Plaintiffs-Appellants T.Y. and K.Y., on behalf of their son, T.Y., appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Johnson, J.) granting summary judgment to Defendant-Appellee New York City Department of Education, Region 4. The parents seek tuition reimbursement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482 ("IDEA" or "IDEIA"). We hold that because the IDEA does not require that an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") name a specific school placement, T.Y's IEP was not procedurally deficient. Furthermore, applying our deferential standard of review in IDEA cases, we conclude that T.Y.'s IEP did not substantively violate the IDEA.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barrington D. Parker, Circuit Judge
Before: B.D. PARKER, WESLEY, Circuit Judges, CEDARBAUM, District Judge.*fn1
T.Y. is a child with autism. His parents sued the New York City Department of Education ("NYCDOE") on his behalf seeking reimbursement for T.Y's private school tuition under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482 ("IDEA" or "IDEIA"). The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Johnson, J.) granted summary judgment to the NYCDOE, and the parents now appeal.
T.Y., like all children with a disability, is entitled to a free and appropriate public education under the IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). As we have previously stated, "[t]he centerpiece of the IDEA's education delivery system is the individualized education program, or 'IEP.'" Lillbask ex rel. Mauclaire v. Conn. Dep't of Educ., 397 F.3d 77, 81 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The IEP, the result of collaborations between parents, educators, and representatives of the school district, sets out the child's present educational performance, establishes annual and short-term objectives for improvements in that performance, and describes the specially designed instruction and services that will enable the child to meet those objectives." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). If a disabled child's parents are dissatisfied with the IEP, as here, they may file a complaint with the state educational agency. There, the complaint will be heard by an impartial hearing officer ("IHO"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f), whose decision may be appealed to a state review officer ("SRO"), § 1415(g). The child's parents can, in turn, appeal this decision to a federal or state court. See § 1415(i)(2)(A).
T.Y., who has significant developmental delays and a severe language disorder as a result of his autism, began receiving early intervention services when he was one and a half years old, and in the 2005-2006 school year, he was placed in a special education class. On May 10, 2006, T.Y.'s Committee on Special Education ("CSE") met to form T.Y's IEP for the 2006-2007 school year ("May IEP"). The CSE included T.Y.'s parents, as well as a district representative, a special education teacher, a school psychologist and an Applied Behavioral Analysis teacher. The IEP recommended that T.Y. be placed in a special class with a 6:1:1 staffing ratio, and advised that he receive three 30-minute sessions per week of individualized speech and language therapy, two 30-minute sessions per week of individualized occupational therapy, and two 30-minute sessions of individualized physical therapy per week. The IEP recognized that T.Y. sometimes responded to frustration by crying, biting his hand and pulling his hair, and recommended that these issues be managed through "modeling, reinforcement, [and] prompting of appropriate classroom behaviors." Partially to address these behaviors, the IEP also provided for "a full-time 1:1 crisis management paraprofessional."
Although T.Y.'s May IEP stated that T.Y.'s school would be in District 75, a group of schools that specialize in providing education for children with disabilities, it did not name the school that T.Y. would attend. Rather, on June 9, 2006, approximately a month after the IEP was formalized, the parents received a notice in the mail that recommended a specific school placement. T.Y.'s father visited the site and found it unsuitable for T.Y. for various reasons, including the staff's alleged rudeness and the lack of a gym or occupational therapy room. The NYCDOE offered the parents another school, which T.Y.'s parents called, but also found to be unsuitable. Subsequently, the parents enrolled T.Y. in the Rebecca School, a specialized private school for autistic children, and notified the NYCDOE of their intent to seek reimbursement.
T.Y.'s parents requested an impartial hearing for reimbursement. They raised numerous substantive and procedural objections to T.Y.'s May 2006 IEP, contending, inter alia, (1) the IEP materially violated T.Y.'s right to a free and appropriate education, in part because the IEP did not provide T.Y. with adequate speech services and the IEP failed to provide sufficient parent training to the parents, and (2) the IEP was procedurally deficient because it did not include a specific school placement.
The IHO conducted a lengthy hearing. In addition to submitting evidence from private evaluators, the parents testified at the hearing, along with the Program Director at the Rebecca School and various professionals who had worked with T.Y. both in school and at home. In support of their claims, the parents also submitted T.Y.'s previous IEP, which was prepared in March of 2006 ("March IEP"), just two months before the May IEP. The March IEP provided T.Y. with substantially more speech and language skill services than the May IEP, and the March IEP named a specific school placement. An administrator from the NYCDOE, Kenneth Stark, also testified.
The IHO denied most of the parents' claims. The IHO rejected the parents' argument that the IEP was procedurally deficient because it failed to name a specific school placement, explaining that T.Y.'s CSE had "identified a type of program, and then the parent was given the opportunity to see suggested sites," such that the IHO could not "see how the parents were harmed by the failure to identify a site at the CSE meeting." The IHO did, however, agree with the parents that the IEP did not effectively meet T.Y.'s speech and language needs, and ordered that the IEP include an additional three hours of speech and language therapy per week. However, the IHO determined that this deficiency alone did not establish that ...