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J.W. v. New York City Dep't of Educ.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 27, 2015

J.W. and L.W., individually and on behalf of Jake W., a minor, Plaintiffs,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For J.W. and L.W. individually, and on behalf of Jake W., a minor, Plaintiff: Lawrence D. Weinberg, Lawrence D. Weinberg, Bloomfield, NJ.

For The New York City Department of Education, Defendant: Andrew James Rauchberg, Lauren Almquist Lively, LEAD ATTORNEYS, New York City Law Department, New York, NY.

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J. PAUL OETKEN, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs J.W. and L.W. (collectively, " the Parents" ) filed this action against the New York City Department of Education (" the Department" ) pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and Article 89 of the New York State Education Law, N.Y. Educ. Law § 4401 et seq., seeking reversal of an administrative decision of a State Review Officer denying private school tuition funding for their minor son, Jake W. (" Jake" ). Both parties now move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's motion and denies Plaintiffs' motion.

I. Background

A. Legal Framework

Congress enacted the IDEA " to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education" and " to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A), (B). States that provide a

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free appropriate public education (" FAPE" ) to all children who have disabilities are eligible for federal funding under the IDEA. Id. § 1412(a)(1)(A); see Cerra v. Pawling Cent. Sch. Dist., 427 F.3d 186, 192 (2d Cir. 2005). A FAPE should " emphasize[ ] special education and related services designed to meet [a disabled child's] unique needs and prepare [the child] for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A).

To receive federal funding, a state must provide each disabled child with an individualized education program (" IEP" ). See id. § 1414(d)(1)(A). The IEP, " the result of collaborations [among] parents, educators, and representatives of the school district," Lillbask ex rel. Mauclaire v. Conn. Dep't of Educ., 397 F.3d 77, 81 (2d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted), is a " written statement that '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.'" D.D. ex rel. V.D. v. N.Y.C. Bd. of Educ., 465 F.3d 503, 507-08 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311, 108 S.Ct. 592, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988)); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A) (defining " IEP" ). The IEP must comply with the procedures set forth 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); accord Gagliardo v. Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist., 489 F.3d 105, 107 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Walczak v. Fla. Union Free Sch. Dist., 142 F.3d 119, 122 (2d Cir. 1998)). An IEP is not required, however, to " furnish every special service necessary to maximize each handicapped child's potential." Grim v. Rhinebeck Cent. Sch. Dist., 346 F.3d 377, 379, 74 Fed.Appx. 137 (2d Cir. 2003) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).

New York State receives federal funds under the IDEA, and is therefore obliged to comply with the Act's requirements. Walczak, 142 F.3d at 123. New York law charges local Committees on Special Education (" CSEs" ) with developing IEPs for disabled children. N.Y. Educ. Law § 4402(1)(b)(1); R.E. v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 694 F.3d 167, 175 (2d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 2802, 186 L.Ed.2d 861 (2013). The CSE must include: the parents or guardians of the disabled child in question; the child's regular education teacher; the child's special education teacher; a school psychologist; and a district representative " qualified to provide or administer or supervise special education and . . . knowledgeable about the general curriculum and the availability of resources of the school district," among other individuals. N.Y. Educ. Law § 4402(1)(b)(1)(a). " In developing a particular child's IEP, a CSE is required to consider four factors: (1) academic achievement and learning characteristics, (2) social development, (3) physical development, and (4) managerial or behavioral needs." Gagliardo, 489 F.3d at 107-08 (internal citations omitted).

The IEP need not name a specific school placement for the child. T.Y. v. N.Y. City Dep't of Educ., 584 F.3d 412, 419 (2d Cir. 2009). The New York City Department of Education's practice " is to provide general placement information in the IEP, such as the staffing ratio and related services, and then convey to the parents a final notice of recommendation . . . identifying a specific school at a later date. The parents are then able to visit the placement before deciding whether to accept it." R.E., 694 F.3d at 191.

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A parent who believes that his or her disabled child has been denied a FAPE under the IDEA may unilaterally place that child in a private school and then seek reimbursement from the school district. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii); Hardison v. Bd. of Educ., 773 F.3d 372, 376 (2d Cir. 2014); see also Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369-70, 105 S.Ct. 1996, 85 L.Ed.2d 385 (1985) (" Burlington " ); Florence Cnty. Sch. Dist. Four v. Carter ex rel. Carter, 510 U.S. 7, 12, 114 S.Ct. 361, 126 L.Ed.2d 284 (1993) (" Carter " ). To determine whether a parent is entitled to reimbursement, a court applies the three-pronged Burlington/Carter test, " which looks to (1) whether the school district's proposed plan will provide the child with a free appropriate public education; (2) whether the parents' private placement is appropriate to the child's needs; and (3) a consideration of the equities." C.F. ex rel. R.F. v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., 746 F.3d 68, 73 (2d Cir. 2014). The reimbursement covers " expenses that [the school district] should have paid all along and would have borne in the first instance had it developed a proper IEP." T.P. ex rel. S.P. v. Mamaroneck Union Free Sch. Dist., 554 F.3d 247, 252 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (quoting Burlington, 471 U.S. at 370-71) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In order to receive reimbursement, the parent must file a due process complaint challenging the appropriateness of the school district's recommendation. A hearing on this complaint is held before an impartial hearing officer (" IHO" ). N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404(1). The IHO's decision may be appealed to a state review officer (" SRO" ), see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(g); N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404(2), and the decision of the SRO may be challenged in state or federal court, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A); N.Y. Educ. Law § 4404(3)(a).

Here, Jake's parents rejected the Department's recommendation for the 2011-2012 school year and unilaterally placed Jake in the Rebecca School, a private institution. The Parents assert that Jake was denied access to a FAPE in the 2011-2012 school year and demand that the Department pay Jake's Rebecca School tuition for that year. This case is before the Court after conflicting decisions by the IHO and the SRO concerning whether the Department must reimburse Jake's parents for that year's tuition. The only issue pressed by the Parents in this Court is whether the Department's proposed placement denied Jake a FAPE.

B. Factual Background

The following facts and procedural background are taken from the parties' submissions and ...

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