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Ostby v. Manhattan School District No. 114

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 16, 2017

Jason Ostby and Jill Ostby, individually and as next friends of Jacob O., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Manhattan School District No. 114, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 5, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:14-cv-07778 - John Robert Blakey, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and ROVNER, Circuit Judges, and Shadid, District Judge [*]

          ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

         Jason and Jill Ostby sued Manhattan School District 114 ("District") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. ("Act"), for review of an administrative decision regarding their son's individualized educational program. With the exception that we note below, we vacate the district court's judgment and remand the case with directions to dismiss it as moot.

         I.

         The Act is designed "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). In order to implement this goal, the Act provides for the evaluation of disabled children and the development of an individualized education program ("IEP") for each disabled child. The IEP is a written statement that is developed, reviewed and periodically revised in accordance with the Act. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i). It documents the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance; provides a list of measurable annual goals; describes how the child's progress towards the goals will be measured; and presents a statement of the special education and related services to be provided to the child, among other things. 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A).

         The Ostbys' son, Jacob, has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Disruptive Mood Dys-regulation Disorder. As a result of these disorders, he struggles with self-management, behavior regulation and social skills. Consequently, he requires an IEP and has received IEPs since he began attending pre-school at the age of four. In his preschool and kindergarten years, Jacob's parents sometimes requested additional testing or changes to the services provided to Jacob under his IEP. At times, the parents obtained private evaluations of their son's condition at their own expense. For his first year of kindergarten, Jacob was placed in the early childhood special education classroom. When he repeated kindergarten, he was moved to a general education classroom with additional support services. Jacob's second year of kindergarten was marked by a number of behavioral disturbances and recommendations by the District to change Jacob's placement and services. His parents disagreed with some of these recommendations and Jacob was allotted additional support services instead. By January 2014, the Ostbys had opted to file a due process complaint, a mechanism in the Act for parents to initiate an administrative hearing process to resolve disputes surrounding IEPs. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b).

         Near the end of that school year, on March 26, 2014, after additional testing, the Ostbys and the psychologist they hired to evaluate Jacob met with the District to develop a new IEP. As a result of that meeting, some of Jacob's services were discontinued and a Behavioral Intervention Plan was adopted. The District also recommended that Jacob's placement be changed from the general education setting to the Social Emotional Learning Foundations program ("SELF program"). Jacob's parents objected to the SELF program placement and it was not adopted at that time. With approximately twenty days left in the school year, Jacob struggled with the new Behavioral Intervention Plan.

         On June 5, 2014, as the school year ended, the parties reconvened to discuss Jacob's IEP. As a result of this meeting, the District again recommended that Jacob be placed in the SELF program for first grade, his parents again objected and the District sought to place Jacob in the SELF program over his parents' objections. The SELF program is a restricted form of education that is not part of a mainstream classroom. Moreover, the SELF program was housed at a different school in a different school district. One goal of the Act is to educate disabled children in the least restrictive environment:

To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A). Jacob's parents believed that the SELF program was more restrictive than necessary and that he should remain in the general education setting in his home district.

         When parents object to a new placement and file a due process complaint, a "stay-put" provision in the Act maintains the status quo of the child's placement until the complaint has been fully resolved. 20 U.S.C. ยง 1415(j) ("during the pendency of any proceedings conducted pursuant to this section, unless the State or local educational agency and the parents otherwise agree, the child shall remain in the then-current educational placement of the child, ... until all such proceedings have been completed."). As a result of the stay-put provision, Jacob was never moved to the SELF program. As the administrative process progressed through hearing, decision, and appeal, Jacob remained in the general education setting with support services in place. After the administrative process resulted in a ruling in favor of the District, the Ostbys filed suit in the district court, seeking review of the decision. The district court upheld the administrative decision, concluding that the District met the Act's substantive requirement of providing Jacob with a free appropriate public ...


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