Top Special Education Cases Impacting Disabled Students In New Jersey

Special education law is complex. However, I believe that the following cases provide a favor of the issues involved in special education law. In selecting and summarizing the cases, I utilized a number of resources available on the internet. One particularly useful resource was The Right to Special Education in New Jersey – A Guide for Advocates, published by the Education Law Center.

(1) Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E., 172 F.3d 238 (3d Cir. 1999).

A “free appropriate public education (FAPE),” as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that the child receive more that a trivial educational benefit. Rather, an “individualized education program (IEP)” must provide significant learning and confer meaningful benefit. The benefit provided must be gauged in relation to the child’s potential. Therefore, when students display considerable intellectual potential, the IDEA requires a school district to provide a more significant educational benefit to the child.

(2) Cedar Rapids Community Sch. Dist. v. Garret F. 526 U.S. 66 (1999).

Under IDEA, every child who meets the law’s definition of a “child with a disability” is entitled to a FAPE. FAPE includes an IEP that is individually designed to meet the child’s unique educational needs, and that prepares the child for further education, employment and independent living. In addition to an IEP, FAPE includes “related services.” Related services are those developmental, corrective and other supportive services needed to help a child benefit from the appropriate education program. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed continuous, one-on-one nursing services to be “related services,” required under FAPE.

(3) Hicks v. Purchase Line Sch. Dist., 251 F.Supp.2d 1250 (W.D.Pa. 2003).

All children with disabilities, including those attending private schools, who are in need of special education and related services, must be located, identified, referred for evaluation and evaluated.  This is known as the school district’s “child find” obligation. A school district’s procedures must ensure that all staff, including teachers, make appropriate referrals when staff becomes aware that a child is having academic or behavioral problems which may result from a disability.

(4) S.K. v. Hanover Park Reg’l High Sch. Dist. Bd. Of Educ., 2002 WL 31269565,OAL Dkt. No. EDS 7575-02 (Sept. 23, 2003); Michael C. v. Radnor Twp. Sch. Dist., 202 F.3d 642 (3d Cir. 2000)

When the child moves from one New Jersey school district to another, the IEP must be adopted and implemented as written if the parents and the new school district agree. If the school district does not agree with the current IEP, the school district must develop and implement a new IEP for the child within 30 days of enrollment. If the child’s parents disagree with the IEP proposed by the new school district, they may request mediation or a due process hearing. Pending the outcome of the mediation or due process hearing, the child must “stay put”; i.e., no changes may be made to the child’s classification, program or placement, unless both parties agree.

(5) Oberti v. Bd. of Educ.of Borough of Clementon Sch. Dist., 995 F.2d 1204 (3d Cir. 1993).

The team of educational professionals implementing the IEP must determine the type of school program the child will attend. Every child is entitled to an appropriate educational program implemented in the least restrictive environment (LRE). When deciding the LRE for a child, the IEP team must consider, among other factors, the educational benefits the child will receive in regular classroom, with supplementary aids and services, when compared with the benefits child will receive in segregated special education classroom; and the possible negative effects child’s inclusion may have on education of other children in the regular classroom.

(6) Lascari v. Bd. of Educ., 116 N.J. 30 (1989).

In all due process hearings, school districts in New Jersey bear the burden of proof as to the appropriateness of the child’s IEP and compliance with IDEA’s requirement of the least restrictive environment.

(7) M.C. v. Cent. Reg’l Sch. Dist., 81 F. 3d 389 (3d Cir. 1996).

A school district that knows or should know that a child has an inappropriate IEP or is not receiving more than a de minimus educational benefit must correct the situation. If it fails to do so, a disabled child is entitled to compensatory education, to make up for the education lost when FAPE was denied, for a period equal to the period of deprivation, but excluding the time reasonably required for the school district to rectify the problem

(8) W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d 484 (3d Cir. 1995).

Although administrative judges do not have the authority to award monetary damages and attorney’s fees in due process hearings, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the W.B. v. Matula case that monetary damages in egregious IDEA cases may be awarded by a court.

(9) P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848 (3d Cir. 2006), cert. den., __ U.S. __, 127 S.Ct. 189 (2006).

Purpose of fee-shifting provision in IDEA is to enable parents or guardians of disabled children for whom the statute was enacted to effectuate the rights provided by the statute. Regardless of how insubstantial their success is, if parents or guardians of disabled children succeed on a significant issue, they are entitled to prevailing party status for purposes of awarding attorney fees under IDEA

(10) Drinker v. Colonial Sch. Dist., 78 F.3d 859 (3d Cir. 1996); Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988).

The right to “stay put” under the IDEA is automatic, regardless of the merits of the child’s underlying claim.

(11) Bd. of Educ. of Lenape Reg. High Sch. Dist. v. N.J. State Dept. of Educ., Office of Special Educ. Programs, 399 N.J. Super. 595 (App. Div. 2008).

IDEA provides a complaint resolution procedure known as “complaint investigation.” In a complaint investigation, anyone may file a complaint with N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) requesting an investigation and corrective action plan to remedy violations of federal or state special education laws by a school district. In this case, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, ruled that NJDOE special education complaint determinations cannot be appealed to the NJDOE Commissioner.

(12) R.R. v. Bd. of Educ. of Shore Reg. High Sch. Dist., 109 N.J. Super. 337 (Ch. Div. 1970).

School districts must also comply with general due process procedures and standards that apply to all children who engage in misconduct. Due process requires that in all cases of a long-term suspension—a suspension of more than ten consecutive school days—prior written notice and a full hearing before the school district board of education in which the student may contest the facts that led to the suspension and challenge the recommended disciplinary action.