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School district’s failure to offer a public placement excused parent from obligation to provide notice of unilateral placement.

C.Z. v. New York City Department of Education, 54 IDELR 223 (S.D.N.Y. 2010):  A U.S. District Court held that parents are not obligated to provide notice of a unilateral private placement when the school district never even recommended a public placement.  As a result, the student’s parents were entitled to partial reimbursement for her unilateral placement at a private school.

The student, who was diagnosed with a speech impairment and central auditory processing disorder, attended a private school offering a language based program from second grade through fifth grade (when she aged out).  The program provided a nurturing environment with a teacher and an aide in classes of eight to ten students.  The student also received related services, including occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.

Since the student was aging out, her parents enrolled her in a different private school due to their concern that the school district would not offer an appropriate program.  Despite such enrollment, the parents purchased “tuition insurance” in the event they removed the student from the private school.  The Court also noted that the parents cooperated with the school district, and participated in the IEP process in good faith.  Despite such participation, the school district never made a final offer of a recommended placement.  As a result, the student attended the private school in which she had been enrolled and the parents never provided written notice of their intention to make a unilateral placement.

The Court determined that since the district never formally offered a placement (which failure the district conceded denied the student a FAPE), the parents were not expected to provide notice under the IDEA, rejecting a placement that was never offered.  Consequently, equitable considerations (including the parents’ cooperation and their reasons for not providing written notice) did not relieve the school’s obligation to reimburse them for the private placement.  However, since the regular education component of the private school did not meet the student’s unique needs, the parents were only reimbursed for the tuition relating to the private school’s support program, conducted by a special education teacher.

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