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H.M. v. Haddon Heights Board of Education

June 22, 2010

H.M., BY HER PARENTS, B.M. AND R.M., AND B.M. AND R.M., INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HADDON HEIGHTS BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

This case concerns claims by a child and her parents that the child's school district has, inter alia, violated her right to a free appropriate public education. Currently pending is Plaintiffs' "Motion to Supplement Administrative Record." For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiffs' motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs B.M. and R.M. are the parents and legal guardians of H.M., a thirteen year-old child attending school in the Borough of Haddon Heights, Camden County, New Jersey. Defendant, Haddon Heights Board of Education, is a public body charged with the conduct, supervision and management of Haddon Heights public schools. H.M. began attending Kindergarten in September 2002 in the Haddon Heights public schools. Her parents obtained a private evaluation of H.M. highlighting her learning disability which they provided to the Child Study Team (CST). In May 2005, the Board's CST classified H.M. with a disability eligible for special education services based upon H.M.'s learning disability in reading and mathematical calculation. The CST developed individual education plans (IEP) for H.M. in May 2005 through May 2008. In May 2008 at a reevaluation meeting and IEP meeting, the CST determined that H.M. did not require special education to progress in the general education curriculum and she did not meet the criteria for special education services. As a result, the CST declassified H.M.

Prior to the declassification, Plaintiffs expressed their beliefs that Defendant failed to implement H.M.'s 2007-2008 IEP appropriately. Specifically, Plaintiffs complained that from September until December 2007, H.M. did not have a special education teacher, although the IEP provided for special education services to support H.M. Additionally, Plaintiffs expressed that both Defendant and H.M.'s general education teacher failed to sufficiently address concerns they had regarding H.M.'s reading instruction. Plaintiffs believed that Defendant relied on subjective and unsupported conclusory statements that H.M. was performing "at grade level" in declassifying her over their objection.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 5, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education, for a due process hearing related to H.M.'s education. Plaintiffs' complaint demanded an order requiring Defendant to re-classify H.M. and provide appropriate special education and related services; compensatory education for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years; and tuition reimbursement for extended school year programming at Cooper Learning Center. The matter was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on July 7, 2008 for a hearing. In his opinion dated May 28, 2009, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) affirmed Defendant's determination that H.M. was no longer eligible for special education and related services.*fn1

As a result of the ALJ's decision, Plaintiffs filed this case alleging that Defendant violated their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131, et seq., and New Jersey Special Education Law and Regulations. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that the ALJ erred as a matter of law in concluding that H.M. was no longer eligible for special education in May 2008. Plaintiffs also contend that Defendant did not meet its burden of proving that the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 IEPs provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Finally, Plaintiffs claim Defendant also failed to meet its burden of proving that the decision to declassify H.M. was consistent with the law.

After filing their complaint, Plaintiffs filed the instant "Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record," which seeks to introduce evidence that would shed light on whether Defendant's decision to declassify H.M. was reasonable under the circumstances. Defendant has opposed Plaintiffs' motion.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

Because Plaintiffs have brought this case pursuant to the IDEA, Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA, this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Analysis

Although Plaintiffs have advanced claims for Defendant's alleged violations of several laws, this matter, in large measure, is an appeal from the administrative process regarding their IDEA claims. Because Plaintiffs have exhausted the requirement of administrative review under the IDEA, they are entitled to bring this civil action pursuant to the ...


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