F.L. v. Board of Education of Great Neck U.F.S.D., 735 F. App’x 38, 72 IDELR 232 (2d Cir. Aug. 24, 2018), is non-precedential Second Circuit case that nonetheless holds interest for impartial hearing officers. The parent challenged IEPs from the 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 school years, and specifically charged the district with failing to provide extended school year services and a Lindamood Bell reading program for the student. The parent sought reimbursement for private tutoring as well as compensatory education for the student in reading and math. Ruling for the school district, the court affirmed a district court decision that affirmed a State Review Officer (SRO) decision that had reversed the original Impartial Hearing Officer decision in favor of the parent. The court of appeals held that there were no procedural violations that denied appropriate education to the student. The court said that the district’s consistent disagreement with the parent at IEP meetings did not constitute a violation of the IDEA when the district was willing to listen to and discuss the parent’s concerns. As for the substance of the student’s education, the court noted that the district modified the IEPs in response to evaluations of the student and the parent’s input. The principal objection of the parent was that the goals in the IEPs kept on being repeated, and the student did poorly on standardized tests and tests conducted by a private evaluator. The court deferred to the SRO’s conclusion that the student had made progress, albeit at a rate slower than the parent wished.
The court said that its approach conformed to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the FAPE requirement in Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, 137 S. Ct. 988, 69 IDELR 174 (2017). The court cited the case for the proposition that progress that is appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances need not include grade level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect for the individual child. F.L., 735 F. App’x at 40.
The district court decision that the court affirmed, which is reported at 274 F. Supp. 3d 94, 119, 70 IDELR 182 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2017), provides more background. The opinion noted that the student’s conditions included ADHD, developmental coordination disorder, and learning disabilities. The district court said the IEPs were substantively adequate in that they were sufficiently based on objective evidence regarding the student’s progress. The court further stated that an IEP need not mention any particular teaching methodology, that class size was an issue on which deference to the SRO was proper, that the reading services were adequate even if they were not all that the parent desired for the student, and that the district had sufficient grounds not to follow the recommendations of an outside evaluator. The court found that extended school year services were not justified, for there was a lack of evidence showing regression.
The importance of the court of appeals decision lies in its further elaboration of the Second Circuit’s approach to FAPE in light of the Endrew F. decision. The court does not view Endrew F. as supporting a necessary inference from the fact that goals are repeated from a previous IEP to the conclusion that the student is not receiving appropriate education. That is the case even though the complaint of the parent in Endrew F. was that the student had plateaued and that his goals and objectives were repeated from IEP to IEP. The Second Circuit’s emphasis appears to be on the unique circumstances of the child, and what progress the student can be expected to achieve when offered ambitious goals and challenging objectives. If that expected progress is modest in light of the student’s circumstances, the program is sufficient.