On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, (D.C. Civ. No. 82-3373)
Before: SEITZ and HIGGINBOTHAM, Circuit Judges and WEBER, District Judge.*fn*
A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.
In this appeal we review the appropriateness of the educational placement of a mentally and neurologically impaired child, pursuant to the Education of the Handicapped Act ("Act"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1461 (1982). The Board of Education of Parsippany-Troy Hills, Morris County, New Jersey ("Board") appeals from the district court's final order requiring that the child, S.G., continue in a residential program at the Woods School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The Board was also ordered to pay S.G.'s educational costs. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the judgment of the district court.
Because this case involves interpretation of a complex web of federal and state statutes and regulations, it will be helpful to first summarize the legal framework. The Act provides federal money to assist state and local agencies in educating handicapped children, conditioned on compliance with certain mandatory goals and procedures. The Act thus represents a federal effort to foster the education of handicapped children through cooperative federalism. It was passed in response to Congress' perception that a majority of handicapped children in the united States "were either totally excluded from schools or [were] sitting idly in regular classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to 'drop out.'" H. Rep. No. 332, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. 2(1975).
An important goal of the Act is to reduce costs to government and taxpayers by helping handicapped people to become self-sufficient. As we have previously noted:
A cost-benefit philosophy supported these interlocking goals. Instead of saddling public agencies and taxpayers with the enormous expenditures necessary to maintain the handicapped as lifelong dependents in a minimally acceptable institutionalized existence, Congress reasoned that the early injection of federal money and provision of education services would remove this burden by creating productive citizens.
Kruelle v. New Castle City School District, 642 F.2d 687, 691 (3d Cir. 1981) (footnote omitted).
To qualify for federal financial assistance under the Act, a state must demonstrate that it "has in effect a policy that assures all handicapped children the right to a free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(1). That policy must be defined in a state plan submitted to, and approved by, the Secretary of Education, which must describe in detail the goals, programs, and timetables under which the state intends to educate handicapped children within its borders. 20 U.S.C. § 1413.
The "free appropriate public education" required by the Act is tailored to the unique needs of the handicapped child by means of an "individualized education program" ("IEP"). 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(5). The IEP, which is the product of a meeting between qualified representatives of the local education agency, the pupil's teachers, and parents or guardians, is a written document containing: (
A) a statement of the present levels of educational performance of the child, (B) a statement of annual goals, including short-term instructional objectives, (C) a statement of the specific educational services to be provided to' such child, and the extent to which such child will be able to participate in regular educational programs, (D) the projected date for initiation and anticipated duration of such services, and (E) appropriate objective criteria and evaluation procedures and schedules for determining, at least an annual basis, whether instructional objectives are being achieved.
The Act also imposes extensive procedural safeguards upon the states, including provisions for notice to the parents of any proposed change in a child's placement, the right to a "due process" hearing before an impartial officer regarding any changes in the child's placement, the right of appeal to the designated state educational agency when due process hearings are conducted by local agencies, and further appeal to any state court of competent jurisdiction or federal district court. No changes in placement may be made during the pendency of those proceedings. 20 U.S.C. § 1415.
In New Jersey, the Act's mandates are implemented by an array of statutes, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 18A:46-1 - 18A:46-46 (West 1968 & Supp. 1985), and regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education under its "broad legislative rule-making power," D.C. v. Board of Education, 188 N.J. Super. 592, 598, 458 A.2d 129, 133, certification denied, 94 N.J. 529, 468 A.2d 184 (1983). The initial evaluation and classification of a child is conducted by a multi-disciplinary "child study team", which then develops an IEP in consultation with parents and teachers. N.J. Admin. Code tit. 6,§§ 6:28-3.1 - 6.28-3.6 (1984). Upon receiving written notice of a proposed or denied action, parents have 30 days to request a due process hearing. Id. at § 6.28-2.7. Until recently, due process hearings were conducted by Classification Officers who were employees of the State Board of Education. N.J. Admin. Code tit. 6, § 6:28-1.9(j)(1) (1978). In East Brunswick Board of Education v. New Jersey State Board of Education, No. 81-3600 (D.N.J. July 7, 1982), however, this procedure was struck down as violative of the Act's requirement that due process hearing officers be independent of the State educational agency. 20 U.S.C. ...