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Upper Freehold Regional, Board of Education v. T.W. and M.W. O/B/O T.W

March 31, 2011

UPPER FREEHOLD REGIONAL, BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
T.W. AND M.W. O/B/O T.W., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Presently before the Court are cross-motions for judgment on the record below filed by Plaintiff, the Upper Freehold Regional Board of Education (the "Board" or "District"), and Defendants T.W. and M.W. (the "Parents"), on behalf of T.W., a minor child. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the Parents' motion and denies in part and grants in part the Board's motion such that the District is not liable for any compensation or reimbursement.

I. Background

A. Factual Background*fn1

T.W., born September 24, 2002, is of average or above average intelligence but he has been diagnosed as having mild "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified," a condition on the autism spectrum. His developmental delays and behavior interfered with his communication and interaction with other people and with his school experience and learning. For the 2005-2006 school year, the District determined that T.W. was preschool disabled and placed him in a preschool program within the District. For the 2006-2007 school year, pursuant to an agreement among the District, the Parents, and other interested parties, T.W. attended an outside program in the mornings and the District's integrated preschool program in the afternoons. A dispute arose between the Parents and the District in the summer of 2007, which resulted in the Parents' unilaterally placing T.W. in an outside program for the following school year.

B. Statutory Background

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (the "IDEA"), a state receiving federal education funding must provide children with a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE"). See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). The FAPE is tailored to the unique needs of children with disabilities by means of an "individualized educational program" ("IEP"). See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A). The IDEA provides several procedural requirements for the development of the IEP. For example, the IEP is to be prepared at a meeting of the "IEP team," which must include a qualified representative of the local educational agency, the child's teacher, a special education teacher, the child's parent or guardian, and, where appropriate, the child. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B). IEPs must be revised at least every year, 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(4)(A), and the local educational agency is required to have in place for each child with a disability an IEP at the beginning of each school year, 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(2)(A).

C. Procedural History

On April 7, 2008, the Parents filed the relevant petition for due process, claiming that the District had denied T.W. a FAPE for the 2005-2006, 2006-2007, and 2007-2008 school years. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing and rendered a decision on March 9, 2009. On April 17, 2009, the Board, which is the governing body of the Upper Freehold Regional School District, filed the instant action challenging some of the ALJ's conclusions. Pursuant to an order of the Court, the parties filed cross motions for a judgment on the record below on May 14, 2010. The Court held oral argument on December 2, 2010, but reserved judgment to allow settlement discussions to continue. After the parties came before the Court for an unsuccessful settlement conference on January 5, 2011, the Court again held oral argument on March 29, 2011.

In their motion before the Court, the Parents challenge the conclusion of the ALJ that T.W. received a FAPE in the school years of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. They also challenge the ALJ's conclusion that denied reimbursement of T.W.'s transportation costs during the 2007-2008 school year. The Board challenges the ALJ's conclusion that the Parents may be reimbursed tuition for their unilateral placement of T.W. during the 2007-2008 school year. The Court will address the issues chronologically.

II. Discussion 2005-2006 School Year

Prior to April 7, 2006

The Parents filed the relevant petition for due process on April 7, 2008, claiming that the District had denied T.W. a FAPE for the 2005-2006, 2006-2007, and 2007-2008 school years. "A request for a due process hearing shall be filed within two years of the date the party knew or should have known ...


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