United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
THE JEFFERSON COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, an agency of the State of Alabama, Appellant,
AMANDA S. and CECIL S., individually and as parents, guardians, next friends and legal representatives of T.S., a minor., Appellees.
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter before the court is on Plaintiff's Motion to Stay
Enforcement. (Doc. # 16). The matter has been briefed
(see Docs. # 16, 21, 22) and is ripe for decision.
For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion (Doc.
# 16) is due to be granted.
an action for review of an administrative proceeding
conducted pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (“IDEA”). See 20 U.S.C.
§§ 1400, 1415(i)(2)(A). The IDEA “offers the
States federal funds in exchange for a commitment to provide
all ‘children with disabilities' individually
tailored special education, also known as a ‘free
appropriate public education' or ‘FAPE.'
” Durbrow v. Cobb Cty. Sch. Dist., 887 F.3d
1182, 1189 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing 20 U.S.C. §§
1400(d)(1)(A), 1412(a)(1)(A)). “The principal vehicle
for providing a FAPE is an individualized education program
(‘IEP') prepared by the child's parents,
teachers, and school officials that is reasonably calculated
to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of
the child's circumstances.” Durbrow, 887
F.3d at 1189 (internal quotation marks omitted); CP
v. Leon Cty. Sch. Bd. of Fla., 483 F.3d 1151, 1153
(11th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he IEP is more than a mere
exercise in public relations. It forms the basis for the
[disabled] child's entitlement to an individualized and
appropriate education.” (quoting Doe v. Ala. State
Dep't of Educ., 915 F.2d 651, 654 (11tth Cir.
1990))). An IEP serves to “set out a plan for pursuing
academic and functional advancement.” Endrew F. ex
rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. R.E-1, 137
S.Ct. 988, 999 (2017). “Any review of an IEP must
appreciate that the question is whether the IEP is
reasonable, not whether the court regards it as
ideal.” Endrew, 137 S.Ct. at 999.
FAPE requirements relate to special education and related
(1) have been provided at public expense, under public
supervision and direction, and without charge, (2) meet the
standards of the State educational agency; (3) include an
appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school
education in the State involved; and (4) are provided in
conformity with the individualized education . . . program
required under section 1414(d) . . . .
Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. S.B., 788 F.Supp.2d
1347, 1350 (N.D. Ala. 2011) (citing 20 U.S.C.A. §
1401(9)). The test for determining whether a school board has
provided a FAPE as called for under the IDEA includes asking
“(1) whether the state actor has complied with the
procedures set forth in the IDEA, and (2) whether the
[individualized educational program] developed pursuant to
the IDEA is reasonably calculated to enable the child to
receive educational benefit.” Leon Cty. Sch. Bd. of
Fla., 483 F.2d at 1152-53. “[A] student offered an
educational program providing ‘merely more than de
minimis' progress from year to year can hardly be
said to have been offered an education at all. . . . The IDEA
demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably
calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in
light of the child's circumstances.”
Endrew, 137 S.Ct. at 1001.
IDEA also provides parents and children the right “to
present complaints regarding placement of the child or the
provision of FAPE and to initiate an impartial due process
hearing.” Leon Cty. Sch. Bd. of Fla., 483 F.2d
at 1153; 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1). After the conclusion of
an administrative proceeding, “[a] party aggrieved by a
hearing officer's findings and decision on a due process
complaint shall have the right to bring a civil action
concerning the matter in a district court of the United
States.” Hoover City Bd. of Educ. v. Leventry,
2019 WL 4415565, at *9 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 16, 2019); 20 U.S.C,
the aggrieved party is the Jefferson County School Board
(“the Board”). The Board filed its appeal in this
court seeking relief from the hearing officer's legal and
factual determinations arising out of an administrative
ruling. (Doc. # 1 at 1, ¶ 1). The relevant
facts are discussed below.
December 4, 2018, the student in this case, T.S.
