Mr. and Mrs. L., v. Plainville Bd. of Educ.

Federal District Court

363 F.Supp.2d 222 (D. Conn. 2005)

March 28, 2005

On March 28, 2005 the federal district court of Connecticut handed down a ruling in favor of the Plainville Board of Education (the “Board”), rejecting a claim asserted by parents of R.L., a 12-year-old girl with Sanfillipo syndrome (a severe degenerative disease that results in delayed development, hyperactivity, sleep disorders, hearing impairment, and degenerative loss of speech). The parents claimed that the Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) developed for their daughter violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (“IDEA”) on several grounds. The proposed IEP developed at one of the Planning and Placement Team (“PPT”) meetings was not satisfactory to R.L.’s resulting in an equally unsatisfactory administrative appeal. R.L.’s parents appealed the outcome of that hearing to the federal court.

The court found no violation of IDEA. The parents contended that the administrative hearing officer inappropriately focused her review on a modified version of the IEP, rather than the plan that was proposed to them, and on which they based their complaint. The court agreed with the Board that the modifications were only technical, not substantive. Because these revisions were minor and could be reasonably anticipated as follow up to the agreed upon plan, they did not constitute the creation of a new IEP that would have required approval by the PPT. The court rejected the parents’ claim because the type of modifications made did not result in the loss of an education opportunity for R.L., nor did they seriously impair the parents’ ability to participate in the formulation of the IEP.

In addition, the parents urged that the hearing officer improperly applied the procedural requirements of IDEA when she found that the child had been appropriately “mainstreamed” and failed to consider evidence that supplementary aids and services could increase the extent to which R.L. would be able to be in a mainstream class setting. The court agreed with the Board that R.L.’s IEP met the standard set forth in IDEA that the child be provided the maximum extent of mainstream time possible. The Board’s position was that R.L. also needed individual time to focus on skill acquisition, including a communication system, in order to better prepare her for more time spent in the mainstream educational environment. The court found that the administrative hearing officer appropriately considered whether, and to what extent, supplementary aids and services could increase the time the child spends in a mainstream educational setting, contrary to the parents’ assertion. The court also pointed to the fact that the IEP did include audiological services and an assistive technology plan as support for its decision, and did not find the parents’ argument that with additional aids and services, R.L. might be able to spend more time in a mainstream setting to be persuasive.

R.L.’s parents also asserted that the Board should be required to pay for an independent educational evaluation that they obtained to supplement and potentially enhance R.L.’s IEP. The court narrowly defined the legal standard in finding that since the parents had the independent evaluation done to provide them with additional input on their child’s educational plan, not because they disagreed with the Program for Evaluation of Development and Learning (“PEDAL evaluation”) that had been conducted at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center at the request of the school, they were not entitled to have the Board pay for that independent evaluation.

Further, the parents contended that R.L’s early dismissal from school one day a week violated her rights under state and federal law because non-disabled children were not subject to the same dismissal schedule and state regulations require that the minimum school day and year for children requiring special education be the same as for children in the regular education program. The court found that since the early release was designed to allow teachers time to review individual programs for the students and the effectiveness of the special education program in general, it was not a violation of IDEA. The court did not find a violation of state law because even with the early dismissal, R.L.’s total educational time exceeded the state minimum requirements, i.e. at least 900 hours of instruction time and at least 180 days per school year.

The final part of R.L.’s parents’ claim involved their request for an independent outside expert to coordinate the special education services for R.L. The court found that the Board had not violated IDEA in denying the parents’ request. Because the court agreed with the Board’s position that there is no requirement that the Board hire consultants selected by the parents, rather the expert provided by the school adequately fulfilled the same role that the outside consultant would play, there was therefore no need for an additional consultant. The court found that the Board complied with IDEA’s requirement that the program provided to the child be “reasonably calculated” to ensure appropriate education benefits. The court also acknowledged the Board’s argument that there was a genuine concern about the adverse effects of having too many consultants involved as legitimate.

This court reinforced the position expressed in Tucker v. Bay Shore Union Free Sch Dist., 873 F.2d 563, at 567 (2d Cir. 1989), that IDEA’s requirement that disabled children receive a free and adequate public education does not mean that schools must provide “everything that might be thought desirable by loving parents.”

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