Even if the Court were to conclude that Dr. Adler classifies R.S. as autistic, the overwhelming evidence is that R.S. is N.I. The Study Team and an army of professionals have been evaluating R.S. since elementary school. She has been subjected to numerous psychological tests which reveal her neurological impairment. Therefore, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision was proper and plaintiffs have failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that R.S. should be classified as autistic rather than N.I.
The Court is next faced with the more challenging question of R.S.'s educational placement. IDEA requires that a disabled child be placed in the least restrictive environment that will provide the child with an educational benefit. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(5)(B). Courts have "recognized that for some disabled children a residential program, rather than a day program, is" the least restrictive alternative. Board of Educ. of East Windsor Regional Sch. Dist. v. Diamond on behalf of Diamond, 808 F.2d 987, 992 (3d Cir. 1986). The cost of residential placement is only properly borne by the school district when such full-time placement is necessary for educational purposes and not "when the residential placement is a response to medical, social or emotional problems" that can be segregated from the learning process. Kruelle v. New Castle County Sch. Dist., 642 F.2d 687, 693 (3d Cir. 1981). See, e.g., M.C. on behalf of J.C. v. Central Regional Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 389, 394 (3d Cir.) (affirming district court's ruling that residential placement appropriate where severely retarded child no longer made progress "to reduce [the child's] severe self-stimulatory behavior or improve his toileting, eating or communication skills"), cert. denied, U.S. , 136 L. Ed. 2d 116, 117 S. Ct. 176 (1996); Kruelle, 642 F.2d at 694-96 (holding that district court did not err in finding residential placement necessitated by "combination of physical and mental handicaps" of profoundly retarded thirteen-year old child with six-month-old social skills); North v. District of Columbia Bd. of Educ., 471 F. Supp. 136, 141 (D.D.C. 1979) (holding residential academic program necessary for sixteen-year-old multiply-handicapped epileptic child because "medical and emotional problems [were] so intertwined 'that realistically it was not possible for the court to'" separate them); Ladson v. Bd. of Educ. of D.C., No. 78-2263, 3 EHLR 551:188 (D.D.C. Mar. 12, 1979) (finding residential placement warranted to educate eleven-year old child with mental capacity of eighteen-month old because of Down's Syndrome). While it is the school district's duty to prove that the IEP it recommends is appropriate, it does not also bear the burden of showing that an alternative more restrictive placement suggested by the parents is inappropriate. Carlisle, 62 F.3d at 533-36 (affirming district court's conclusion that residential placement, although a more intensive educational plan, was not required by IDEA).
Here, the Court finds that, in total R.S., has benefited and continues to progress in the Garfield School. The ALJ was faced with the testimony of two doctors who believed that residential placement was warranted. An analysis of these recommendations, however, calls into question their reliability. First, Dr. Kimberli Treadwell, one of plaintiffs' witnesses before the ALJ, recommended residential treatment for R.S. Dr. Treadwell, however, never independently diagnosed R.S. and her recommendation was based merely on Mrs. Schreiber's representation that R.S. had already been labeled autistic. Even plaintiffs' strongest witness, Dr. Chambers, stated that while a residential program would be the most intense for R.S., other nonresidential settings may be appropriate.
In contrast, defendant demonstrated below that R.S.'s behavior and education have improved since her enrollment in the Garfield School. Plaintiffs' own witness, R.S.'s teacher Mr. Tuzzolo, stated that R.S. performs above average when focused. Moreover, Mr. Tuzzolo stated that R.S. is behaviorally and educationally better than any autistic child he has taught. Plaintiffs have presented no evidence to the contrary with regard to R.S.'s educational abilities. The complaints received by the doctors and school personnel, as well as those concerns articulated by plaintiffs, primarily deal with R.S.'s behavior at home and after school. However, neither the Court nor the school district can be charged with caring for a disabled child at all times. Federal and State laws merely require that basic educational opportunities be provided through individual programs. Hence, the Court concurs with the ALJ's decision that the Garfield School is the least restrictive environment which provides an educational benefit to R.S.
The Court notes and is concerned with the discrepancies in the description of the Garfield School program set forth by the school director, Ms. Buckingham, and that described by R.S.'s teacher, Mr. Tuzzolo. For example, the size of classes and availability of one-on-one aides. The Court is confident, however, that given R.S.'s unique characteristics, constant and further evaluation of her educational needs will be addressed by defendant. Furthermore, the Court acknowledges that defendant is bound by the conditions set forth by the ALJ.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that R.S. is autistic or that residential placement is appropriate. Accordingly, the Court holds that the administrative decision is AFFIRMED.
An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
NICHOLAS H. POLITAN
This matter having come before the Court on Complaint of plaintiffs Jeffrey Schreiber and Susan Schreiber, parents of minor child R.S., appealing the decision of Administrative Law Judge Diane C. Sukovich pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., and the Court having held a plenary hearing on December 4, 1996, and the Court having considered the matter, including the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons appearing more particularly in the Letter Opinion of this Court in the above-captioned matter, and good cause having been shown,
IT IS on this 31st day of January, 1997 hereby
ORDERED that the administrative decision is hereby AFFIRMED.
NICHOLAS H. POLITAN