In C.L. v. New York City Department of Education, a recent IDEA case decided by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), the Court considered an appeal from an SRO decision that ruled against the parents. The parents were successful at the IHO level obtaining an award of funding for The McCarton School. However, the SRO disagreed with the IHO and denied funding on appeal.
In reaching its decision to reverse the SRO and rule in favor of the parents, the SDNY considered the amount of deference, if any, that a federal court should grant to administrative decisions. This has been and likely will continue to be a hotly-litigated issue in IDEA cases. The Court asserted that "the deference owed to an SRO's decision depends on the quality of that opinion" (citing to R.E., 694 F.3d at 189) or its “persuasiveness” (citing to M.H. II, 685 F.3d at 244).
The Court then stated: The SRO's Decision on this issue cannot be described as “well-reasoned” or “based on substantially greater familiarity with the evidence and the witnesses than the reviewing court,” M.H. II, 685 F.3d at 244, and therefore merits no deference. The Court thus turns to the IHO's decision. See R.E., 694 F.3d at 189. And later added: The SRO's Decision on this issue merely states the issue, states the conclusion, summarizes the CSE meetings and the IEP, states the conclusion again, summarizes the evidence presented at the hearing, and then states the conclusion a third and final time. Id. at 12–15. At no point does the SRO actually analyze the evidence or explain the reasons for its determination. The Court agreed with the IHO's findings that the child at issue required 1:1 instruction and would not be able to learn new material in the district-recommended 6:1:1 program. Therefore, the Court held that the DOE failed to provide a free appropriate public education and awarded reimbursement for McCarton. It is also worth noting that the SDNY, in response to arguments from the district, reiterated the holding of Forest Grove that a child need not have attended a public school for parents to determine that a public school setting would be inappropriate. For a related decision with a similar outcome see B.R. ex rel. K.O. v. New York City Dept. of Educ., 2012 WL 6691046 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2012).