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T.M. and J.M., On Behalf of T.D.M v. Kingston City School District

September 18, 2012

T.M. AND J.M., ON BEHALF OF T.D.M., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KINGSTON CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM--DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On May 31, 2011, plaintiffs T.M. and J.M. filed this action against defendant Kingston City School District ("defendant" or "the District") alleging failure to provide their son, T.D.M., with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400--1491o (2006) ("IDEA"). Plaintiffs seek reimbursement for tuition they paid to have T.D.M. attend Chapel Haven, a private out-of- state educational facility, for the 2008--09 and 2009--10 school years. Specifically, plaintiffs challenge the decision of a State Review Officer ("SRO"), who concluded that the District was not required to provide a FAPE because T.D.M. was eligible to graduate in June 2008.

The District answered the complaint on July 13, 2011. It also asserts two counterclaims, arguing that the complaint must be dismissed because the educational program provided by Chapel Haven was not appropriate for T.D.M.'s unique needs and equitable considerations weigh against awarding tuition reimbursement.

Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Defendant opposes and has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed and were considered on submit.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed. T.D.M., born in September 1989, is diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder and educationally classified as autistic. He received academic and social skills instruction through the Autistic Strength Purpose and Independence in Education ("ASPIE") program at the Onteora Central School District during the 2004--05 and 2005--06 school years.*fn1 He was placed in the ASPIE program on the recommendation of the District's Committee on Special Education ("CSE"). The ASPIE program terminated after the 2005--06 school year. Plaintiffs unilaterally placed T.D.M. in the Ridge School, a private school in Hyde Park, New York, for the 2006--07 and 2007--08 school years.*fn2 The District financially supported this placement.

In April or May 2008, plaintiffs formally notified the District that they intended to unilaterally place T.D.M. in Chapel Haven, a private residential school in Connecticut.*fn3 On May 19, 2008, plaintiffs signed a contract with Chapel Haven enrolling their son for the 2008--09 and 2009--10 school years.

The disputed facts begin in June 2008. Specifically, the parties dispute who possessed or had access to T.D.M.'s official academic transcripts at the end of the 2007--08 school year. Plaintiffs allege that defendant failed to provide them with an official District transcript despite multiple requests and that the District did not obtain a proper transcript from the ASPIE program. Defendant claims that the records from ASPIE, although not officially sealed, accurately reflected T.D.M.'s academic history in the program. Defendant also argues that plaintiffs repeatedly refused to turn over T.D.M.'s transcript from the Ridge School, thereby hindering the District's ability to properly determine T.D.M.'s graduation status.*fn4

The District's Director of Special Education, Beth Lewis-Jackson ("Lewis-Jackson"), sent a letter to J.M. on June 18, 2008, acknowledging J.M.'s request for a District transcript and asking for assistance in obtaining T.D.M.'s Ridge School transcript. On June 25, 2008, the CSE met with J.M. and, by phone, the director of the Ridge School to discuss T.D.M.'s educational progress and needs. Defendant maintains that the CSE concluded T.D.M. was ready to graduate pending a review of his academic transcripts to confirm same. The District requested a transcript from the Ridge School at the meeting. Plaintiffs deny that the CSE conclusively determined T.D.M.'s graduation status at this meeting and assert that the District did not have the necessary academic records from ASPIE or the Ridge School to make such a determination at that time. The District did not prepare an Individualized Educational Program ("IEP") or recommend any alternative placement for T.D.M. for the 2008--09 and 2009--10 school years-during which he attended Chapel Haven. T.D.M. was never formally awarded a diploma from the District.

Lewis-Jackson sent written requests for T.D.M.'s Ridge School transcript to the director of the Ridge School on August 1 and September 11, 2008. On March 13, 2009, the District's Assistant Director of Special Education sent a letter to J.M. noting that the District had not received a Ridge School transcript despite repeated requests. This letter also inquired as to whether T.D.M. had been striving for a Regents or local diploma. On November 20, 2009, Lewis-Jackson sent a letter to the New York State Office of Vocational and Educational Services requesting assistance in the District's attempt to secure a transcript from the Ridge School. This letter noted that in June 2008 the director of the Ridge School had advised that T.D.M. accrued enough credits for a high school diploma, but the Ridge School would not provide a transcript because the parents had not paid the full tuition.

In December 2009, plaintiffs filed a timely due process complaint with the District alleging that it failed to provide a FAPE and refused to provide T.D.M.'s student records. Plaintiffs requested an impartial hearing and sought reimbursement for the tuition paid to Chapel Haven for the 2008--09 and 2009--10 school years. Plaintiffs also sought T.D.M.'s official District records.

In March 2010 a two-day hearing was conducted by an Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO"). During the hearing, Lewis-Jackson and the principal of Kingston High School, Marie Anderson ("Anderson"), reviewed T.D.M.'s transcripts.*fn5 Both concluded that he had earned enough credits for a Regents diploma by June 2008. Anderson specifically testified that twenty-two credits are required for a Regents diploma, and T.D.M. had earned twenty-three by June 2008. She further noted T.D.M. had passed four Regents exams, which was sufficient for a Regents diploma.

In a written decision dated November 12, 2010, the IHO determined that T.D.M. did not actually graduate prior to the 2008--09 school year, the District failed to provide him with a FAPE, and Chapel Haven met his educational needs. The IHO further concluded that equitable considerations supported an award of full reimbursement for the two years he attended Chapel Haven because plaintiffs ...


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