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Kingsport City School System v. J.R.

September 4, 2008

KINGSPORT CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
J.R., BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENTS, RONNIE RENTZ AND KAREN RENTZ, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This civil action is before the court on "Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record" [doc. 18]. Defendants filed a response in opposition to the motion [docs. 24, 25]. On October 4, 2006, plaintiff filed a complaint appealing a portion of the final order of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") order that was entered August 8, 2006 [doc. 1]. Plaintiff originally requested that it be allowed to submit additional evidence pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(ii). However, plaintiff moved to withdraw that request [doc. 20], which the court granted [doc. 26]. Therefore, this matter is before the court solely on the administrative record. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(i).

I. The IDEA

This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §1400 et seq. The purpose of the IDEA is to provide a free appropriate public education to children with disabilities. N.L. ex rel. Mrs. C. v. Knox County Schs., 315 F.3d 688, 689 (6th Cir. 2003). School districts receiving funds under the IDEA must establish an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for each child with a disability. Deal v. Hamilton County Bd. of Educ., 392 F.3d 840, 853 (6th Cir. 2004). "The IEP must contain a specific statement of the child's current performance levels, the child's short-term and long-term goals, the educational and other services to be provided, and criteria for evaluating the child's progress." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). The school system must provide an IEP that is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207 (1982). The goal of the IDEA is "more to open the door of public education to handicapped children on appropriate terms than to guarantee any particular level of education once inside." Id. at 192. The IDEA "may not require public schools to maximize the potential of disabled students commensurate with the opportunities provided to other children." Kings Local Sch. Dist. v. Zelazny, 325 F.3d 724, 729 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Renner v. Bd. of Educ., 185 F.3d 635, 644 (6th Cir. 1999)).

II. Standard of Review

The IDEA provides that a party aggrieved by the findings and decision of an administrative law judge has a right to bring a civil action in federal court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2). The court shall receive the record of the administrative proceedings, hear additional evidence if the parties make such a request, and, basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, grant appropriate relief. Id. "Under IDEA, the district court uses a 'modified de novo' standard for reviewing state administrative determinations. This means that the district court should perform a de novo review, but it should give due weight to the state administrative proceedings in reaching its decision." Doe v. Metro. Nashville Pub. Schs., 133 F.3d 384, 386 (6th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

"'Due weight,' however, does not mean that the reviewing court can simply adopt the findings of the state administrative officers." Bd. of Educ. v. Patrick, 9 F. Supp. 2d 811, 819 (N.D. Ohio 1998) (citing Doe v. Bd. of Educ., 9 F.3d 455, 458 (6th Cir. 1993)). The Supreme Court has warned that the "'preponderance of the evidence' is by no means an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review." Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206.

The amount of weight due to administrative findings depends on whether the finding is based on educational expertise. Less weight is due to an agency's determinations on matters for which educational expertise is not relevant because a federal court is just as well suited to evaluate the situation. More weight, however, is due to an agency's determinations on matters for which educational expertise is relevant. Deal, 392 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The court has a two-part inquiry: (1) whether the school system complied with the procedures set forth in the IDEA and (2) whether the individualized program developed through the IDEA's procedures is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206-07. "If these requirements are met, the State has complied with the obligations imposed by Congress and the courts can require no more." Id. at 207. The party challenging the administrative finding has the burden of proof. Bd. of Educ. v. Ill. State Bd. of Educ., 184 F.3d 912, 915 (7th Cir. 1999).

III. Background

JR was first identified as a student with a disability when he was in the first grade as he had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD"). His elementary school years were marked with behavior difficulties that required special education instruction as well as treatment from physicians and therapists along with medications.

In 2003 he was identified as "learning disabled." However, his behavior and academic problems improved during middle school. By the end of eighth grade in the spring of 2004, JR's grades had improved to A's and B's, and his behavior was also improved significantly.

A comprehensive evaluation was performed in the spring of 2004, and JR was continued as a special education student. An IEP for JR's freshman year in high school was developed that included a Behavior Plan. The Behavior Plan had been implemented near the end of the eighth grade year and provided in pertinent part:

[JR] will refrain from name-calling and making inappropriate comments to peers. [JR] is to report any incidents to an adult.

[JR] will refrain from contact with "identified students" from previous incidents of alleged conflict(s). This would include ...


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