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Aaron P., and Puakielenani P. In Their Capacity As Parents and Legal Guardians of the Student K v. Department of Education

December 29, 2011

AARON P., AND PUAKIELENANI P. IN THEIR CAPACITY AS PARENTS AND LEGAL GUARDIANS OF THE STUDENT K., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF HAWAII, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION PURSUANT TO LR 60.1 OF ORDER FILED OCTOBER 31, 2011

On October 31, 2011, this Court issued its Order

Affirming in Part and Remanding in Part the Hearings Officer's September 3, 2010 Decision ("10/31/11 Order").*fn1 On November 14, 2011, Plaintiffs Aaron P. and Puakielenani P.,*fn2 in their capacity as parents and legal guardians of Student K. (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed the instant motion for reconsideration of the 10/31/11 Order ("Motion"). Defendant the Department of Education, State of Hawai`i ("the DOE" or "Defendant") filed its memorandum in opposition on December 1, 2011, and Plaintiffs filed their reply on December 19, 2011. The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i ("Local Rules").

After careful consideration of the Motion, supporting and opposing memoranda, and the relevant legal authority, Plaintiffs' Motion is HEREBY DENIED for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The parties and the Court are familiar with the factual and procedural background of this case. The Court therefore will only address the background that is relevant to the instant Motion.

In the administrative proceedings, Plaintiffs challenged, inter alia, eleven of Student K.'s Individualized Educational Programs ("IEPs"), and their accompanying Prior Written Notices ("PWNs"), during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. The Hearings Officer, however, framed the issue before her as: "Whether the April 8, 2008 [IEP], the September 8, 2008 IEP, the May 18, 2009 IEP, and the June 23, 2009 IEP offered Student a Free Appropriate Public Education[.]"*fn3 [Decision at 5.]

In the 10/31/11 Order, this Court stated: while it is clear that the Hearings Officer considered all of the IEPs at issue, see, e.g. Decision at 22 ("The speech language therapy services, occupational therapy services and physical therapy consultation services offered to Student during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years, addressed her unique needs and provided her with adequate support services to take advantage of educational opportunities."), it is equally clear that the Hearings Officer ultimately only ruled on the adequacy of four IEPs, id. at 27 ("[T]he Hearings Officer finds and concludes that [Plaintiffs] failed to prove that the April 8, 2008 IEP, the September 8, 2008 IEP, the May 18, 2009 IEP, and the June 23, 2009 IEP did not offer Student a FAPE."). The Court therefore finds that Hearings Officer failed to rule upon the sufficiency of each of the IEPs that Plaintiffs challenged in the [Request for Impartial Hearing ("RIH")] and in the administrative proceedings. . . .

Although all of the IEPs are part of the administrative record and Plaintiffs have an understandable desire to resolve this matter now rather than spend additional time and resources pursuing a remand, in this Court's view, the resolution of this issue would benefit from the Hearings Officer's specialized expertise. Cf. C.B. v. Pittsford Cent. Sch. Dist., No. 08--CV--6462 CJS (P), 2010 WL 1533392, at *19 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 2010) ("Remand to the [impartial hearings officer ("IHO")] for a hearing is appropriate, since neither the IHO or [state review officer] addressed the merits of Plaintiff's 'additional services' claim, and since resolution of the claim would benefit from the administrative process." (citing Polera v. Board of Educ. of Newburgh Enlarged City School Dist., 288 F.3d 478, 487 (2d Cir. 2002) ("The IDEA's exhaustion requirement was intended to channel disputes related to the education of disabled children into an administrative process that could apply administrators' expertise in the area and promptly resolve grievances. The exhaustion requirement prevents courts from undermining the administrative process and permits an agency to bring its expertise to bear on a problem as well as to correct its own mistakes. . . . [T]he administrative system is uniquely well suited to review the content and implementation of IEPs."))). This Court cannot determine whether the Hearings Officer's failure to rule on the adequacy of the other IEPs was inadvertent or whether it was deliberate. If the Hearings Officer deliberately withheld a ruling, this Court cannot determine her reasons for doing so. Morever, the Hearings Officer's specialized expertise would be particularly useful because Plaintiffs challenge the substantive adequacy of Student K.'s IEPs, some of which are very close in time and contain subtle changes. Cf. New York City Dep't of Educ. v. V.S., No. 10--CV--05120 (JG)(JO), 2011 WL 3273922, at *10 (E.D.N.Y.

July 29, 2011) ("[I]n IDEIA cases, "[b]ecause administrative agencies have special expertise in making judgments concerning student progress, deference is particularly important when assessing an IEP's substantive adequacy." (citing Cerra v. Pawling Cent. Sch. Dist., 427 F.3d 186, 195 (2d Cir. 2005) (some alterations in V.S.))).

This Court therefore declines to address the substantive adequacy of the other IEPs and PWNs that Plaintiffs challenged in the RIH, but which the Hearings Officer did not rule upon. The Court REMANDS this case to the Hearings Officer to rule on Plaintiffs' claims based on the remaining IEPs and PWNs.

Aaron P., 2011 WL 5320994, at *20-22 (emphases in original).

This Court also ruled, inter alia, that: the DOE committed a procedural violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., by failing to evaluate Student K. in all areas of suspected disability prior to the time period in the 10/31/11 Order; the procedural violation did not result in a denial of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") because the DOE did address Student K.'s autism related needs; Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of proving that the DOE denied Student K. a FAPE, either in the formulation or the implementation of the Contested IEPs.

In the instant Motion, Plaintiffs contend that: this Court's ruling affirming the Hearings Officer's Decision in part and remanding it in part is irreconcilable and therefore constitutes manifest error; and this Court's "misperception of the role of evaluations in IEP ...


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