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K.C. v. Chappaqua Central School District

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 1, 2017

K.C., individually and on behalf of J.C.T., M.T., individually and on behalf of J.C.T., Plaintiffs,

          Rachel S. Asher, Esq. Asher Gaughran, LLP Armonk, NY Counsel for Plaintiffs

          Mark C. Rushfield, Esq. Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, LLP Poughkeepsie, NY Counsel for Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiffs K.C. and M.T. (collectively, “Plaintiffs” or the “Parents”), bring this Action on behalf of their son, J.C.T. (“C.T.”), alleging that Defendant Chappaqua Central School District (“Defendant” or the “District”) denied C.T. a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, in violation of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1415 et seq., New York Education Law, N.Y. Educ. Law §§ 4401, 4404, 4410, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and discriminated against C.T. in violation of Section 504 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12132. (See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1).) Defendant has moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the Fourth and Fifth Causes of Action, relating to the District's alleged discrimination against C.T. For the reasons to follow, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken from the allegations in the Complaint and are taken as true for purposes of this Motion.

         C.T., the child of Plaintiffs, was born in 1999 and was classified by Defendant as a disabled student with emotional disturbance. (See Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) C.T.'s academic struggles sharply escalated in third grade, during which a clinical psychologist evaluated C.T., prescribed medication, and found that some intervention was needed to address “his emotional fragility and unevenly developing skills.” (Id. ¶¶ 18-21.) At this time, Defendant classified C.T. as “Other Health Impaired, ” but otherwise failed to address C.T.'s emotional and academic needs. (Id. ¶ 22.) At the age of nine, C.T. was seeing a pediatric psychiatrist and a neurologist and was prescribed additional medication. (See Id. ¶ 24.) In fifth grade, C.T.'s grades dropped and he received negative reviews from his teachers, who cited his inability to do homework and his behavioral problems in the classroom. (See Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) C.T.'s special education teacher wrote a report discussing C.T.'s academic and behavioral problems, but the report was never produced to the Parents. (See Id. ¶¶ 26-28.) Although the Parents and C.T.'s doctors requested that the District provide C.T. with additional academic and emotional support, the District gave no meaningful response to those requests. (See Id. ¶ 29.) In the summer after fifth grade, C.T.'s diagnosis was changed to early onset bipolar disorder and he began to gain weight. (See Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)

         At the beginning of sixth grade, the District recognized that C.T. had regressed over the summer and acknowledged that he had difficulty working independently and that he had significant limitations with respect to his classroom participation. (See Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) C.T.'s behavioral problems escalated throughout sixth grade, and his testing scores fell. (See Id. ¶¶ 35- 36.) Despite C.T.'s continuing problems, the District took little action to improve C.T.'s situation, keeping him in mainstream classes with only limited special education support. (See Id. ¶ 40.) Although C.T.'s aide and teachers knew that C.T. was struggling and discussed his difficulties in internal emails, those concerns were not shared with the Parents. (See Id. ¶¶ 41- 42.) In the summer before seventh grade, C.T. went to day camp, but continued to struggle with his behavioral issues. (See Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) During the summer, he was twice hospitalized at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital, and the Parents informed the District of those hospitalizations. (See Id. ¶¶ 46-49.)

         C.T.'s seventh grade year started in 2011 and ran until 2012, and is the subject of this Motion. C.T.'s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) for seventh grade was virtually identical to his IEP in sixth grade: C.T. was kept in large, mainstream classes and only received counseling with a school guidance counselor. (See Id. ¶ 50.) As the Parents learned in reports that were not disclosed until 2014, C.T. struggled to interact with his fellow students and spent much of the day wandering the halls. (See Id. ¶ 52.) The District made no effort to address those issues, although the Parents repeatedly asked that the District transfer C.T. to a smaller, therapeutic school. (See Id. ¶ 53.) C.T. continued to struggle academically, and he largely refused to do homework. (See Id. ¶ 55.)

         At home, C.T.'s behavior became problematic, and the Parents called the police to their home on four occasions during the school year when C.T. became violent and aggressive. (See id. ¶ 56.) Although the Parents informed the District each time they called the police, the District offered no response. (See Id. ¶ 57.) Meanwhile, C.T. began eating compulsively at school and would go into the nurse's office unattended to eat candy out of her cabinet. (See Id. ¶¶ 60-61.) The District took no action to address these issues. (See Id. ¶ 62.)

