Banks ex. rel. Banks v. Danbury Bd. of Educ.

United States District Court

___ F. Supp.2d ___, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167 (D. Conn. 2003)

Jan 8, 2003

The District Court grants defendant school board’s (“Board”) motion for summary judgment in this appeal of a Due Process hearing officer’s decision in a special education case. The case focuses on two interesting issues: first the jurisdictional question of the district court’s right to hear issues that were allegedly not raised at the districts planning and placement team (“PPT”) meeting and second, the analysis of whether the plaintiffs could meet their burden of establishing that the district’s Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) was appropriate in light of the parent’s unilateral removal of their son to an out of district placement.

P.B. is an identified special education student diagnosed with a learning disability (dyslexia) and attention deficit disorder (“ADD”). His parents unilaterally placed him at the Kildonan School (an out of district program) in 1997, and there he remained through the 2001-2002 school year. The sole issue for the district court was whether the parents were entitled to reimbursement for placement at Kildonan for the 2001-2002 school year. At the conclusion of the 2000-2001 school year, two PPT’s were conducted pursuant to a triennial review and to formulate an appropriate educational placement for the following year. The PPT proposed an IEP and placement at Danbury High School, and P.B.’s parent’s unilaterally placed him at Kildonan for the 2001-2002 school year. The parents then appealed the Board’s refusal to pay tuition at Kildonan to a Due Process Hearing. The Hearing Officer upheld the Board’s position.

On appeal to the district court, the Board raised a jurisdictional question, contending that federal jurisdiction was improper because the plaintiffs did not specifically object to the Board’s proposed IEP’s at the two PPT’s in the spring of 2001. As a result, they were barred from arguing that the Hearing Officer improperly determined the IEP to be appropriate. The court found that the plaintiffs not only objected to the contents of the IEP, but to one of the PPT meetings itself because the neuropsychologist had not completed her evaluation and report. In addition, because the Board had not objected during the Due Process hearing to the plaintiffs’ contentions, and because the Hearing officer had not exercised her authority to dismiss the issues for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiffs’ claims survived the jurisdictional challenge.

On the merits, however, the court found that the plaintiffs could not meet their burden under the two-part Burlington test, which addresses reimbursement for unilateral placements. See Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dept. of Educ. of Mass., 471 U.S. 359 (1985). Under Burlington, the court determines first whether the proposed IEP is appropriate. To be appropriate, the state must comply with the procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and fashion an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.” Second, if the IEP is inappropriate, the court determines if the plaintiff’s choice of placement is appropriate.

Here, the court determined that the P.B.’s IEP was educationally appropriate. In a detailed dissertation of the evidence presented at the hearing, the court found that the board met its burden of establishing that the IEP was reasonably calculated to enable P.B. to receive educational benefits. While the evidentiary specifics are too comprehensive to present here, the court noted with understanding that while “loving parents can create a better special education program aimed at maximizing their child’s potential, that is not he standard by which [the court] review[s] the Hearing Officer’s findings and conclusions. ” In its opinion, the court provides a thorough review of the test results, expert testimony, the proposed IEP and placement at Danbury High School, and its logic for finding that the IEP met the standards espoused in Burlington andP.J. v. State of Conn. Bd. of Educ., 788 F. Supp. 678 (D. Conn. 1992).

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