Federal District Court Reverses SRO And Largely Reinstates Extensive Relief Awarded By The Impartial Hearing Officer

Just in time for Thanksgiving for one of our longstanding client families, a federal district court judge has reversed New York State’s State Review Officer to reinstate nearly all of the reimbursement relief ordered by the Impartial Hearing Officer after an eight-day hearing.  The financial relief ordered by the federal district court in G.O and T.O. v. NYCDOE includes full tuition reimbursement at the Rebecca School, as well as funding for 10 hours per week of after school ABA support and transportation expenses.

The Impartial Hearing Officer had considered and relied upon extensive compelling testimony from the student’s teachers and therapists, i.e. professionals who were personally familiar with the student’s unique needs.  When the IHO compared the student’s demonstrable needs as against the DOE’s proposed IEP, the IEP came up short.

The SRO reversed the IHO and ruled that the DOE had not done anything wrong.  On appeal, United States District Court Judge Ann Donnelly expressly faulted the SRO for ignoring and failing to discuss any of the testimony given by the student’s teachers and therapists, and for relying exclusively on the testimony of a single CSE witness who had never even met the student.

In addition to the significant funding relief that Judge Donnelly awarded, the court’s decision establishes a new level of “pendency” protection for the family.  Moreover, the court has set a schedule for the family to make application to recover legal fees and related costs attributable to the hearing held before the IHO, the DOE’s appeal to the SRO, and the family’s further appeal to the federal district court.

Jean Marie Brescia, the student’s lead counsel, believes that this case is important because it shows how important it is for your child’s teachers and therapists to weigh in openly at the IEP meeting and in their reports about your child’s specific challenges and learning needs.  It is difficult to ignore such evidence, particularly when the DOE’s sole witness has little, if any, personal knowledge to speak of.