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East Ramapo Central School District v. Delorenzo

United States District Court, Second Circuit

October 3, 2013

EAST RAMAPO CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES P. DeLORENZO, in his official capacity as Assistant Commissioner of Education for the State of New York; JOHN B. KING, JR. in his official capacity as the Commissioner of Education for the State of New York; and STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Defendants.

David J. Butler, Bingham McCutchen LLP, New York, New York and Washington, District of Columbia

David B. Salmons, Bryan M. Killian, Randall M. Levine, Bingham McCutchen LLP, Washington, District of Columbia Counsel for Plaintiff.

Steven L. Banks, Assistant Attorney General, New York, New York, Counsel for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

CATHY SEIBEL, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss of Defendants James P. DeLorenzo, John B. King, Jr., and the State Education Department of the University of the State of New York ("NYSED"), (Doc. 10). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.

I. Facts

For the purposes of Defendants' Motion, I accept as true the facts (but not the conclusions) stated in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint ("AC"), (Doc. 4.)

A. The District's Resolution Meeting Process

Plaintiff East Ramapo Central School District (the "District") is a local educational agency ("LEA") responsible for providing special education services to its students. (AC ¶ 12.) It seeks a declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of its rights and obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. ( Id. ¶¶ 1, 8.) Pursuant to the IDEA and related regulations, the District's Committee on Special Education ("CSE") prepares, for each student requiring special education, an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") that recommends a placement where the student can receive services in the least restrictive environment ("LRE"). ( Id. ¶ 13.) The IDEA permits parents to file a complaint challenging the CSE's placement recommendation, ( id. ¶ 14 (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6))), and the statute requires the complaining parent and the District to attend a resolution meeting following such a complaint, ( id. (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(B))). If a satisfactory resolution is not reached at that meeting, the parties proceed to an administrative hearing before an Impartial Hearing Officer ("IHO"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(B)(ii), after which appeal to a State Review Officer and then the federal courts is available, see id. §§ 1415(g), (i).

In furtherance of Section 1415(f)(1)(B), the District convened resolution meetings following a parent's complaint regarding a CSE-recommended placement, and designated at least one representative authorized to negotiate a settlement agreement to attend the meeting on the District's behalf - generally either Art Jakubowitz (Director of Special Education) or Dr. Elizabeth Cohen (Office of Special Education Services), both members of the District's CSE. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19, 21-23.) If the District's representative and the parent identified a satisfactory placement in the District's best interest at the meeting, the parties entered into a Resolution Agreement, which was subject to approval by the Board of Education. ( Id. ¶ 24.)

During the 2012-2013 school year, the District's CSE prepared IEPs for 2, 131 special education students. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Parents of approximately thirty students appealed the CSE's placement, and the District resolved twenty-one of those appeals with Resolution Agreements. ( Id. ¶ 26.) In fourteen of the twenty-one Resolution Agreements, the District and the parents agreed to placements in private institutions, rather than public schools. ( Id. ¶ 27.)

B. NYSED Review

States receive federal funds under the IDEA, and state educational agencies have supervisory authority over IDEA implementation. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(11)(A). In turn, LEAs that wish to receive IDEA funds must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the state agency that their practices with respect to education of students with disabilities meet state and federal standards. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412-13.

On July 31, 2012, NYSED's Hudson Valley Regional Office of Special Education Quality Assurance conducted an on-site follow-up monitoring review to determine if the District had corrected noncompliance identified by NYSED in earlier special education monitoring reviews. ( Id. Ex. A, at 1.) On December 19, 2012, in a letter to Dr. Joel Klein (the District's Superintendent), James DeLorenzo (Assistant Commissioner of Education) summarized the findings from NYSED's review of the District's twenty-one Resolution Agreements. ( See id. Ex. A.) The letter concluded that that the District engaged in "patterns and practices... inconsistent with both federal and New York State law and regulation governing the education of students, " ( id. Ex. A, at 2), by allowing one District representative unilaterally to determine the placement for students with disabilities at resolution meetings, which NYSED found was inconsistent with laws requiring the CSE to recommend a placement in the LRE and evidenced a "clear intent and pattern to circumvent IDEA and remove the IEP decision-making process from the CSE, " ( id. Ex. A, at 3). In particular, NYSED identified a pattern of the District, after parental request and resolution meetings, placing students in out-of-District Yiddish bilingual special education programs even though the students' IEPs ...


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