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WOODS v. NEW JERSEY DEPT. OF EDUC.

June 9, 1993

DONALD WOODS and DIANE WOODS, on behalf of their daughter T.W., Petitioners,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES; NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES; MONROE TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY S. BROTMAN

 BROTMAN, District Judge:

 This opinion addresses Petitioners' May 27, 1993 application for emergent relief. The court conducted a telephonic hearing on Petitioners' application on June 4, 1993, at which time the application was denied. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court informed the parties that it would set forth the reasons for its ruling in greater detail in a written opinion.

 FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

 Petitioners, Donald and Diane Woods, made this application on behalf of their daughter, T.W. T.W., who is twenty years old, suffers from a severe language based disability and an obsessive compulsive disorder. Consequently, she is considered disabled within the meaning of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1485, and is therefore entitled to special education services from the State of New Jersey. Id. § 1412. For most of her life, T.W. has been enrolled as a student with Respondent Monroe Township Board of Education ("Monroe"). The Monroe Township school district has provided T.W. with special education services for several years. T.W. is currently enrolled in a residential placement at the Pathway School in Jeffersonville, Pennsylvania.

 Since the fall of 1990, the Woodses have been involved in ongoing litigation against Monroe and several agencies of the State of New Jersey. This litigation has involved various state administrative hearings, as well as an action filed by the Woodses in this Court in September 1991. The facts and procedural background of this litigation are exhaustively set forth in one published and two unpublished opinions previously rendered by this Court. See Woods v. New Jersey Dep't of Educ., No. 91-4250, slip op. (D.N.J. Feb. 22, 1993); Woods v. New Jersey Dep't of Educ., No. 91-4250, slip op. (D.N.J. Jul. 15, 1992); Woods v. New Jersey Dep't of Educ., 796 F. Supp. 767 (D.N.J. 1992). Summarized below are the prior proceedings in this case that are most relevant to the instant application.

 After several prehearing conferences and several days of testimony before Administrative Law Judge Robert W. Scott on the issue whether a residential placement was educationally necessary for T.W., *fn1" the Woodses entered into a settlement agreement with Monroe on April 1, 1991. According to the terms of this agreement, Monroe agreed to place T.W. at the Pathway School, a residential facility, for a period of nine months. Monroe's pledge to fund T.W.'s placement at Pathway was given in return for the Woodses's pledge to make no further demands upon Monroe for funding of residential placement or for compensatory education of any kind. *fn2" Prior to this settlement, T.W. had been attending the Hampton School, a daytime educational facility located in Burlington County, New Jersey.

 Judge Scott approved the settlement agreement on May 9, 1991, holding that the agreement was voluntary, fully disposes of all issues in controversy, and is consistent with the law. Judge Scott ordered the parties to comply with its terms and held that his decision approving the agreement was final and was therefore appealable by bringing a civil action in a Superior Court of New Jersey or in a United States District Court. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(1), (2).

 On September 24, 1991, after various state agencies denied their request for funding, the Woodses filed a complaint in this Court. The Woodses claim, inter alia, that the New Jersey Department of Education ("NJDOE"); the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities ("DDD"); and the Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") violated requirements imposed upon them by the IDEA by refusing to fund the residential component of T.W.'s Pathway placement. The Woodses subsequently moved for a default judgment and for partial summary judgment against the NJDOE. NJDOE, DYFS, and DDD cross-moved for summary judgment, and Monroe cross-moved to dismiss. This Court denied each of these motions. See Woods v. New Jersey Dep't of Educ., 796 F. Supp. 767 (D.N.J. 1992).

 Realizing that Monroe would seek to terminate its funding of T.W.'s Pathway placement on December 31, 1991--the last day of the nine-month funding period provided for in the settlement agreement--the Woodses filed for an emergent relief hearing with the Office of Administrative Law on December 9, 1991 pursuant to N.J.A.C. 1:6A-12.1(a). *fn3" The Woodses argued, inter alia, that the Pathway School was T.W.'s "current educational placement" within the meaning of the IDEA'S "stay put" provision, which provides in pertinent part that "during the pendency of any proceedings conducted pursuant to this section, unless the State or local educational agency and the parents or guardian otherwise agree, the child shall remain in the then current educational placement of such child." 20 U.S.C.§ 1415(e)(3). The Woodses claimed that under the stay put provision, Monroe was obligated to continue to fund T.W.'s placement at Pathway during the pendency of the action they commenced in this Court and until Monroe recommended an educationally appropriate day placement and any proceedings they wished to initiate challenging the proposed placement were completed.

 In February 1992 both parties separately requested due process hearings. Monroe asserted that it had completed its reassessment of T.W. and that it had recommended an educationally appropriate day placement at the Burlington County Special Services School District Campus ("BCSSSDC"). The Woodses asserted that Monroe had not conducted any reassessment, that T.W. continued to be improperly classified, that Monroe had failed to offer an appropriate day placement, and that Monroe had violated individualized education program meeting requirements. Both of these matters were assigned to Judge Scott, who held hearings that began on April 8, 1992 and concluded on June 4, 1992.

 On April 23, 1992 counsel for Monroe made an oral application before Judge Scott for a ruling that Monroe would not be obligated to continue to fund the residential component of T.W.'s placement at Pathway once Judge Scott issued a final decision in the due process hearing. Monroe's counsel alleged that the April 1, 1991 settlement agreement relieved Monroe of any obligation to continue funding T.W.'s Pathway placement.

 The Woodses objected to this request. They argued before Judge Scott that such an order would violate the stay-put provision of the IDEA. Over this objection, Judge Scott signed an order on May 19, 1992 permitting Monroe to terminate its funding of the residential component of ...


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