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L.T. v. Mansfield Township School Dist.

March 17, 2009

L.T., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HIS SON, B.T., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE MANSFIELD TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



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

Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a)(1)

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

A five-day bench trial was held in this case involving Plaintiffs' claims arising under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 504(a).*fn1 The Court issues this Opinion in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1).*fn2

Plaintiffs, parents of a disabled elementary school student, brought suit against Defendant Mansfield Township School District claiming that the district failed to provide a free appropriate public education to their son when he was out of school for seventeen days in September 2003, and when it did not provide a proper extended year program or transportation services.*fn3 For the reasons expressed below, the Court renders a judgment in Plaintiffs' favor with regard to the seventeen days of missed schooling, and judgment in favor of the district on the other two claims. As also explained below, Plaintiffs' damage award shall constitute compensatory education and attorney's fees and costs, but not monetary damages.

II. DISCUSSION

The facts in this case are mostly uncontested. Following is the recitation of the uncontested background facts set forth in the Court's previous Opinion. Findings of fact from trial will be contained in the Court's analysis of Plaintiffs' claims.

A. Background Facts

B.T. is disabled with Asberger's syndrome, bipolar disorder, ADHD, sensory integration dysfunction, central auditory processing difficulties, and dysgraphia. Prior to moving to Mansfield Township, B.T. had been classified as eligible for IDEA services, and his previous school district had sent B.T. to the Yale Academy, a private institution. When B.T. moved to Mansfield, the Mansfield Township Board of Education continued the placement at Yale for the first year he was in Mansfield, which was third grade.

For the following school year, 2002-03, B.T.'s parents no longer wanted B.T. to attend Yale. Instead of Yale, B.T.'s parents wanted B.T. to attend the Access School ("Access"), another private institution. The school district did not believe that Access was appropriate for B.T. The parents filed a due process petition seeking to have B.T. go to Access. That matter was settled, and the parents and the school district agreed that B.T. would attend Access for 2002-03, and that the parents would assume all responsibility for transportation for as long as B.T. attended Access. The parents were paid $3,000 for all expenses. The Board provided a program for B.T. in the summer of 2003, but transportation was not provided.

In early September of 2003, the parents sought to have B.T. return to the Board's own schools. As this was not done until after the start of the school year, and there was no program in place for B.T. in-district, it was proposed to the parents that he be temporarily placed on home instruction pending the hiring of a teacher solely to help educate B.T. Because the parents did not agree, the delay resulted in the teacher in question finding employment elsewhere. Home instruction was offered and rejected, and B.T. returned to Access for that year. B.T., however, had missed seventeen days of school prior to returning to Access.

B.T.'s parents filed another due process petition, which was also settled. This settlement provided that the Board would transport B.T. to Access for 2003-04 by mini-van/bus at the Board's expense, that his June 2003 IEP remained in effect, and that an extended year program would be discussed in January 2004. In the summer of 2004, the Board provided B.T. with an extended year program. Transportation was not provided. Thereafter, B.T. was no longer the responsibility of the Board because due to his increasing grade level, the Northern Burlington Regional School District became the local educational agency responsible for educating B.T.*fn4

B. Analysis

Three issues were presented for resolution at trial: (1) Plaintiffs' claim that the Board violated the IDEA by not providing a proper extended year program (ESY program) during the summer of 2003 to meet B.T.'s needs in speech and occupational therapy,*fn5 and (2) by not providing transportation services to that summer program.*fn6 Plaintiffs also claim (3) that the Board violated the Rehabilitation Act and the IDEA by not providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for the seventeen days during September 2003.*fn7

1. Whether Defendant's Failure to Provide B.T. with an ESY Program and Transportation Violated his Right to a FAPE Under the IDEA

Plaintiffs allege that Defendant violated the IDEA by not providing as a part of B.T.'s IEP a proper extended school year program (ESY program) during the summer of 2003 to meet B.T.'s needs in speech and occupational therapy, and by not providing transportation services. The Third Circuit has explained the purpose of the IDEA:

The IDEA implements the congressional determination that "[i]mproving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)(1). To that end, the statute requires, in relevant part, that states receiving federal funding under the statute must have "in effect policies and procedures to ensure that ... [a] free appropriate public education is available to all children with disabilities...." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). "An individualized education program, or an individualized family service plan ... [must be] developed, reviewed and revised for each child with a disability...." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(4). The education of disabled students must "[t]o the maximum extent appropriate" be provided "with children who are not disabled." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A) ("[S]pecial classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.").

L.E. v. Ramsey Bd. of Educ., 435 F.3d 384, 389-90 (3d Cir. 2006). When a school district challenges an IEP, the burden of persuasion lies with it, but when parents challenge the IEP, the burden of persuasion lies with them. Andrew M. v. Delaware County Office of ...


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