements of the IDEA. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to the parents and awarded them tuition reimbursement, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

We reverse.

BACKGROUND

M.C. attended pre-school through fourth grade in Chappaqua public schools. During this period, he was diagnosed with multiple disabilities, including Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Autism. As a disabled child, M.C. was entitled under the IDEA to a "free appropriate public education" administered by Chappaqua according to an "Individualized Education Program" ("IEP"). See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412(a)(1)(A) & 1414(d).

During the 2003-2004 school year, M.C. attended a "co-taught" fourth-grade class at Roaring Brook Elementary School. In this class, M.C. was taught alongside non-disabled students, with support provided by a special-education teacher for part of the day and by a program assistant for the rest of the day. Because M.C. had difficulty focusing, Chappaqua also provided him with a personal aide, who would sit near him and keep his attention on his work through the use of prompts and cues. Occasionally the aide would bring M.C. to the school psychologist when he engaged in out-of-context "tangential" or "fantasy" speech, which involved the repetition of lines from television programs or incoherent storytelling. Chappaqua also provided M.C. with additional math and reading instruction, occupational and speech therapy, and summer programs.

Between March and July 2004, Chappaqua's Committee on Special Education (the "Committee") met several times to discuss M.C.'s progress and formulate an IEP for M.C.'s fifth-grade year in 2004-2005. M.C.'s parents requested that Chappaqua consider placing M.C. in the Eagle Hill School, a private school for disabled children. The Committee declined to do so, and produced an IEP providing for co-taught classes at a public middle school. The IEP also provided for meetings with M.C.'s parents every four to six weeks where M.C.'s progress, including the level of prompting required, was to be discussed. Other programs included additional academic instruction; occupational and speech therapy; psychiatric and psychological services; and summer programs. The IEP noted that M.C. required prompting to maintain focus, but stressed the importance of developing M.C.'s independence in applying reading and math skills and following classroom routines. Though M.C. would only use a private bathroom at school, he no longer required prompting and an escort as had previously been necessary. The IEP noted M.C.'s tangential speech, and that his "[b]ehavior seriously interferes with instruction due to frequent tuning out and inattention. An additional adult such as a program assistant is needed."

Although not explicitly stated in the IEP, a personal aide would again have been provided.

In August 2004, M.C.'s parents informed the Committee that they did not accept the 2004-2005 IEP and would enroll M.C. at Eagle Hill. They requested an administrative hearing to obtain reimbursement from Chappaqua for the cost of Eagle Hill. They contended that Chappaqua failed to offer a free appropriate public education by, among other things, not providing for a functional behavioral assessment ("FBA") of M.C. An FBA is "the process of determining why the student engages ...


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