         According to Plaintiffs, the District repeatedly downplayed the extent of C.T.'s behavioral problems, insisting that those problems occurred only at home. (See Id. ¶ 63.) Standardized testing indicated that C.T.'s academic performance continued to drop, and his teachers reported that he struggled to work independently and frequently left class. (See Id. ¶¶ 65-67.) C.T.'s behavior also became more erratic-Plaintiffs point to one instance in which C.T. told them that he had been bullied on the bus, when in fact it was C.T. who had been the aggressor. (See Id. ¶¶ 68-69.) In response, the District recommended that C.T. no longer ride the bus. (See Id. ¶ 70.) No plan was made to address this behavior. (See Id. ¶ 71.) In fact, the District continued to insist to the Parents that C.T. was functioning well and that his placement in mainstream education classes was appropriate. (See Id. ¶ 74.) Despite this representation, the Parents became aware several years later that C.T.'s school counselor was concerned about C.T.'s progress and thought he needed a therapeutic placement, while his aide made several notes about C.T.'s disruptive and erratic behavior. (See Id. ¶¶ 75-80.) Again, no efforts were made to address C.T.'s behavioral issues. (See Id. ¶ 81.)

         There were other behavioral problems that the Parents allegedly did not become aware of until many years later. For example, C.T. once told his guidance counselor that he “wanted to kill somebody, ” and C.T. frequently wandered out of class without permission. (See Id. ¶¶ 82- 83.) C.T. missed 197 classes during his seventh grade year, but the Parents claim they did not learn about these absences until later. (See Id. ¶ 84.)

         The Parents and C.T.'s psychologist, psychiatrist, and private tutor all repeatedly told the District that C.T. required placement in a small, therapeutic school. (See Id. ¶¶ 91-94.) The District ignored these recommendations, insisting that C.T. was capable of functioning in mainstream classes, and refused to consider placement in a therapeutic school. (See Id. ¶¶ 95- 96.) At the same time, the District failed to develop or implement any meaningful behavioral interventions, and its response to C.T.'s issues was limited to two 30-minute group counseling sessions per month and two documents purportedly designed to help measure and track C.T.'s issues and progress. (See Id. ¶¶ 97-98.)

         In August, the District designed a new IEP for C.T.'s eighth grade year, but the IEP was similar to the seventh grade IEP in many ways and, in the Parents' view, inadequate in the same ways. (See Id. ¶¶ 102-03.) Frustrated with the District's inaction, the Parents unilaterally placed C.T. at Westfield Day School, a nearby therapeutic day school in Rye, New York, for his eighth grade year (2012-2013). (See Id. ¶ 106.) C.T.'s behavior and academic progress improved dramatically while at Westfield, and his behavior at home also improved. (See Id. ¶¶ 108-13.) The next school year, the District acknowledged C.T.'s need for placement in a therapeutic environment and placed C.T. in such an environment. (See Id. ¶ 114.) The District refused, however, to reimburse the Parents for the expenses they incurred during the 2011-2012 school year, and similarly refused to reimburse C.T.'s tuition at Westfield for the 2012-2013 school year. (See Id. ¶ 115.)

         B. Administrative Proceedings

         On May 28, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an administrative due process complaint, seeking, under the IDEA, reimbursement for compensatory education for the District's alleged failure to provide a FAPE during the 2011-2012 school year, and tuition reimbursement for C.T.'s placement at Westfield during the 2012-2013 school year. Plaintiffs also sought a declaration that the District's IEP violated Section 504 and that the District's conduct constituted discrimination under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. (See Id. ¶ 116.) On June 10, 2014, Plaintiffs made an educational records request, through which they received many of the internal teacher and staff communications discussed above. (See Id. ¶ 117.) As a result, Plaintiffs amended their Due Process Complaint to include a claim that the District failed to provide them adequate information to allow them to participate in the IEP-development process. (See Id. ¶ 118.)

         The independent hearing officer (“IHO”) assigned to hear Plaintiffs' due process complaint held hearings on October 16, 21, and November 5, 2014. (See Decl. of Rachel Asher, Esq. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. on the Pleadings To Dismiss Pl.'s Fourth and Fifth Causes of Action (“Asher Decl.”) Ex. C (“Interim Decision”) (Dkt. No. 33).) On January 11, 2015, the IHO issued an Interim Decision wherein she determined that the “appropriate mechanism” for raising Section 504 and ADA claims distinct from the IDEA claims would be via the District's Policy 3040, which instructs parents who feel that their child's rights under Section 504 or the ADA have been violated to file a grievance with the District's Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources. (See Id. at 4; see also Aff'n in Supp. of Mot. for J. on the Pleadings as to Pl.'s Fourth and Fifth Causes of Action in the Compl. (“Rushfield Aff'n”) Ex. I (Dkt. No. 28).)

         The IHO then noted that Plaintiffs had, in fact, referred the Section 504 and ADA claims to the appropriate entity. (See ...

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