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Board of Education of Downers Grove Grade School District No. 58 v. Steven L.

July 16, 1996

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF DOWNERS GROVE GRADE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 58,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

STEVEN L. AND CHRISTINE L., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENTS OF ANDREW L., A MINOR,

DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 93 C 7168--Brian Barnett Duff, Judge.

Before FLAUM, EASTERBROOK, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 19, 1996

DECIDED JULY 16, 1996

Nearly six years ago officials in a suburban Chicago school district concluded that Andrew L., then in third grade, was partially learning disabled. As a result Andrew received special education services including supervised reading. Three and one-half years ago, when Andrew was in fifth grade, the school district attempted to decrease the amount of time his reading was supervised. Andrew's parents challenged this attempt. This challenge made its way through two hearing examiners, who sided with the parents, to a federal district court, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. sec. 1400 et seq. The district court reversed the hearing examiners and agreed with the school district that a modified education plan met Andrew's educational needs. His parents appeal the district court's decision. Andrew is now a teenager who will enroll in high school in a few months. If this case was not moot when considered by the district court, it is now. Thus, we vacate the district court's order and remand the case for dismissal on that ground.

I.

In 1990 educational officials determined that Andrew L., then in third grade, suffered from certain learning disabilities. An initial evaluation concluded that he should not be placed in a special education program. Andrew's parents then obtained a private evaluation at which psychologists found him to be "of above average intelligence" and "very bright," but also that he likely suffered from an attention deficit disorder. A psychiatrist confirmed this diagnosis and prescribed Ritalin. A second conference was held at which school officials decided Andrew should receive certain special education services after all. Officials developed an Individual Education Plan ("IEP") for Andrew which they reviewed and modified annually, each time decreasing the amount of time a learning disabilities teacher spent directly with Andrew.

At an annual review of Andrew's IEP in November 1992, the Board of Education of Downers Grove ("the school district") proposed a modification. The plan then in effect provided for 225 minutes per week of direct supervision by a learning disabilities teacher in reading, writing, and organizational development and one class per week with the regular reading teacher. The modified IEP would place Andrew in the regular reading classroom five days per week and provide 150 minutes per week of direct supervision from the learning disabilities teacher in writing and organizational development, plus 30 minutes of consultation per week with the same reading teacher.

Andrew's academic progress was the catalyst for the proposed modification. He was reading at above a fifth grade level in fifth grade and received mostly A's with a few B's on his fourth grade, fourth quarter report card. Before requesting this modification, the school staff considered test results from Andrew's special education teacher, group test results for students at Andrew's grade level, and various evaluations completed as part of the annual review of Andrew's IEP. Although the modified IEP would transfer Andrew to a regular reading class, it proposed no modification for other areas in which Andrew received special education services. The proposed modification would actually increase Andrew's reading time as well as the amount of collaboration between his regular and learning disability reading teachers.

Andrew's parents objected to any change in his IEP. They feared he would fall behind in reading and did not believe he was progressing satisfactorily in spelling and writing. They also asserted that Andrew's mainstream teachers were not properly trained to apply the IEP and requested that an outside consultant be retained to train Andrew's mainstream teachers. Andrew's parents requested a Level I due process hearing on the modification, as provided for by the IDEA. The Level I hearing officer heard from numerous witnesses and in April 1993 issued a report in favor of Andrew's parents and ordered that the earlier IEP remain in place.

The school district requested review of this decision. A Level II due process hearing was convened. That hearing officer also considered testimony and rendered his decision. He ordered that the current IEP remain in effect until a future IEP could be developed and approved by the parties, and that the modified IEP was null and void. In November 1993 the school district sued Andrew's parents under the IDEA, in effect appealing the decision of the Level II hearing officer that the modified IEP did not meet Andrew's fifth grade education needs. The school district contended that the hearing officer misapplied the proper legal standards under the IDEA. By this time Andrew was in the sixth grade.

The district court posed the issue as whether the school district "must provide direct special education instruction in reading to a child with learning disabilities who is receiving consultative services to enhance his regular education reading curriculum, who is performing at grade level in reading, and who is receiving direct special education in other areas." Bd. of Educ. of Downers Grove School Dist. No. 58 v. Stephen L. and Christine L. ex rel. Andrew L., 898 F. Supp. 1252, 1254 (N.D. Ill. 1995). For 22 months the case remained pending in the district court, although no additional evidence was taken. Eventually, when Andrew was about to enter the eighth grade, the district court granted summary judgment to the school district. The court found that the modified IEP was "reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit and help the student advance from grade to grade," as required by the IDEA. 898 F. Supp. at 1263.

Andrew's parents appeal the district court's decision. *fn1 We review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo. Bd. of Educ. of Murphysboro v. Ill. St. Bd. of Educ., 41 F.3d 1162, 1166-67 (7th Cir. 1994). From the time Andrew's parents challenged the modified IEP until now, the original IEP has remained in place. *fn2 Andrew's parents have agreed to a new IEP which will take effect in ...


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