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J.E., et al v. Boyertown Area School District

September 1, 2011

J.E., ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOYERTOWN AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs J.E. and the parents of J.E. (J.E. and A.E., "the Parents") (collectively "Plaintiffs"), initiated this action against the Boyertown Area School District ("Defendant" or "School District"), seeking the reversal of a Pennsylvania Special Education Hearing Officer's decision finding that the 2009-2010 Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") that the School District proposed was appropriate and that the School District would no longer have to reimburse Plaintiffs for private school placement.

Pending its decision, the Court ordered the School District to continue to fund J.E.'s tuition and transportation costs for his private school placement pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415, the IDEA's stay-put provision. In deciding motions for judgment on the record, the Court upheld the Hearing Officer's decision. Plaintiffs now bring a Motion for Preliminary Injunction asking the Court to Order that the School District be required to continue to fund J.E.'s private placement while the case is on appeal to the Third Circuit, again pursuant to the IDEA's stay-put provision.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction.

II. BACKGROUND

On June 21, 2010, Plaintiffs initiated this action against the Boyertown Area School District.*fn1 Plaintiffs seek the reversal of Pennsylvania Special Hearing Officer William Culleton, Esq.'s ("Culleton" or "Hearing Officer") decision that the School District's IEP for J.E. for the 2009-2010 school year was an appropriate placement. Plaintiffs claim that the School District's proposed IEP fails to provide J.E. with an appropriate placement. Plaintiffs argue that instead of placing J.E. in the District's Autism Support class ("AS class") at the public Boyertown Area High School ("BAHS"), the appropriate placement for J.E. is at the private Hill Top Preparatory School ("Hill Top") and that J.E.'s parents should be reimbursed for tuition and transportation costs for J.E.'s attendance at the Hill Top. Plaintiffs are also seeking attorney's fees and costs.

When the School District offered this IEP to J.E., J.E.'s parents disagreed with it and filed for a due process hearing. Hearing Officer Culleton resolved the dispute in favor of the School District. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs attack the Hearing Officer's decision on several grounds: (1) it is based on a non existent document, (2) it ignores the evidence that the School District failed to offer a timely IEP, (3) it was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence, (4) it applied the wrong legal standard, and (5) it made an erroneous credibility determination finding that A.E.'s "startled reaction" to a loud sound in the room was evidence that she had a "heightened sensitivity" to the atmosphere of a large school. (Plf.s' Comp. at ¶ 30.) On August 30, 2010, Defendant filed its answer, denying Plaintiffs' allegations and asserting numerous defenses. (See Def.'s Answer.)

On September 2, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, arguing that Hill Top was J.E.'s pendent placement and that under the "stay-put" provision of the IDEA the School District is responsible for continuing to pay for J.E.'s tuition at and transportation to Hill Top. (See Plf.s' Mot. for Prelim. Inj.) On September 16, 2010, the School District responded that it should not be responsible for these costs. (See Def.'s Resp. to Mot. for Prelim. Inj.) On December 12, 2010, following a hearing, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion and ordered the School District to pay for J.E.'s tuition costs and transportation to Hill Top pending this Court's decision. (Doc. no. 18.)

On December 8, 2010 both parties filed motions for judgment on the administrative record. Responses and replies were filed by January 7, 2011. On January 18, 2011, the Court held a hearing on the motions for judgment on the administrative record and issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the School District's motion for judgment and denying Plaintiffs' motion for judgment.

Plaintiffs now bring a Motion for Preliminary Injunction asking the Court to Order that the School District be required to continue to fund J.E.'s private placement while the case is on appeal to the Third Circuit, again pursuant to the IDEA's stay-put provision. This motion and the School District's response are now before the Court.

III. DISCUSSION

At the beginning of this case, this Court's Order granting a preliminary injunction only required the School District to fund the J.E.'s placement at Hill Top through the completion of this case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs now move for a preliminary injunction compelling the School District to maintain J.E.'s current placement at Hill Top Preparatory School for the pendency of their appeal to the Third Circuit (doc. nos. 40 & 42).

A. The Third Circuit has Not Decided the Question of Whether The Stay Put Provision Remains in ...


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