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Monday, April 26, 2010

Circuit Court rules in favor of parents on private school claim despite good grades

D.S. v. BAYONNE BOARD OF EDUCATION, 08-4730 (3rd Cir. 4-22-2010): Parents sought placement for their son at a private school for learning disabled kids. CSE recommended public school placement. Child achieved good grades at the public school. Parents nevertheless challenged the appropriateness of the program. Parents prevailed at the hearing. The hearing was a state level hearing in New Jersey, a single tier state. The District implemented the decision placing the child at the private school, but appealed the decision to the District Court. The District Court reversed in favor of the school district. The parents appealed and the 3rd Circuit reversed back in favor of the parents relying primarily on deference to the hearing officer’s findings.
        This case is of particular importance because so often schools will rely on good grades to justify the appropriateness of placement/program recommendations. Yet, the validity of grades achieved in a self contained setting is often suspect. Here, the ALJ weighed the results of standardized tests and the testimony of experts against the surface appeal of the good grades buttressed by the testimony of school district personnel and concluded that the child was not receiving a FAPE despite the good grades. The 3rd Circuit noted that

we think that it is clear that a court should not place conclusive significance on special education classroom scores, a conclusion that we believe is reinforced by the circumstance that, as here, there may be a disconnect between a school's assessment of a student in a special education setting and his achievements in that setting and the student's achievements in standardized testing.[fn8] When there is such a disconnect we think that there should be an especially close examination of the appropriateness of the student's education.