Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rachel G., et al. v. Downingtown Area School District

July 7, 2011

RACHEL G., ET AL.
v.
DOWNINGTOWN AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT



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

MEMORANDUM

This suit arises from the plaintiffs' unilateral decision to place their daughter Rachel G., a disabled minor, in a private school for the 2007-08, 2008-09, and the 2009-10 school years. Rachel suffers from congenital birth defects that significantly impair her ability to acquire speech, sensory impairments that impair her fine and gross motor abilities, and learning disabilities. Because of these disabilities, Rachel is entitled to special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. The plaintiffs contend that the defendant Downingtown Area School District ("District") failed to provide Rachel with a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"). The plaintiffs seek tuition reimbursement for Rachel's placement in private school. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment. The Court will grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment and deny the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.

I. Background and Procedural History

Rachel is a minor student who resides in the Downingtown Area School District. She suffers from apraxia and holoprosencephaly ("HPE"), which significantly impair her ability to acquire speech. In addition to these defects, Rachel suffers from learning disabilities, particularly in math and reading, and has sensory impairments that impair her fine and gross motor abilities.

Rachel attended school in the District for kindergarten and the first two months of first grade. The District agreed to partially fund Rachel's program at the TALK Institute ("TALK") (formerly Magnolia Speech School) for the remainder of first grade and for the 2006-07 school year. The parties disagree about the amount of progress Rachel made at TALK. The District refused to provide continued financial support for Rachel's program at TALK for the 2007-08 school year.

Rachel's parents initiated due process proceedings to seek reimbursement for her attendance at TALK for the 2007-08 school year. The hearing was held over seven sessions conducted between October 21, 2008, and March 17, 2008. The hearing officer denied the plaintiffs' request in a decision dated May 3, 2009. The plaintiffs then brought this civil action seeking reversal of that decision and other relief.

In this action, the Court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss without prejudice after holding oral argument. The parties pursued settlement, but were unable to come to an agreement. The parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment for the plaintiff's IDEA claim (count I) and the Court held oral argument on the pending motions.*fn1

II. Statutory Background

The plaintiffs seek review of the hearing officer's decision under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. ("IDEA"). The IDEA requires that states must provide a free and appropriate public education to all children with disabilities in their jurisdiction to receive federal education funding. 20 U.S.C. § 1412. A free and appropriate public education consists of education designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to allow the child to benefit from the instruction. S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 264 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751, 756 (3d Cir. 1995)). Schools provide a child with a free and appropriate education through an Individualized Education Program ("IEP"). Id.; 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d).

Under the IDEA and its implementing regulations, each state and local educational agency is required to locate, evaluate and identify every child with a disability who resides within their boundaries. See 34 C.F.R. Part 300. The statute provides procedural safeguards to ensure that all identified disabled children in states accepting federal funding for education for the disabled will receive a FAPE. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a).

The IDEA allows the parent of a disabled child or the state to file a complaint "with respect to any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate education to such child." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6). The filing of such a complaint gives rise to a due process hearing, which is conducted in compliance with state procedures. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1). Under Pennsylvania law, a hearing officer presides over a due process hearing. See Mary Courtney T. v. Sch. Dist., 575 F.3d 235, 240 (3d Cir. 2009).

After a hearing, any party aggrieved by the findings and decision made in the process hearing has the right to appeal to a federal district court. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

Under Pennsylvania law, the decision of the hearing officer may be directly appealed to a court of competent jurisdiction. See 22 Pa. Code § 14.162.

III. Standard of Review

A federal district court reviewing factual findings from the administrative proceedings conducts a modified de novo review. The court is required to give "due weight" to the administrative body's factual findings. S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 270 (3d Cir. 2003); Shore Regional High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S., 381 F.3d 194, 199 (3d Cir. 2004) (describing the District Court's burden as "unusual" insofar as it "must make its own findings by a preponderance of the evidence" but "must also afford 'due weight' to the ALJ's determination"). Under this standard, "factual findings from the administrative proceedings are to be considered prima facie correct," and "if a reviewing court fails to adhere to them, it is obliged to explain why." S.H., 336 F.3d at 271.

If a state administrative agency has heard live testimony, the hearing officer's credibility determinations are due "special weight." P.S., 381 F.3d at 199. A district court must accept the hearing officer's credibility determinations "unless the non-testimonial, extrinsic evidence in the record ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.