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Asbury Park Board of Education v. Hope Academy Charter School

August 27, 2003

ASBURY PARK BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOPE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion by plaintiff Asbury Park Board of Education ("school district") for summary judgment on the complaint and separate cross motions by defendants Hope Academy Charter School ("Hope Academy") and the State of New Jersey Department of Education ("NJDOE") for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief that section 18A:36A-11(b) of the New Jersey Charter School Program Act ("Charter School Act"), as applied by defendant NJDOE, conflicts with and is preempted by section 1412(a)(1) and (5) of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). Because we find, as explained below, that the IDEA does not afford the school district a private right of action in this action, we will (1) deny the motion; (2) grant the cross motions; and (3) dismiss the complaint in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

I. Statutory Background

A. Relevant Federal Law: IDEA

The IDEA "represents an ambitious federal effort to promote the education of handicapped children." Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 179 (1982). States receiving federal funding under the IDEA, including New Jersey, must comply with federal guidelines and regulations established to assure a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE") for disabled children. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1). The IDEA also mandates that states educate disabled children with nondisabled children whenever possible ("IDEA's mainstreaming requirement"). 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5); Oberti v. Bd. of Educ., 995 F.2d 1204, 1206-07, 1213-15 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "special education and related services must be tailored to the unique needs of the handicapped child by means of an individualized education program [`IEP']." D.B. v. Ocean Twp. Bd. of Educ., 985 F. Supp. 457, 471 (D.N.J. 1997).

B. Relevant State Law: Charter School Act and State Implementation of IDEA

The Charter School Act was enacted to establish charter school programs in New Jersey. Among other things, it provides:

A charter school shall comply with the provisions of chapter 46 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes concerning the provision of services to handicapped students; except that the fiscal responsibility for any student currently enrolled in or determined to require a private day or residential school shall remain with the district of residence.

N.J.S.A. § 18A:36A-11 ("Charter School Act's IDEA provision"). The statute referenced in the Charter School Act's IDEA provision reflects New Jersey's participation in the IDEA. See N.J.S.A. §§ 18A:46-1 to :46-46; see also N.J.A.C. §§ 6:28-1 to -11; Lascari v. Bd. of Educ., 116 N.J. 30, 35, 560 A.2d 1180, 1182 (1989). It requires school districts to, inter alia, develop an IEP and determine the appropriate educational placement for each disabled child, after an evaluation by a child study team ("CST"). N.J.S.A. § 18A:46-5.1; N.J.A.C. § 6A:14-3.1(b).

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Defendants Academy Charter High School ("Charter High") and Hope Academy (collectively "the charter schools") are organized pursuant to the Charter School Act and accept students from the school district. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-7.) At least two "special needs" students previously attending regular education classes in the school district ("the students") have enrolled in the charter schools. *fn1 (Schwartz Certif. filed 1-10-03, Exs. 5-D; 6 ¶¶ 6, 9; 8 ¶¶ 6, 9; 7-D.) The charter schools then transferred the students, without consulting the school district, to private schools and sought reimbursement from the school district, pursuant to the Charter School Act's IDEA provision. (Id., Exs. 6 ¶ 15, 18; 8 ¶ 15.)

The school district temporarily paid for the students' education at the private schools, but advised the charter schools that it disagreed with the placements. (Schwartz Certif., Exs. 5-E & 7-F.) The school district also wrote to NJDOE to express its opinion that the charter schools should have sought input from the school district before sending the students to private schools. (Id., Ex. 3-C.) NJDOE, however, advised the school district that the charter schools have their own CSTs as well as ...


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