The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOAN GOTTSCHALL, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Sandy Kaczmarski, on behalf of her son, Cody Rodman, has sued Wheaton
Community Unit School District #200 (the "District"), Cody's principal,
Sandy Niemiera, and two other District officials, pursuant to the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400,
et seq., challenging her son's removal from Washington Elementary School
("Washington") in Wheaton, Illinois. Cody has been diagnosed as
emotionally disabled and has been receiving special education services
from the District pursuant to the IDEA. Until recently, Cody was allowed
to attend classes at Washington with non-disabled children. However, on
March 26, 2004, Cody was suspended for three days for bringing a weapon
(a letter opener) to school. After Cody served his suspension, the school
informed Kaczmarski that Cody must attend classes in an alternative
setting until the school could assess whether he posed a danger to the
school community. Later, after convening a meeting to discuss Cody's
conduct, District officials determined that Cody should attend classes at
a therapeutic alternative day school. Kaczmarski claims that defendants
did not adhere to the IDEA's procedural safeguards in deciding to remove
Cody from his mainstream classes. Kaczmarski has moved the court for a temporary restraining order,
requesting that the court require defendants to return Cody to Washington
pending an administrative hearing on this dispute. For the reasons stated
below, Kaczmarski's complaint is dismissed without prejudice and her
motion for temporary restraining order is denied.
Cody Rodman is a fifth-grade student who has been diagnosed with
bipolar disorder and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Cody qualifies as "emotionally disabled" under the IDEA and has been
receiving special education services from the District since April of
2002. Pursuant to the IDEA, Cody's parents and school officials developed
an individualized education plan ("IEP") for Cody that provided Cody
counseling support and a "behavior intervention plan" designed to address
potential misbehavior.*fn1 Although Cody was originally required to
attend classes with other learning and emotionally disabled children, the
school returned Cody to a mainstream classroom setting at Washington in
the Fall of 2003.
Cody attended classes at Washington with non-disabled students until
March 26, 2004. On that date, Cody threatened two children with a letter
opener that he had brought to school. When Niemiera intervened and
confiscated the letter opener, Cody allegedly attempted to wrestle the
opener away from her and yelled that he wanted to kill himself and one of
the students he had been accused of threatening.*fn2 As a result of
Cody's conduct, Niemiera suspended Cody for three days. The school sent a letter to Kaczmarski, informing her of the suspension
and stating that "Cody has been referred for a safety evaluation with [a
counselor]. Cody will not be able to return to school until the safety
evaluation has been completed. An alternative to suspension place (sic)
will be offered."
On April 7, 2004, the last day of Cody's suspension,*fn3 Niemiera sent
Kaczmarski a second letter, reiterating that Cody could not return to
school until he completed the safety evaluation. Niemiera's letter
offered that, in the meantime, Kaczmarski could choose between two
"alternative education settings" for Cody: "a therapeutic day school or a
homebound tutor for 10 hours each week." Kaczmarski rejected both options
and insisted that Cody be returned to a mainstream class setting.
However, Kaczmarski allowed Cody to submit to the safety evaluation.
On April 14, 2004, the District sent Kaczmarski a "notification of
conference," indicating that, on April 20, 2004, Cody's IEP Team would
meet to (1) review Cody's IEP, (2) evaluate whether Cody's misconduct was
related to his disability, (3) review Cody's behavior intervention plan,
(4) review Cody's interim alternative educational setting, and (5)
discuss Cody's safety evaluation. Kaczmarski's husband attended the April
20, 2004 meeting along with the rest of the IEP Team. At the IEP meeting,
the school members of the IEP team determined that the March 26 incident
was a manifestation of Cody's emotional disability and that Cody's
placement should be changed to a therapeutic alternative day school.
Kaczmarski disagreed with the District's decision and refused to
consent to the new placement. On April 27, 2004, Kaczmarski filed this
lawsuit requesting (a) a judicial declaration that defendants' actions
violated the IDEA, and (b) a preliminary injunction ordering defendants
to return Cody to his mainstream classes pending an expedited due process hearing
by an independent hearing officer.
Kaczmarski has filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining
order, repeating her complaint's request that the court require
defendants to return Cody to classes at Washington "until such time as an
expedited due process hearing can be held" by an independent hearing
officer. However, because Kaczmarski has not yet exhausted her
administrative remedies, and because the temporary relief Kaczmarski
seeks is both premature and contrary to the express "stay-put" provisions
of the IDEA, Kaczmarski's motion for a TRO is denied.
Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act "to
assure that all handicapped children have available to them . . . a
free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education
. . . [and] to assure that the rights of handicapped children and
their parents or guardians are protected." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c).
The primary vehicle for implementing those goals is the "individualized
education program" (IEP), which the IDEA mandates for each disabled
child. The IEP sets out annual and short-term objectives for improvements
in class performance, and describes the class setting and specially
designed instruction that will enable the child to meet those objectives.
20 U.S.C. § 1401(19). The IEP Team must review and, where necessary,
revise the IEP at least once a year to ensure that local agencies tailor
instruction to each child's unique needs. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(5).
The IDEA includes several procedural safeguards to protect the rights
of the disabled child and the parents. Among other protections, the IDEA
sets clear limits on a school's authority to unilaterally discipline a
disabled student for violating school rules. 20 U.S.C. § 1415.
Specifically, the IDEA contemplates the scenario at issue here, allowing school
officials to order a change in a child's educational placement for up to
45 days if the child brings a weapon to school.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(A)(ii); 34 C.F.R. § 300.520(a)(2)(i). The child's
45-day "interim alternative placement" must be determined by the IEP
team.*fn4 34 C.F.R. § 300.522(a). If the parents ...