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Jordan S. v. Hewlett-Woodmere Union Free School District

March 31, 2009

JORDAN S., A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENTS AND NEXT FRIENDS, SUZANNE AND JEFFERY S., PLAINTIFF,
v.
HEWLETT WOODMERE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Kathleen Tomlinson, Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jordon S., a minor, by and through his parents and next friends, Suzanne and Jeffery S. ("Plaintiff") moves the Court for permission to submit additional evidence in support of his claim that Defendant Hewlett-Woodmere Union Free School District ("Defendant"or the "District") failed to provide him with a free and appropriate public education as required under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (2006). In addition, Plaintiff requests the Court's permission to conduct discovery and to submit any additional evidence obtained through the discovery process. Defendant opposes both motions, and cross-moves for the right to conduct meaningful discovery pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the event the Court allows the submission of additional evidence.

For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendant's motion is GRANTED, on the limited basis discussed below.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a fourteen-year-old student who has been diagnosed with autism and apraxia. His parents bring this action against the District pursuant to IDEA. On June 21, 2006, the District, through the Committee on Special Education (the "CSE"), recommended that Plaintiff be placed for the 2006-2007 school year, at BOCES, a self-contained special education school, as part of Plaintiff's Individualized Education Plan ("IEP"). According to Plaintiff, Defendant's placement of Plaintiff at BOCES was overly restrictive, inappropriate, and failed to provide Plaintiff with free and appropriate public education as mandated by IDEA.

Plaintiff's parents unilaterally enrolled Plaintiff at Kulanu Torah Academy ("KTA") for the 2006-2007 school year. On November 14, 2006, Plaintiff requested a hearing to determine eligibility for reimbursement of tuition paid to KTA, as well as reimbursement for the services of a behavioral consultant, an inclusion specialist and attorney's fees. Following a six-day hearing, which concluded on June 18, 2007, the Independent Hearing Officer ("IHO") rendered a written decision. The IHO concluded that Defendant's placement at BOCES was overly restrictive, but further found that Plaintiff's placement at KTA was not appropriate. The IHO determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to reimbursement of tuition and related services. It was the position of the IHO that Plaintiff's parents had failed to demonstrate that Plaintiff had the cognitive abilities to derive meaningful educational benefit from inclusion in regular education classes.

In June 2007, immediately following the hearing before the IHO, the CSE developed a new IEP for Plaintiff for the 2007-2008 school year. Rather than recommending BOCES for a second year, the IEP recommended Plaintiff's placement in a general education school, similar to KTA.

In October 2007, both parties appealed the decision of the IHO to the New York State Review Officer ("SRO"). On December 10, 2007, the SRO reversed the IHO's decision that Defendant's placement at BOCES was overly restrictive. In reaching its determination, the SRO refused to consider the IEP for the 2007-2008 school year. On April 7, 2008, Plaintiff filed this action appealing the determination of the SRO.

Presently, Plaintiff is seeking to admit two categories of evidence in support of his appeal of the SRO's December 2007 decision: (1) evidence from KTA sufficient to demonstrate Plaintiff's educational progress since the administrative proceedings, and (2) the notice of the 2007-2008 CSE meeting and the resulting 2007-2008 IEP.

II. DISCUSSION

Generally, IDEA requires the reviewing court to receive records from the administrative proceedings and to grant appropriate relief. IDEA provides that:

[T]he court shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings, shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, and, basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.

20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2). IDEA " 'by no means [extends] an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound education policy for those of the school authorities which they review.'" M.S. v. Bd. of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of the City of Yonkers, 231 F.3d 96, 102 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982)). Courts must "give 'due weight' to these [administrative] proceedings, mindful that the judiciary generally 'lacks the specialized knowledge and experience necessary to resolve persistent and difficult questions of educational policy.'" M.S., 231 F.3d at 102 (quoting Walczak v. Florida Union Free Sch. Dist., 142 F.3d 119, 129 (2d Cir. 1998)).

In Town of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ. for Mass., 736 F.2d 773 (1st Cir. 1984), the First Circuit construed the statutory term "'additional' in the ordinary sense of the word, to mean supplemental," warning that "the trial court [ ] must be careful not to allow such evidence to change the character of the hearing from one ...


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