The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
City of Chicago's Board of Education, operator of Chicago Public Schools District Number 299 ("District"), bas brought this action against the Illinois State Board of Education ("State Board") and Joanne and Mitchell S. ("Parents"), the parents and next friends of Maximus S. ("Max"), pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA," 20 U.S.C. §§1400-1419).*fn1
District's Complaint challenges a decision by an administrative hearing officer ("Hearing Officer") that granted Parents reimbursement for the cost of Max's private schooling.
District and Parents have filed cross motions for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56, respectively seeking reversal and affirmance of certain of the Hearing Officer's decisions and orders. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, District's motion is denied and Parents' is granted in its entirety.
Summary Judgment Standards*fn2
Generally motions for summary judgment are decided following the familiar Rule 56 standard as explained in a host of cases exemplified by Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Actions for judicial review of an administrative hearing under IDEA are, however, a somewhat different breed (see Heather S. v. Wis., 125 F.3d 1045, 1052 (7th Cir. 1997)). Section 1415(i)(2)(C) prescribes the scope of and procedure for judicial review of such administrative agency decisions under IDEA:
In any action brought under this paragraph, the court --
(i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.
Under that standard, when a district court does not hear additional evidence a summary judgment motion calls for a decision based on the administrative record alone (Heather S., 125 F.3d at 1052). Hence "[d]espite being termed summary judgment, the district court's decision is based on the preponderance of the evidence," with the party challenging the outcome of the administrative hearing--in this case District--bearing the burden of proof (id.).
Notwithstanding those principles, District Invokes Section 1415(i)(2)(C)(ii) to ask this Court to hear--and to take judicial notice of--evidence that was not part of the record before the Hearing Officer (D. Mem. 5-6; D. St. ¶¶15, 16, 23). While the consideration of additional evidence under that Section is within judicial discretion, a court must keep in mind that its role in the IDEA framework is one of review and not trial de novo (see Monticello Sch. Dist. No. 25 v. George L., 102 F.3d 895, 901 (7th Cir. 1996)).
In this instance District points only to cases stating general principles of judicial notice under the Federal Rules of Evidence, without advancing any reason for this Court to allow the introduction of evidence now that was readily available before the administrative hearing. This Court declines that invitation. Instead it will consider only the additional evidence provided in D. St. ¶15, because District's argument based on that new evidence could be viewed as a challenge to the power of the Hearing Officer and thus to the administrative procedure itself under IDEA (D. Mem. 12-13; see also Monticello, 102 F.3d at 902). Because P. Opp. St. ¶15 admits the fact offered in D. St. ¶15 and because District's argument based on that fact is a non-starter, this is "essentially a no-new-evidence case" that simply reviews the administrative record with the appropriate deference (see Sch. Dist. of Wis. Dells v. Z.S., 295 F.3d 671, 675 (7th Cir. 2002)).
In all events, Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982)("Rowley") cautions that Section 1415(i)(2)(C) should not be read as "an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review." Instead courts must accord "due weight" to the results of state administrative proceedings (id.). Further emphasizing a reviewing court's limited role, Heather S., 125 F.3d at 1053 teaches: that the "due weight" which the court must give to the hearings below is not to the testimony of witnesses or to the evidence--both of which the court must independently evaluate--but to the decisions of the hearing officers.
Mindful of that task, this opinion evaluates the evidence in the record independently, while at the same time viewing the Hearing Officers' decisions through a deferential lens.
When only a year old, Max lost his hearing--a "disability" as defined by IDEA--because of a bout with bacterial meningitis (D. St. ¶6; P. St. ¶¶5,8). At 18 months Max received a cochlear implant*fn3 in his right ear that allowed him to interpret sound sufficiently to gain an ability to listen, comprehend and use language with the aid of special education and other accommodations (see P. St. ¶¶9, 11; D. St. ¶7; P. Opp. St. ¶7). Parents wanted Max, with the assistance of the cochlear implant, to learn to communicate through spoken language (i.e., orally and aurally) rather than through sign language. Accordingly they wished his education to be tailored to that goal (P. St. ¶¶13, 14).
As Chicago residents, Parents first enrolled Max in preschool at a District school program for the hearing impaired, beginning in the spring of 2001 (when he was 3 years old) and continuing until December 2002 (P. St. ¶¶5, 16; D. St. ¶¶9-10). Unsatisfied with the services and education provided to Max at the District school, and unable to find a local school that met his needs, Parents removed Max from the District school and enrolled him in a residential program at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri ("St. Louis Institute")(D. St. ¶11, P. St. ¶¶22-29). Within the first two months at that new school, its staff identified residual hearing in Max's left ear that could be enhanced through the use of a hearing aid (P. St. ¶30).
After discovering that the St. Louis Institute's residential program was closing, in early 2004 Parents asked District to evaluate Max for a possible return to its schools (D. St. ¶31). In an effort to comply with the IDEA individualized education program requirements for children with disabilities, District scheduled and conducted an evaluation and conference with school officials and Parents in March 2004, at the conclusion of which District offered Max an individualized education program that involved enrollment in the District with special education and services (P. St. ¶¶32, 35, 38; D. St. ¶¶18, 20, 21). Unsatisfied with the outcome of that process, Parents objected to the plan and enrolled Max for the ...