(“Student”), by and through her parents,
initiated an administrative due process hearing against the
Jefferson County School Board. (Doc. # 1 at 1, ¶ 7).
Student alleged that the Board “failed to comply with
the IDEA's substantive requirements, and, consequently,
that the Board denied . . . Student a ‘free appropriate
public education'” for two years. (Id.
¶ 7). The due process hearing took place on February
21-22, 2019. (Id. ¶ 8). On March 22, 2019, the
hearing officer entered a written decision, framing the
issues for determination as: (1) “[i]s the
Petitioner's Complaint for Due Process moot due to what
the District [suggested] was a lack of opportunity to address
the Petitioner's concerns before the complaint was
filed?”; and (2) “[w]as the Petitioner denied a
free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) due to
the failure of the Petitioner to make more than minimal
progress in reading pursuant to services provided under the
[IEP] in place by the School for [Student] during the 24
months prior to the filing of the Due Process
Complaint?” (Id. ¶ 9; Doc. # 20-1
(SEALED) at 11).
hearing officer found that “the lack of progress of
[Student] with reading and decoding, at least during the 24
months prior to the due process filing date, . . . is
evidence of a denial of [a] FAPE by the District.”
(Doc. # 1 at 1, ¶ 10). Consequently, the hearing officer
(1) [w]ithin 30 days of [the hearing officer's] Order,
the IEP team is due to re-convene in further efforts to
determine what programs would be appropriate for the child in
light of her reading deficits; (2) [w]ithin 30 days of [the
hearing officer's] Order, the IEP [t]eam, including
pertinent District personnel, should thoroughly review all
the test results and determine if there is adequate
information to address why [the Student] is not making
progress in reading and if not, what information is needed to
address this; (3) [a]s compensatory benefits for the time
lost while the [Student] was denied a FAPE, the District is
due to find, fund and provide [the Student] with a one-on-one
summer reading program that is intensive along the lines
suggested by the Petitioner such as Lindamood [sic] Bell.
This is due to be provided during the summer of 2019; and (4)
Petitioner is due compensatory services for 90 minutes per
school week . . . for the remainder of the 2018-19 school
year and the 2019-20 school year in a one-on-one direct
reading instruction scenario to address her weakness in
decoding and sight words with a program that meets her unique
(Id. ¶ 11(a)-(d)). After publication of the
hearing officer's findings and orders, the Board filed
this lawsuit under the IDEA. The Board argues that because
the hearing officer “did not identify or find that the
Board committed an actionable procedural violation of the
IDEA, ” but rather only found a “lack of
progress” as “evidence of a denial of FAPE by the
District, ” the hearing officer acted improperly, and
the decisions and findings should not be enforceable.
(Id. ¶ 16). Specifically, the Board contends
that the hearing officer: (1) misapplied the law by
incorrectly applying the appropriate legal standard for
determining substantive compliance; (2) ordered relief that
is “unworkable, inappropriate, not required, and/or
supported by record evidence;” (3) “erred in
concluding that lack of significant progress in one area of
Student's academic program constituted a denial of
FAPE;” and (4) incorrectly found that Student met her
burden of proof. (Id. ¶ 10).
22, 2019, the Board filed its Motion to Stay, requesting the
court to stay enforcement of the hearing officer's
administrative decision pending the outcome of their appeal.
(Doc. # 16). On August 16, 2019, Student filed her response
to the Board's Motion. (Doc. # 21). On August 23, 2019,
the Board filed its reply. (Docs. # 22).
Standard of Review
stay is an ‘intrusion into the ordinary processes of
administration and judicial review,' and accordingly
‘is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury
might otherwise result to the [moving party].'”
Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 427 (2009). “It
is an exercise of judicial discretion. The propriety of its
issue is dependent upon the circumstances of the particular
case.” Scripps-Howard Radio v. F.C.C., 316
U.S. 4, 10-11 (1942). “The party requesting a stay
bears the burden of showing that the ...