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T.M. v. Cornwall Central School District

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

April 2, 2014

T.M., by A.M. and R.M., his parents, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross-Appellee,
v.
CORNWALL CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.[*]

Argued October 22, 2013

As Amended April 15, 2014.

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Appeal from a September 26, 2012 decision and resulting judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Briccetti, J.) granting summary judgment for defendant Cornwall Central School District (" Cornwall" ). Cross-appeal from the district court's August 7, 2012 decision granting the motion by plaintiff T.M., through his parents, for a preliminary injunction, and its October 9, 2012 decision denying defendant's motion to amend that decision. We hold that the least restrictive environment (" LRE" ) requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A), applies to extended school year (" ESY" ) placements as it does to regular school-year placements. We therefore conclude that the district court erred in determining that Cornwall met the LRE requirement when it offered T.M. only an ESY placement in a self-contained special education class. We also hold that the district court erred by requiring Cornwall to reimburse T.M.'s parents for the entire cost of the pendency services they obtained for T.M. from private providers after Cornwall offered to provide equivalent services directly. Accordingly, the district court's judgment is VACATED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings.

GARY S. MAYERSON (Tracey Spencer Walsh & Maria C. McGinley, on the brief), Mayerson & Associates, New York, NY, for Plaintiff--Appellant--Cross-Appellee.

CHRISTOPHER P. LANGLOIS (Karen S. Norlander, on the brief), Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., Albany, NY, for Defendant--Appellee--Cross-Appellant.

Before : KATZMANN, Chief Judge, KEARSE and WESLEY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 150

Katzmann, Chief Judge.

This case calls upon us to determine how the least restrictive environment (" LRE" ) provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400-1482,[1] applies to extended school year (" ESY" ) placements for children who need twelve-month educational programs.

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Plaintiff--Appellant--Cross-Appellee T.M. is a child with autism. His parents claim on his behalf that Defendant--Appellee--Cross-Appellant Cornwall Central School District (" Cornwall" ) violated the IDEA by denying T.M. a free appropriate public education (" FAPE" ) in his LRE. They also claim that Cornwall must reimburse them for the cost of certain educational services, called pendency services, that they obtained for him from private providers. These services are intended to ensure that T.M. will remain in the same educational placement while the current proceedings are pending. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j).

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Briccetti, J .) granted summary judgment for Cornwall, finding that Cornwall had offered T.M. a FAPE in the appropriate LRE. However, the district court also ordered Cornwall to reimburse T.M.'s parents for the full cost of the privately-obtained pendency services. T.M.'s parents appeal the grant of summary judgment, arguing primarily that Cornwall violated the IDEA's LRE requirement because it did not offer to place T.M. in a mainstream classroom for his extended school year program. Cornwall cross-appeals on the pendency services issue.

We hold that the IDEA's LRE requirement applies to ESY placements just as it does to school-year placements. Once Cornwall's Committee on Special Education determined that T.M. needed a twelve-month educational program, including an ESY placement, in order to prevent substantial regression, it was required to consider a continuum of alternative ESY placements and to offer T.M. the least restrictive placement from that continuum appropriate for his needs. The district court therefore erred in determining that Cornwall met its obligations under the IDEA by offering T.M. only an ESY placement in a self-contained special education classroom.

We further hold that the district court erred by ordering Cornwall to pay the full cost of obtaining T.M.'s pendency services through private providers even though Cornwall had offered to provide the same services itself at a lower cost. Although Cornwall was wrong to deny T.M. pendency services in the first place, it nevertheless is not required to pay for T.M. to remain with the same pendency services providers throughout this entire litigation.

We therefore vacate the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

A. Legal Framework

The IDEA requires states receiving federal special education funding to provide disabled children with a FAPE. M.W. ex rel. S.W. v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 725 F.3d 131, 135 (2d Cir. 2013); R.E. v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 694 F.3d 167, 174-75 (2d Cir. 2012). " To ensure that qualifying children receive a FAPE, a school district must create an individualized education program ('IEP') for each such child." R.E., 694 F.3d at 175; see also 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). That IEP must be developed in accordance with the procedures laid out in the IDEA, and must be " reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982). The state must also ensure that " [t]o the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities . . . are educated with ...


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