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Parents’ request for tuition reimbursement was denied because they couldn’t prove appropriateness of private school

Weaver v. Millbrook Central School District, 57 IDELR 126 (S.D.N.Y. 2011): Notwithstanding the fact that a school district denied a sixth grade student with a learning disability a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and that the student made progress at the private school where he was unilaterally placed by his parents, the parents’ claim for full private school tuition reimbursement was denied. The court indicated that progress alone does not demonstrate that a private placement is appropriate. In this case, the parents failed to prove that the private school provided the student with instruction specifically designed to meet the student’s unique needs. The court also noted that despite the student’s private school placement, the student continued to have significant deficits in reading and math. Citing the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the court further reasoned that, except in limited circumstances, parents seeking to prove the appropriateness of a private school placement are subject to the same standard as school districts in demonstrating the appropriateness of its recommended placement.
Although the parents were not able to establish the appropriateness of the private school placement, they were awarded some reimbursement since the placement was the student’s pendency (or “stay-put”) placement. However, the school district’s liability under the pendency claim did not commence until February 28 during the school year at issue (the date on which the parents initiated the due process complaint). The court reasoned that in order for a parent to obtain reimbursement under the pendency standard, a due process hearing must be “pending.” Although the parents provided the school district with a letter in August (prior to the beginning of the school year at issue) objecting to the school district’s proposed placement and informing the school district that they would initiate a due process complaint, their decision to wait until the following February to initiate the complaint was the plaintiff’s own decision.

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