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Reimbursement denied where unilateral placement failed to address student’s needs

M.W. v. Board of Education of the Enlarged City School District of Middletown, N.Y., 61 IDELR 140 (S.D.N.Y. 2013): A federal district court upheld the New York State Review Officer’s (SRO) decision that a parent of a student with a learning disability and behavioral problems was not entitled to reimbursement.

The parent withdrew the student from the residential program at which the school district assigned her, and unilaterally placed the student at a different residential program.  Following the unilateral placement, the parent filed a due process complaint alleging a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and sought reimbursement.  The impartial hearing officer (IHO) agreed with the parent that the child was denied a FAPE and that the unilateral program was appropriate.  The SRO, however, overruled the IHO in part, noting that the parent’s unilateral withdrawal contributed in part to the student’s failure to receive a FAPE.  More significantly, regardless of any FAPE denial, the SRO further overruled the IHO regarding the appropriateness of the unilateral program.  After reviewing the hearing record, the SRO found insufficient evidence to support the IHO’s conclusion that the unilateral program was appropriate, as such program failed to include a sufficient level of special education and related services to meet the student’s needs (both academically and behaviorally).  Accordingly, reimbursement was denied.  The district court upheld the SRO’s conclusions.

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