D.B. and L.B. (on behalf of H.B.) v. Gloucester Township School District

After several individualized education meetings where they felt ignored and shut down by Gloucester Township School District, the parents of H.B., an elementary school girl with autism, filed suit against the district on the basis of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and several laws. They wanted a new IEP for their daughter that would include both parental and school opinions and balance mainstream classroom time with the accommodations and supports that H.B. required. After appeals, they were ultimately victorious.

In 2007, the parents of a H.B., a kindergartner with autism, began the process of developing an individualized education plan (IEP) so that she could receive an education that both fulfilled her learning needs and allowed her to develop social skills alongside her peers. This IEP was not discussed with H.B.’s parents before the meeting and suggested her enrollment in full-time autism education, with just under two hours of mainstreaming per day. H.B.’s parents disagreed and wanted to give her more time with her peers to develop social skills, and thus filed for a hearing to try to reach an agreement.

For the next two years, when IEP meetings occurred, H.B.’s parents continued to feel systematically ignored by the school district and watched as her mainstreaming time was decreased from nearly two hours daily to just 40 minutes to none. In 2009, the IEP not only placed H.B. in full-time autism education, but also required her attendance at an autism summer program rather than at summer camp with her peers. The school felt that there was “no need” to discuss alternative placements or listen to ideas from parents.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees several crucial rights to students with disabilities:

  • Each student has the right to FAPE, a free appropriate public education. Children with disabilities in the United States are legally entitled to educational services at public expense.
  • Each student has the right to the least restrictive involvement that meets their needs: children are entitled to placement in a classroom that balances needs and inclusion
  • Children have “stay-put rights,” which allow them to remain where they are during IEP revisions until an agreement is reached. A parent can maintain current placement for their child while IEPs are being produced.
  • Parents may bring anyone they like to an IEP meeting. By law, they are equal partners in the IEP process and must consent to any given part of the IEP before it is implemented.

H.B.’s parents filed suit against Gloucester Township School District, alleging that the 2007-08 IEP violated this act, several others, and their young daughter’s civil rights. They were seeking a new IEP for H.B. that would include her in regular classes while providing her with appropriate accomodations, aids and services. In the B.’s eyes, their presence at IEP meetings without input was not enough to justify their role as equal partners in the process and give their daughter the opportunities they believed she deserved. At trial, testimony from the school district faculty and staff indicated that the school had in fact determined H.B.’s placement before meeting with her parents and believed that any other alternative, regardless of parent input and opinion, was inappropriate and should be ignored.

Ultimately, after an appeal to District Court, it was decided that Gloucester Township School District had in fact predetermined H.B.’s placement and, as a result, committed a violation in failing to allow the parents to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process. A new IEP was issued with more parental input, and as a result, H.B. is now able to be mainstreamed for a greater number of hours each day.