The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBEVOISE
THE COURT: This action is brought pursuant to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 20 U.S.C. Section 1401, et seq., and, in particular, as provided by 20 U.S.C. Section 1415(e)(2). That section authorizes suit in the circumstances now present in the United States District Court by a party aggrieved by the findings and decision of a state educational agency concerning the identification, evaluation and educational placement of a handicapped child. In such an action the Court shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings, hear additional evidence at the request of a party and, basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, grant such relief as it determines is appropriate.
The central issue in the case is whether 15 year old S. G., a multiply handicapped child, should continue his education at The Woods School, a year-round residential facility for handicapped persons located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania or whether S. G. should be returned to his home and educated in either the Brooklawn Junior High School or a high school in Parsippany Troy-Hills.
The State has adopted regulations complying with federal standards governing the identification and placement of handicapped children. Under these regulations a local public school district must provide each handicapped pupil a special educational program and services according to how the pupil can best achieve educational success, N.J.A.C. 6:28-2.1(a). These regulations also require that a handicapped pupil shall be placed in the program option which is determined to be the least restrictive environment in view of the pupil's educational handicap, that every effort be made to place the pupil in an educational setting as close to his or her home as possible and that in selecting the least restrictive environment, consideration shall be given to any potentially harmful effect on the pupil or on the quality of services which the pupil needs, N.J.A.C. 6:28-2-2(b).
Plaintiffs are S. G.'s parents. The defendant is the Board of Education of Parsippany Troy-Hills, a local educational agency as defined by 20 U.S.C. Section 1401(8).
S. G., who was born on January 6, 1969, required considerable medical care during his first few years. He suffered from motor and psychomotor seizures for which he was given various medications until 1977.
In 1974 the Division of Youth and Family Services (hereinafter referred to as the "Division") assisted plaintiffs in placing S.G. in the Woods School. At the time plaintiffs lived in the Randolph School District. The District, as was required by the state regulations, prepared an individualized educational program (an "IEP") for S. G. which recommended generally that he be placed in a "residential setting to provide constant and consistent supervision and attention to the medical, physical and educational disabilities of this child." Placement in the Woods School was approved. The Division paid for the residential portion of the expenses, with plaintiffs contributing at first $312 and later $450 per month, and the school district paid for the educational component.
Plaintiffs moved to Parsippany Troy-Hills and thereupon their son's evaluation and placement became the responsibility of the child study team of the elementary school serving plaintiffs' neighborhood. Each year until 1981 the team recommended S. G.'s continued placement at the Woods School.
In either 1980 or 1981 the Division undertook proceedings to terminate any obligation it had to pay for S. G.'s residential expenses at the Wood School. At about the same time, S. G., because of his age, became subject to the jurisdiction of the child study team of the Brooklawn Junior High School. Plaintiffs learned that the child study team intended to recommend that S. G. be removed from the Woods School.
On June 24, 1981 plaintiffs requested a due process hearing pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6:28-1.9, and such a hearing was held on September 21, 1981. It was ordered that the Brooklawn School child study team conduct an evaluation of S. G. to determine what placement was educationally appropriate for him. Members of the child study team went to the Wood School and observed and evaluated S. G., and in November 1981, classified S. G. as "Multiply Handicapped with Primary Trainable Mentally Retarded and Secondary Neurologically Impaired." The child study team determined that continued residential placement was not necessary to enable S. G. to receive the education to which he is entitled by law and recommended placement in the district's Brooklawn School THR program.
The plaintiffs, believing that the residential placement was necessary for S. G. to continue making progress, asked for a hearing on this recommendation. Accordingly, a hearing was held before Classification Officer W. Donald Clark of the New Jersey Department of Education on April 28, May 27 and June 23, 1982. After hearing the testimony of the plaintiffs and of their expert psychologist, as well as that of the Board's Director of Special Services, learning disabilities teacher-consultant, school psychologist, speech therapist and social worker, the Classification Officer issued his decision upholding the determination of the child study team and ordering that S. G. be returned to the Brooklawn School. In reaching the decision, the Classification Officer held that:
"It is clear that S. G. requires a structured specialized program with major assistance in the development of communication skills. It is also concluded, on the basis of testimony by respondent's experts, that he can be given such a program in the Brooklawn Junior High TMR class. It has not been established that S. G. requires a 24 hour residential placement in order to learn. He is apparently capable of learning and progressing educationally in the day program while residing at home as do many other TMR children with complicating handicaps in addition to their retardation. With regard to classification, the current classification by respondent's child study team (R-8) which indicates MH with primary TMR and secondary NI was not shown to be inappropriate by petitioners. The classification officer finds that the present classification shall stand with regard to S. G. and that S. G. shall be placed in the Brooklawn Junior High TMR class beginning with the opening of school in September of 1982."
It is this determination from which plaintiffs have filed the instant appeal.
I have reviewed the transcripts of the proceedings before the Classification Officer and have reviewed the various reports, recommendations and other exhibits admitted in evidence at the trial of the case. In addition, I heard the testimony of the following persons: Susan Lilley O'Connor, a social worker at the Wood School, the plaintiffs, Dr. Vincent Aniello, Coordinator of Pupil Personnel Services of the Parsippany Troy-Hills school system, Eugene Neiditch, principal of the Brooklawn Junior High School, John Zaffiro, school psychologist at the Parsippany Troy-Hills school system, Andrea M. Randel, Director of the Department for Communication ...