354 F.3d 315 (4th Cir. 2004), 03-1046, A.B. ex rel. D.B. v. Lawson

Docket Nº:03-1046
Citation:354 F.3d 315
Party Name:A.B. ex rel. D.B. v. Lawson
Case Date:January 06, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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354 F.3d 315 (4th Cir. 2004)

A.B., a minor, by his parent and next friend, D.B.; D.B., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Kenneth P. LAWSON, (officially as) Superintendent, Anne Arundel County Public Schools; Board of Education of Anne Arundel County, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 03-1046.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 6, 2004

Argued: Sept. 24, 2003.

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ARGUED:

Eric Charles Brousaides, Reese & Carney, L.L.P., Columbia, Maryland, for Appellants.

Michael Jeffrey Eig, Michael J. Eig & Associates, P.C., Chevy Chase, Maryland, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Haylie M. Iseman, Michael J. Eig & Associates, P.C., Chevy Chase, Maryland, for Appellees.

Before WILKINSON and GREGORY, Circuit Judges, and HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge GREGORY wrote the opinion, in which Judge WILKINSON and Senior Judge HAMILTON joined.

OPINION

GREGORY, Circuit Judge:

Kenneth Lawson, in his capacity as Superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools ("AACPS"), and the Board of Education of Anne Arundel County appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Bredar, M.J.), entered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., ordering payment of reimbursement to the parent of a learning disabled child for two years' tuition at a private school. The district court concluded that such reimbursement was necessary because AACPS denied AB a free appropriate public education ("FAPE").

AACPS and the student's mother, DB, had engaged in a protracted dispute as to the nature and extent of AB's learning disability. An administrative law judge held that AACPS formulated an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years that was reasonably calculated to provide AB with a FAPE under IDEA. The district court reversed the ALJ's ruling and granted summary judgment for the Bs. The lower court held that AB had not been provided a FAPE, and AACPS was obligated to reimburse DB for two years of private school education. Because, as explained below, AACPS complied with IDEA and formulated an IEP reasonably calculated to provide AB with some educational benefit, we reverse the district court and direct that summary judgment be entered for Appellants. We also vacate the district court's order insofar as it ordered AACPS to reimburse plaintiffs for AB's placement at the Summit School for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years.

I.

A.

This case involves the application of IDEA, a statute designed to provide free appropriate educational services to millions of children with learning disabilities in the United States. 20 U.S.C.A. § 1400. One of Congress' primary purposes in enacting IDEA in 1990 was "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a [FAPE] that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs...." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A); see also MM ex rel. DM v. Sch. Dist. of Greenville County, 303 F.3d 523, 526 (4th Cir. 2002). 1 To receive

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federal funding under IDEA, the state must provide all children with disabilities a FAPE. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400(c), 1412(a)(1). A FAPE requires the school district to provide instruction that suits the child's needs as well as related services to ensure that the child receives some educational benefit from instruction. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(8); see also Md.Code Ann., Educ. § 8-402(a)(3) (defining FAPE); 20 U.S.C. § 1401(22) (defining related services).

Under the act, the state must provide children with "meaningful access" to public education. Bd. of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 192, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982). The FAPE must only be "calculated to confer some educational benefit on a disabled child." MM, 303 F.3d at 526 (citing Rowley, 458 U.S. at 207, 102 S.Ct. 3034) (emphasis added). The Supreme Court has held that under IDEA Congress intended to provide a satisfactory level of educational opportunity, not the best education that money could buy. See Rowley, 458 U.S. at 189, 102 S.Ct. 3034. The Court noted that "[w]hatever Congress meant by an 'appropriate' education, it is clear that it did not mean a potential-maximizing education." Id. at 197 n. 21, 102 S.Ct. 3034; see also Hartmann v. Loudoun County Bd. of Ed., 118 F.3d 996, 1001 (4th Cir. 1997) ("States must ... confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child, but the Act does not require the furnishing of every special service necessary to maximize each handicapped child's potential.") (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

In addition to IDEA's requirement that the state provide each student with some educational benefit, the student must be placed in the least restrictive environment to achieve the FAPE. The disabled child is to participate in the same activities as non-disabled children to the "maximum extent appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A); see also 34 C.F.R. § 300.550 ("That special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily."); Md. Regs.Code tit. 13A § 05.01.10 (regulations concerning least restrictive environments). We stated in DeVries v. Fairfax County Sch. Bd., 882 F.2d 876, 878 (4th Cir. 1989), "mainstreaming of handicapped children into regular school programs ... is not only a laudable goal but is also a requirement of the Act."

To assure that students with disabilities receive FAPEs, IDEA requires that school districts provide IEPs for each disabled child. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d). Before providing special education, the school district must conduct an individual evaluation to determine a student's eligibility under IDEA. Id. § 1414(a)(1)(a); 34 C.F.R. § 300.531. Upon a determination that a student is learning disabled and thus eligible for special education services, the school district is to develop an IEP through cooperation between parents and school officials. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(5). The IEP is to be formulated by an IEP Team consisting of the child's parents, one of the student's regular teachers, a special education teacher, a representative of the school board, an individual who can interpret evaluation results and, whenever appropriate, the disabled child. Id. § 1414(d)(1)(B). An IEP must detail the student's current educational status, set forth annual goals for the student's education and state the special educational services and other aids that will be provided

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to the child as well as the extent to which the child will be mainstreamed. Id. § 1414(d)(1)(A).

IDEA also establishes a series of procedural safeguards "designed to ensure that the parents or guardian of a child with a disability are both notified of decisions affecting their child and given an opportunity to object to those decisions." MM, 303 F.3d at 527 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (procedural safeguards). If the parents are not satisfied with the IEP, they may "present complaints with respect to any matter related to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a [FAPE] to such a child." Id. § 1415(b)(6). After such a complaint has been received, the parents also are entitled to request a due process hearing conducted by the state or local educational agency. Id. § 1415(f). Under Maryland law, the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings conducts the due process hearing. Md.Code Ann., Educ. § 8-413; Md. Regs.Code tit. 13A § 05.01.15. Any party can then appeal the administrative ruling to federal or state court. Md.Code Ann., Educ. § 8-413(h).

When a state receiving IDEA funding fails to provide a FAPE, the child's parent may remove the child to a private school and then seek tuition reimbursement from the state. Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Ed., 471 U.S. 359, 369-70, 105 S.Ct. 1996, 85 L.Ed.2d 385 (1985). The parent may recover if (1) the proposed IEP was inadequate to offer the child a FAPE and (2) the private education services obtained by the parents were appropriate to the child's needs. Id. at 370.

B.

AB is a student that all parties now agree is learning disabled in the areas of writing and reading, thus he is considered disabled under IDEA. The dispute between AACPS and DB arose because AB was not initially coded as learning disabled, and once coded, DB and her experts disagreed with the IEPs proposed by AACPS.

AB was born in 1990. He attended kindergarten through third grade at Annapolis Area Christian School ("Annapolis Christian") during the school years from 1995-1999. During 1997-1998, because of AB's difficulties with reading, DB brought her son to AACPS for educational and psychological testing. The AACPS test results showed various IQ scores between 93 and 113, and its report noted that AB's full scale IQ placed him in the 58th percentile and that he was in the average range of intellectual ability. On educational tests, AB scored below average for his grade in writing and word recognition, but he scored above his grade level in mathematics. AACPS concluded that the student should be able to "perform academically at a level consistent with same-aged peers." (J.A. 749.)

During the spring of 1998, Annapolis Christian administered multiple achievement tests, finding that while AB was at an advanced level in arithmetic, he had difficulties in written language and reading. The following spring, Annapolis Christian...

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