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L.Y., On Behalf of J.Y. and Elysian Charter School of Hoboken v. Bayonne Board of Education

March 29, 2011

L.Y., ON BEHALF OF J.Y. AND ELYSIAN CHARTER SCHOOL OF HOBOKEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BAYONNE BOARD OF EDUCATION, ROCHELLE HENDRICKS, INTERIM COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION FOR THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Rochelle Hendricks', Interim Commissioner of Education for the State of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Department of Education's (collectively, " State Defendants") motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (docket item #1) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. The Court has considered the papers filed by the parties and rules on the written submissions and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss.

I.BACKGROUND

This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., and involves a dispute over the 2009-2010 Individualized Education Program ("IEP") developed for J.Y., the son of Plaintiff L.Y. J.Y. is a thirteen-year-old boy who resides in the City of Bayonne. He has attended Elysian Charter School ("Elysian") since 2002. In 2002, Elysian's IEP team performed an evaluation of J.Y. and classified him as having learning disabilities requiring special instruction. Beginning in 2002 and for school years thereafter, Elysian formulated IEPs for J.Y., which involved special education services provided at the school. The IEP developed for J.Y.'s 2009-2010 school year, however, called for placement at the Community School, a private school for the disabled located outside of the Bayonne School District ("Bayonne"). Under the IEP, the placement at the Community School was to begin in September 2009. J.Y.'s mother, L.Y., approved of the 2009-2010 IEP and signed it on June 9, 2009.

The Bayonne School District was not involved in the creation of the June 9, 2009 IEP. Rather, as required by law, Elysian notified Bayonne of J.Y.'s placement in a private day setting. Exercising its statutory right to contest the placement under N.J.S.A. § 18A:36A-11(b), Bayonne initiated a due process hearing with the Department of Education, claiming that an in-district placement would provide J.Y. with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, as required by the IDEA. This case varies from the ordinary IEP dispute under the IDEA in that it involves three interested parties: the student (and his parent), the charter school he attended and which was involved in creating the challenged IEP, and the resident school district which bears financial responsibility for implementation of the IEP. Plaintiff argues that N.J.S.A. § 18A:36A-11(b) conflicts with the IDEA and violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution by allowing a district of residence, a non-IEP team member, to unilaterally prevent implementation of an individualized education program. As such, Plaintiff contends that State Defendants violated the provisions of the IDEA by asserting their rights under N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-11(b).

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that plaintiff's claims have facial plausibility. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). This means that the Complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, assuming the factual allegations are true. Id. at 1965; Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). The Supreme Court has made clear that "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) ("While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.").

In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court may consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196. The issue before the Court "is not whether plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims." Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d at 1420 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

B. Discussion

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act obliges states in receipt of federal funding to guarantee a "free and appropriate education" ("FAPE") to all children with disabilities. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). "Educational instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child," coupled with services "necessary to permit the child to 'benefit' from the instruction" constitute a FAPE. Susan N. v. Wilson Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 751, 756 (3d Cir. 1995). For each child identified as eligible for special education, a written statement called an Individualized Education Program is developed. The IEP, which addresses and includes several elements as provided under 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A), is designed to ensure implementation of a FAPE of the child. S.H. v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 336 F.3d 260, 264 (3d Cir. 2003). In addition to defining the content required, the IDEA provides that an IEP should be developed considering the strengths of the child, concerns of the parents, and recent evaluations of the child. Id.Each IEP must include an assessment of the child's current educational performance, must articulate measurable educational goals, and must specify the nature of the special services that the school will provide. Id. Notably, parents are included as members of IEP teams. 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(B). The process of creating an IEP is the "central vehicle" for collaboration between the child's parents and his school to accomplish the goals of the IDEA. Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 53 (2005).

Moreover, a child with a disability must be educated in the "least restrictive environment" ("LRE") that will provide the student with a meaningful educational benefit. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A); T.R. v. Kingwood Twp. Bd. of Educ., 205 F.3d 572, 578 (3d Cir. 2000). "The least restrictive environment is one that, to the greatest extent possible, satisfactorily educates disabled children together with children who are not disabled, in the same school the disabled child would attend if the child were not disabled." Carlisle Area Sch. v. Scott P., 62 F.3d 520, 535 (3d Cir. 1995). Further, special classes or removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment can occur only when the nature or severity of the student's disability is such that education in the regular education classes cannot be satisfactorily achieved, even with the use of supplementary aids and services. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A); N.J.A.C. 6A:14-4.2.

In instances in which the child attends a charter school, as in this case, it is the charter school that is responsible for providing special education services to disabled students, including working with a child's parents to develop an IEP. N.J.S.A.18A:36A-11(b). Though a charter school is a public school, it is operated independently of a local board of education. N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-3. The school district where the child resides, however, bears fiscal responsibility for a child's special education services where the IEP developed by the charter school and the child's parents requires placement at a private day or residential school. N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-11(b). Though the statute imposing such fiscal responsibility on the school district of residence does not affirmatively give the school district the right to participate ...


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