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Braden O. v. West Chester Area School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 5, 2017

BRADEN O., et al. Plaintiffs
v.
WEST CHESTER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT Defendant WEST CHESTER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT Plaintiff
v.
B.O., et al Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, U.S.D.C. J

         INTRODUCTION

         By Order dated September 19, 2016, [ECF 15], the parties' joint motion to consolidate the following matters was granted: Braden O., v. West Chester Area School District, Civ. No. 16-0071, and West Chester Area School District v. B.O., et al., Civ. No. 16-0758.

         Presently, before this Court are cross-motions for judgment on the administrative record filed by the West Chester Area School District (the “School District”)[1], [ECF 20], and by B.O. by and through his parents, B.O. and K.O., (“Parents”)[2], [ECF 22], which address the School District's appeal of three adverse orders/decisions issued in the underlying due process litigation brought by Parents pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §1401 et seq., and Parents' action, as the prevailing party, to recover attorneys' fees and costs in said litigation. The issues raised in the parties' respective motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, the School District's motion for judgment on the administrative record is granted, Parents' motion is denied, and this matter is remanded to the administrative hearing officer.

         BACKGROUND [3]

         This matter involves a minor student, B.O. (“Student”), who has been diagnosed with autism and related impairments, including, intellectual disability, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”), and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and who has received special education services since the age of seven. In August 2014, when Student was seventeen years old, Parents moved from Mt. Diablo Unified School District (“Mt. Diablo”), in California, to the West Chester Area School District, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. A month prior to the move to West Chester, Parents contacted by email Dr. Leigh Ann Ranieri, the West Chester School District's Director of Pupil Services, to discuss Student's educational needs and to request that the School District continue Student's existing services, including a residential placement.[4] On that same day, Dr. Ranieri responded to Parents' email as follows:

Because special education regulations vary from state-to-state, an evaluation will need to be conducted to determine specific IEP needs based on Pennsylvania regulations. In the interim, we will implement the California IEP to the extent possible. We're responsible for offering a program in the least restrictive environment and there are many options available between a student's home school and residential placement. The IEP team will make a recommendation based on the individual needs of your son.
A very restrictive option is an Approved Private School such as Camphill. While school districts don't make residential recommendations or approvals, the district is responsible for the school portion of the tuition when a student attends an Approved Private School (APS). I've attached a list of APS in Pennsylvania which might serve as a resource for you.
Best wishes as you decide on your new home! Please contact me once you've made a final recommendation.

(Administrative Record (“A.R.”) Ex. 9, P-38).

         On September 8, 2014, Parents registered Student with the West Chester Area School District, and provided the School District with a copy of Student's June 11, 2014 Mt. Diablo individualized education program (“IEP”). On September 22, 2014, and October 9, 2014, the School District staff met with Parents to discuss Student's educational program and placement. On October 9, 2014, the School District issued a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (“NOREP”), (A.R. Ex. 8, HO-1 at pp. 38-41), indicating therein that its purpose was to “implement Out-of-state IEP pending completion of initial evaluation.” (Id. at p. 38). The NOREP described the School District's proposed action as follows:

To implement the California IEP dated June 1, 2014 in the autistic support program at the Child Career and Development Center (“CCDC”) pending completion of an initial evaluation to determine special education eligibility in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to determine educational needs.

(Id.). Although the School District noted Parents' opinion that Student required a residential placement, it indicated that the “IEP team will re-visit [Student's] level of educational need upon completion of the multidisciplinary team evaluation proposed to the parents on October 9, 2014.” (Id. at p. 39). On October 17, 2014, Parents rejected the School District's NOREP and insisted that Student “needs a residential placement.” (Id. at p. 40).

         On November 19, 2014, Parents filed a Due Process Complaint Notice. (A.R. Ex. 10, S-22). In the notice, Parents alleged that:

School District has refused to implement a residential placement in Pennsylvania pending evaluation or other due process procedures. The day placement the District has offered is not appropriate educationally. Without a residential placement, [Student] cannot receive FAPE.

(Id.). As a “Proposed Resolution, ” Parents indicated “School District will honor [Student's] pendent placement pursuant to 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(2)(C)(i)(II).” (Id.). This recognition specifically invoked the interstate transfer provision, discussed below.

         The Hearing Officer's Orders/Decisions

         As a result of Parents' complaint, a due process hearing was scheduled. During the administrative proceedings, the Hearing Officer issued three separate orders/decisions, each of which is the subject of the School District's appeal before this Court. The first decision involved Parents' pre-hearing motion filed on December 30, 2014, seeking an order to maintain Student's residential placement during the pendency of the due process proceedings. (A.R. Ex. 8, HO-1 at pp. 8-14). By Memorandum and Order dated January 18, 2015 (the “Interim Pendency Ruling”), the Hearing Officer granted Parents' motion, thus, requiring the School District to pay for Student's day school and residential placement during the pendency of the due process proceedings. (Id. at pp. 1-6). In its decision, the ...


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