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D.B. v. Gloucester Township School Dist.

November 17, 2010

D.B. AND L.B., ON BEHALF OF H.B., HONORABLE JOSEPH E. IRENAS PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, THOMAS D. SEDDON AND JOHN TIGHE, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiffs, D.B. and L.B., on behalf of their minor daughter, H.B., bring this suit against Defendant Gloucester Township School District (the "School District"), Defendant Thomas D. Seddon, Superintendent of Schools of the School District, and Defendant John Tighe, Director of Special Services of the School District.*fn1 Plaintiffs First Claim for Relief, brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491, asserts that Defendants failed to provide H.B. with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Plaintiffs also bring claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (Second Claim for Relief), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the "Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 701-796 (Third Claim for Relief), as well as civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Fourth Claim for Relief) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5 (Fifth Claim for Relief).*fn2

Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief that would require the School District to, amongst other things, create a new Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for H.B., include H.B. in regular classes and provide H.B. with appropriate supplementary aids and services.*fn3

Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' First Claim for Relief under the IDEA or, in the alternative, judgment on the administrative record as supplemented by Plaintiffs.

For the reasons stated herein, to the extent Plaintiffs seek equitable relief, Plaintiffs' Motion will be granted as to Plaintiffs' First Claim for Relief under the IDEA, the decision and order of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") dated September 12, 2008 will be vacated, and Defendants will be ordered to draft an IEP for H.B. in accordance with the procedural requirements of the IDEA. To the extent Plaintiffs seek money damages, Defendants' Motion will be granted as to Plaintiffs' First Claim for Relief under the IDEA. Defendants' Motion will also be granted as to Plaintiffs' Fourth Claim for Relief under § 1983. Plaintiffs' Second Claim for Relief Under the ADA, Third Claim for Relief under the Rehabilitation Act, and Fifth Claim for Relief under the NJLAD will be dismissed as moot as the relief sought under those claims has either been otherwise granted or is unavailable to Plaintiffs.

(Amended Complaint ¶ 1) It should be noted, though, that "compensatory and punitive damages are not an available remedy under the IDEA." Chambers v. Sch. Dist. Of Phila. Bd. of Educ., 587 F.3d 176, 185-86 (3d Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs include a litany of forms of relief to which they assert they are entitled, but do not specify on which cause of action each such form of relief is based.

I.

H.B., who has been diagnosed with autism, is a student in the School District. (Amended Complaint ¶ 1, 14) For the 2005-2006 school year, H.B. attended the School District's Blackwood School for a half-day regular education kindergarten program and attended Country Acres for a half-day special education program. (Id. at 23) When the special education program at Country Acres was terminated in the middle of the 2005-2006 school year, H.B. attended Blackwood School for the entire day. (Id.)

For the 2006-2007 school year, H.B. was initially placed in a regular education class at the Blackwood School for the entire day. (Id. at 24) In February 2007, H.B. transitioned to the School District's Union Valley School to participate in the integrated preschool autism program. (Id. at 25) For approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes per day, she participated in classes with typically developing kindergarten students. (Id. at 26)

At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, a meeting was conducted to draft H.B.'s IEP for the 2007-2008 school year.*fn4

(Id. at 27) The School District concluded that the appropriate placement for H.B. was in the School District's full-time autism program. (Id. at 28) D.B. and L.B. disagreed with the School District's proposal, refused to sign the IEP and filed a request for due process.*fn5 (Id. at 29)

Although mediation took place with regard to the IEP prior to the 2007-2008 school year, no resolution was reached between the parties. (Id. at 30) When the school year commenced, Plaintiffs invoked the "stay-put" provision of the IDEA,*fn6 and H.B. was placed in the autism program, except for one hour per day of language arts with typically developing peers. (Id.)

20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i). The IEP team is composed of the parents of the child, at least one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is participating in regular education), at least one special education teacher of the child, a representative of the local educational agency and an individual that can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B).

On December 18, 2007, the instant due process petition was filed by Plaintiffs. (Id. at 33) After a number of settlement conferences, the ALJ directed the parties to conduct a meeting to set the 2008-2009 IEP. (Id. at 34-35) The School District concluded that the appropriate placement for H.B. was in the autism program, with 20 minutes of mathematics and 20 minutes of spelling with typically developing peers. (Id. at 36) Again, D.B. and L.B. disagreed. (Id. at 37) Plaintiffs were granted leave to amend their due process request to include a challenge to the 2008-2009 IEP. (Id.)

An administrative hearing commenced before the ALJ. (Id. at 38). The ALJ issued his written decision on September 12, 2008, denying the Plaintiffs' due process petition. (Id. at 38-39) The ALJ found that D.B. and L.B. "failed to meet their burden of proof that the [School District] failed to provide H.B. with a free and appropriate public education." (ALJ Dec. p. 29)

Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint on November 18, 2009, appealing the ALJ's decision and alleging that the 2007-2008 IEP and the 2008-2009 IEP violated the IDEA, the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, and violated H.B.'s civil rights.

In June 2009, a meeting was held to set the 2009-2010 IEP. (Id. at 40) The School District concluded that the appropriate placement for H.B. was in the School District's autism program, with no instruction taking part with typically developing peers.

(Id. at 41) The School District's proposed 2009-2010 IEP also called for H.B.'s summer placement to be in an autism class, rather than a summer camp with typically developing peers. (Id. at 42) Again, D.B. and L.B. disagreed with this placement. (Id. at 84-90)

Plaintiffs were granted leave by the Court to amend their Complaint to include challenges to the 2009-2010 IEP. Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint on October 23, 2009.

On May 14, 2010, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims and Plaintiffs moved for summary ...


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