Case Study: Is There an Claim for A Student Who Graduates?

The question presented in this case is whether a parent can pursue a legal claim for compensatory services for a student who has graduated from high school, or is the claim moot? The Impartial Hearing Office (IHO) in this case ruled that she could not given the student had graduated. The Parents appealed.

Mootness A dispute between parties must at all stages be “real and live” and not “academic” or it risks becoming “moot.” In general, cases dealing with issues such as desired changes in IEPs, specific placements, and implementation disputes may become moot at the end of the school year because no meaningful relief can be granted. Administrative decisions rendered in such cases concerning such issues arising out of school years that have since expired may no longer appropriately address the current needs of the student.

However, an exception provides that a claim may not be moot, despite the end of a school year for which the student’s IEP was written, if the conduct complained of is “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” This exception applies only in limited situations. First, it must be apparent that “the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration. Second, controversies are “capable of repetition” when there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again. To create a reasonable expectation of recurrent, repetition must be more than theoretically possible. Mere speculation that the parties will be involved in a dispute over the same issue does not rise to the level of a reasonable expectation or demonstrated probability of recurrence.

In this case, the parent alleges a gross violation of the IDEA and seeks an award of compensatory education. As explained in greater detail below, compensatory education is instruction provided to a student after he or she is no longer eligible because of age or graduation to receive instruction. It may be awarded in certain limited circumstances. Thus, in the present case, the SRO ruled that the Impartial Hearing Officer erred in dismissing the case as moot because the parent asserted claims that were otherwise actionable.

Compensatory Education Compensatory education is an equitable remedy that is tailored to meet the unique circumstances of each case. Compensatory education may be awarded to a student with a disability who no longer meets the eligibility criteria for receiving instruction under the IDEA. In New York State, a student who is otherwise eligible as a student with a disability may continue to obtain services under the IDEA until he or she receives either a local or Regents high school diploma, or until the conclusion of the ten-month school year in which he or she turns age 21. Within the Second Circuit, compensatory education has been awarded to students who are ineligible by reason of age or graduation if there has been a gross violation of the IDEA resulting in the denial of, or exclusion from, educational services for a substantial period of time. Given that compensatory education is an equitable remedy within the broad forms of relief on the merits that are permissible under the IDEA, the SRO sustained the Parent’s appeal ruling that the Impartial Hearing Office erred in determining her case was moot.

Case Note: If a student with a disability reaches age 21 during the period commencing July 1st and ending on August 31st and is otherwise eligible, the student is entitled to continued in a July and August program until August 31st or until the termination of the summer program, whichever shall first occur (Educ. Law §4402[5][a]). [NYS Education Department SRO Decision No.11-044]

DISCLAIMER. Information in this Newsletter is provided for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice and not warranted or guaranteed. Readers are cautioned not to rely on this information. Because laws change over time and in different jurisdictions, it is imperative that you consult an attorney in your area regarding legal matters.