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Drake P., A Minor, By and Through His Parent, Maria P v. Council Rock School District

June 2, 2011

DRAKE P., A MINOR, BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENT, MARIA P.; AND MARIA P., AN ADULT, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON HER OWN BEHALF, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNCIL ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

In this case, an 11-year-old child with autism, Drake P. ("Drake"), alleges that he was denied a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and suffered discrimination because of his disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. Drake and his mother, Maria P. ("Maria"), seek tuition reimbursement from Council Rock School District ("Council Rock" or "the district") for a six-month period during which, they allege, Drake would have been unable to transition back to public school because his family's house had recently burned down, and a few days later his father passed away.

Presently before the court is plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record. While the facts of this case are tragic, for the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that there is no legal theory on which plaintiffs can prevail. Thus, plaintiffs' motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Drake was diagnosed with autism in March 2003. (N.T. 197.) In 2007, when he was 7 years old, Drake's family moved from New Jersey into a home in the Council Rock School District in Pennsylvania. (Id. at 197-99.) The primary motivation for the move was to give Drake access to the programming offered by Council Rock, which his parents felt would better serve his needs. (Id. at 198-99.) Drake was initially enrolled at Richboro Elementary School ("Richboro") for a summer program, then moved to Goodnoe Elementary School ("Goodnoe") for the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. (Id. at 199-202.)

As the school year progressed, Maria came to believe that the program at Goodnoe was not meeting Drake's needs. (Id. at 206.) She requested he be transferred back to Richboro; the district complied. (Id.) By the end of the year, however, Maria remained dissatisfied with the district's program for Drake. (Id. at 229.) As a result, Drake's parents removed him from public school in July 2008 and enrolled him at the Comprehensive Learning Center ("CLC") in Southampton, PA, a private school that serves children with autism. (Id. at 241.)

According to Maria, Drake began to flourish at CLC. (Id. at 243-45.) Then, in one three-day period in December 2008, Drake suffered two tragedies. First, on December 13, 2008, the family's house "completely burned down" while Drake stood outside in his pajamas and bare feet. (Id. at 255.) Then, just two days later, as the family began to look for new permanent housing, Drake's father passed away. (Id.) Maria moved her family to a nearby townhouse while their house was rebuilt, and she made sure Drake did not miss any school. (Id. at 256.) There is no evidence in the record that she contacted the district about re-enrolling Drake in public schools at that time. To the contrary, Maria believed the program at CLC was working well for Drake, (id. at 243-45), and was of the opinion that Drake's "need for consistency" would have made transferring back to Council Rock difficult for him. (Id. at 282.)

On April 1, 2009, plaintiffs, through counsel, notified the district of their intent to seek a due process hearing under the IDEA and Section 504, both of which protect the rights of special education students to obtain a FAPE from their public schools. (Administrative R., Ex. 17.) Plaintiffs alleged that the district had failed to offer Drake a FAPE for the 2008-09 school year and sought, inter alia, reimbursement for the cost of tuition at CLC for the entire academic year. (Id.) A hearing officer conducted the due process hearing over the course of six days between September 2009 and May 2010. (See id., Exs. 5-10.) On June 9, 2010, the hearing officer issued a 20-page opinion in which he ruled that the district had offered Drake a FAPE for the 2008-09 school year and therefore did not have to pay the cost of Drake's tuition at CLC. (Id., Ex. 2.)

Plaintiffs appealed the hearing officer's decision by filing their Complaint in this action on September 7, 2010. Before this Court, plaintiffs seek only reimbursement for Drake's CLC tuition for the period from early January 2009 -- immediately following the twin tragedies -- to the end of the school year. Plaintiffs allege that even if the district offered Drake a FAPE in July 2008, that offer no longer constituted a FAPE for the second half of the school year because Drake could not have transitioned back into the public school system after the tragic events of December 2008.

The parties agreed that the case could be decided by motion for judgment on the administrative record, with no further discovery. (See Order of Nov. 29, 2010 at 1 (Doc. No. 9).) The instant motion is fully briefed and thus ripe for review.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

"Congress enacted IDEA in 1970 to ensure that all children with disabilities are provided a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs [and] to assure that the rights of [such] children and their parents or guardians are protected." Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 129 S. Ct. 2484, 2491 (2009) (internal quotation ...


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