584 F.3d 412 (2d Cir. 2009)
The crux of this Second Circuit special education decision revolved around whether the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (“IDEA”) requires Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) to identify a specific school location for an individual student, or whether the IEP must merely describe the general environment of an overall program for a student. Although this case involved parents seeking tuition reimbursement for a unilateral private school placement – the court’s decision that the local educational authority (“LEA”) need not specifically describe a school name resonates for all IEP’s in the circuit.
In this case, T.Y.’s parents sought specifically designed instruction and specialized services for their child, who presented with significant developmental delays and a severe language disorder as a result of a diagnosis of autism. The key dispute arose over a May 2006 IEP where the school district indicated that T.Y. would attend a program specializing in educational opportunities for students with disabilities, without naming a specific school. After rejecting two placements offered by the board of education, the parents enrolled T.Y. in a private school for autistic children and notified the board of education of their intent to seek reimbursement.
T.Y.’s Due Process complaint rested on two grounds. First – that the IEP materially violated T.Y.’s right to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in part because the IEP did not provide T.Y. with adequate speech services and the failure to provide adequate parent training to T.Y.’s parents. Second – that the IEP was procedurally deficient because it did not include a specific school placement.
It is the second claim – the IEP’s failure to include a specific school placement – that provides guidance to LEA’s in the circuit going forward. The parents pointed to the language of the IDEA’s implementing regulations, which state that “the parents of s child with a disability must be afforded an opportunity to participate in meetings with respect to …[t]he identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child.” 34 C.F.R. § 300.501(b)(1)(i) (emphasis added). The parents also relied on 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VII) which indicates that an IDP must include “the anticipated frequency, location, and duration of those services.” The court, while finding the parents’ argument somewhat compelling, relied on precedent indicating that the term “educational placement” refers to the general educational program – such as the classes, individualized attention and additional services a child will receive – rather than the “bricks and mortar” of the specific school. See Concerned
Parents v. N.Y. City Bd. Of Educ., 629 F.2d 751, 756 (2d Cir. 1980). Regarding the term “location,” the court found that the United States Department of Education weighed in on this issue in its commentary to the IDEA ’97 amendments, echoing that the definition of location does not require the identification of a building where the IEP is to be provided – but merely the program designed for the individual student (“location means general setting in which the services will be provided and not a particular school of facility”). This requirement does not relieve the LEA’s responsibility to assign a school that satisfies the IEP’s requirements – but it does not require a specific location/school/building per se.
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