Thursday, July 29, 2010
D.S. v. Bayonne Bd. of Educ., ____F.3d____(3d Cir. Apr. 22, 2010), is an interesting case. The 3rd Circuit held that a school district is liable under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for private school placement of a disabled student because his individualized education plan (IEP) failed to provide him with a free appropriate public education as required by IDEA. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Bayonne was not providing D.S. with a FAPE based on his IEP and standardized test scores. According to the ALJ, D.S.’s IEP did not incorporate any of the recommendations made by the experts hired by his parents. Also, despite D.S.’s high classroom grades, the ALJ gave more weight to his standardized test scores, administered by both school officials and outside experts. The school district appealed to federal district court. The court overturned the ALJ’s ruling. The parents then appealed the district court’s decision.
The 3rd reversed and the court agreed with the ALJ’s finding that the IEP was not appropriate and that D.S. was not making appropriate academic progress. Even though the appeals court acknowledged that the IEP did include a few of the modifications recommended by the parents’ experts, it upheld the ALJ’s determination that the IEP did not include enough supports to adequately address D.S.’s needs. It also agreed with the ALJ’s decision to give greater weight to D.S.’s standardized test scores than his classroom grades in determining whether the school district had provided him with a FAPE. It pointed out, based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, that the classroom grades would have carried greater weight if they had been achieved in a general education classroom, but D.S. had been placed in a self-contained special education classroom. Lastly, it noted that when there is disagreement between the expert witnesses regarding whether the test scores or grades were a more accurate representation of the appropriateness of D.S.’s education, courts are required to greater deference to the factual conclusions of the ALJ.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein