When parents show up to our offices, it is not unusual to hear that the Department of Education has failed to hold an IEP meeting for their school-age child for a year or more. As a result, whenever it is applicable, this is cited in our notices as a critical fact. Forgetting to hold an IEP meeting is a black-and-white example of a failure to offer a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by federal law.
In these situations, the district most always acts rationally and offers to settle the case. However, we had a recent case that was unusual because after the case was referred for settlement, and smack in the middle of our negotiations, an IEP meeting for the child was held and the team determined that the child was “non-handicapped” and therefore not eligible for an IEP or any services. Suddenly, the DOE changed its tune on negotiations and said they would only settle the tuition for the child's private school through the date of that IEP meeting.
Completely separate from the question of whether or not the child has a disability (he does), this stance about a half-year tuition settlement is wholly unreasonable. When the DOE failed to offer a FAPE prior to September, it placed the parents in a situation in which they had to act for their child for that entire academic year--not just for part of it.
We took the case to hearing, but the Impartial Hearing Officer ruled with the district, so we appealed. Two of our fierce attorneys, Teri Horowitz and Linda Goldman, argued the appeal before the NYS Education Department’s Office of State Review in Albany. We were vindicated when the SRO ruled in our favor.
This is an important precedent for parents in New York, and we believe it will discourage the DOE from trying to act similarly in the future. When the DOE fails to live up to its responsibilities, it should not have loopholes for wiggling out of its obligations.
The full decision for the case, SRO 18-085, is not yet posted on the state’s website. We will update this article on our blog when that link is live for those who are interested.