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Munir v. Pottsville Area School District

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 25, 2013

MUHAMMAD MUNIR, Individually and as the parent of minor plaintiff, O.M., Appellant
v.
POTTSVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) June 13, 2013

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 3-10-cv-00855) District Judge: Honorable Robert D. Mariani

Albert J. Evans Fanelli, Evans & Patel Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Kimberly A. Boyer-Cohen John J. Hare Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Christopher J. Conrad Sharon M. O'Donnell Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: SCIRICA, HARDIMAN and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

HARDIMAN, Circuit Judge.

This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal statute requiring states that receive federal education funding to ensure that disabled children receive a "free appropriate public education” (FAPE). 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1). The statute "protects the rights of disabled children by mandating that public educational institutions identify and effectively educate those children, or pay for their education elsewhere if they require specialized services that the public institution cannot provide.- D.K. v. Abington Sch. Dist., 696 F.3d 233, 244 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting P.P. v. W. Chester Area Sch. Dist., 585 F.3d 727, 735 (3d Cir. 2009)). Appellant Muhammad Munir sent his son, O.M., to a private residential facility and a private boarding school following multiple suicide attempts, and sought reimbursement for the cost of those placements from the Pottsville Area School District (Pottsville or School District). For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the District Court's order denying that request.

I

To comply with the IDEA, school districts must identify and evaluate all children who they have reason to believe are disabled under the statute. D.K., 696 F.3d at 244. Once a school district has identified a child as eligible for IDEA services, it must create and implement an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) based on the student's needs and areas of disability. P.P., 585 F.3d at 729–30. School districts are not, however, required to "maximize the potential”of each handicapped student. T.R. v. Kingwood Twp. Bd. of Educ., 205 F.3d 572, 577 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 197 n.21 (1982)). Instead, to satisfy the IDEA, the district must offer an IEP that is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive meaningful educational benefits in light of the student's intellectual potential.” P.P., 585 F.3d at 729–30 (quoting Shore Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S., 381 F.3d 194, 198 (3d Cir. 2004)); see also Mary T. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 575 F.3d 235, 240 (3d Cir. 2009) (explaining that once the school district has designed and administered an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable the receipt of meaningful educational benefits, it has satisfied its obligation to provide the child with a FAPE).

If parents believe that the school district is not providing a FAPE for their child, they may unilaterally remove him from the school, enroll him in a different school, and seek tuition reimbursement for the cost of the alternative placement. Id. at 242 (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C) and Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 374 (1985)). Parents who change their child's placement without the consent of state or local officials, however, "do so at their own financial risk.” Burlington, 471 U.S. at 373–74. A court may grant the family tuition reimbursement only if it finds that the school district failed to provide a FAPE and that the alternative private placement was appropriate. See Florence Cnty. Sch. Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7, 15–16 (1993); Mary T., 575 F.3d at 242. Courts also have broad discretion to consider equitable factors when awarding tuition reimbursement. Florence Cnty. Sch. Dist., 510 U.S. at 15–16.

II

A

O.M. is a 21-year-old former Pottsville student who was diagnosed as suffering from emotional disturbance. He first required in-patient hospital treatment for making threats of suicide and suicidal gestures in 2005, when he was enrolled in middle school. At that time, the School District conducted a psycho-educational evaluation to determine whether O.M. suffered from a learning disability and would be eligible for IDEA services. It determined that O.M. was not eligible for learning disability services based on his cognitive and achievement test scores. It determined that he was not eligible for emotional disturbance services based on behavioral ratings completed by teachers and a psychiatric report.

O.M. returned to Pottsville in the fall of 2005 and performed well academically for three years. He had no problem with attendance, expressed no concerns about school, and received grades in the A to C range in regular college preparatory courses.[1] During the 2005-2006 school year, O.M. periodically saw the school psychologist, who ...


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