On Appeal From the United States District Court For the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civ. No. 93-cv-04752)
Before: BECKER, SCIRICA, Circuit Judges, and COHILL, District Judge *fn*
Argued: November 14, 1995
This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. Section(s) 1415(e)(2). Pursuant to IDEA, a school district is required to provide a disabled child with a "free appropriate education." 20 U.S.C. Section(s) 1400(c). J.C., a severely mentally retarded sixteen-year-old male, has attended the Ocean County Day Training Center ("OCDTC") since 1987. In 1992, concerned about the appropriateness of their son's instruction, J.C.'s father and stepmother, M.C. and G.C. ("plaintiffs"), began proceedings to secure both a residential placement for J.C. and compensatory education beyond his twenty-first year to make up for what they believed to be long-standing deficiencies in his program. In 1995, the district court ordered that J.C. be relocated to a residential school, but refused to award compensatory education because it found that the defendant, Central Regional School District ("Central Regional," "school district," or "district"), had, in good faith, provided J.C. with some educational program. Central Regional now appeals the residential placement, and plaintiffs cross-appeal the determination regarding compensatory education.
Rejecting Central Regional's challenge, we hold that the district court used the proper legal standard when it granted residential placement, and that its factual findings regarding that claim are supported in the record. We will therefore affirm the award. The cross-appeal requires us to revisit an issue reserved in our recent decision, Carlisle Area School v. Scott P., 62 F.3d 520, 537 (3d Cir. 1995), and to decide the proper standard for an award of compensatory education. A school district that knows or should know that a child has an inappropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) or is not receiving more than a de minimis educational benefit must, of course, correct the situation. We hold that, if it fails to do so, a disabled child is entitled to compensatory education for a period equal to the period of deprivation, excluding only the time reasonably required for the school district to rectify the problem. Because the district court applied an incorrect "good faith" standard, we will reverse on the cross-appeal and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I. Factual Background/ Procedural History
J.C.'s IEP stresses personal and self-help goals such as toileting and eating as well as more general communication, domestic, recreation, vocation, and community training skills. His preschool records reflect that he progressed well during his initial years of education. Following J.C.'s placement at OCDTC in 1987, his development slowed. Since 1989, J.C. has made little consistent improvement and in some aspects has even regressed.
For example, in 1988 and 1989, J.C.'s teachers, Juanita Jones and Susan Trainor, reported that J.C. could remove his shirt independently. In 1990, Trainor indicated that J.C. could remove his shirt only after it was started for him. By 1992, J.C.'s school records did not reflect any independent disrobing efforts. Trainor related only that J.C. was "cooperative" and would "extend [his] arm/leg for dressing." Likewise, pulling his pants up and down in preparation for toileting has been a self-help goal in J.C.'s IEP since 1989. By February 1991, J.C. was reportedly pulling his pants down with "moderate" physical assistance on two out of five days. In May 1991, J.C. continued to lower his pants with "moderate" assistance. In May 1992, J.C. had regressed to where he was able to pull his pants down on two out of five days only with "maximum" physical assistance. Similar reversion occurred in J.C.'s ability to spear food, to drink from a cup, to communicate, and to pay attention.
Not only did J.C. perform poorly on stated IEP goals, but his IEP also failed to include several important objectives. For example, Central Regional's records indicate that J.C.'s self-stimulatory behavior, like chewing his shirt, was a serious problem impairing his educational progress. Despite this fact, J.C.'s IEP contained no strategies to reduce the incidence of this behavior.
Another gap in J.C.'s IEP was parent training. According to Trainor, in order for J.C. to make steady progress, his program needed to be consistently implemented both inside and outside of the classroom throughout all his waking hours. Nevertheless, the IEP did not include parent training. Minutes of the March 15, 1990, IEP meeting indicate that the plaintiffs requested someone from the school to come to their home to help with toileting and ...