Debevoise Advises Families in Filing of Federal Complaint Against the Hastings-on-Hudson School District for Alleged Violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

25 June 2014
A group of parents of children with disabilities filed a complaint in federal court against, among others, the Hastings-on-Hudson School District, its Superintendent of Schools Roy R. Montesano, the Director of Special Education Deborah Augarten, and the Hastings-on-Hudson Board of Education, alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and related federal and state laws. The plaintiffs are represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, which is serving as pro bono counsel.

The suit alleges that the defendants have (1) failed to properly classify children and made predeterminations with respect to children’s classifications; (2) dismissed and refused to consider opinions of well-qualified, independent professionals; (3) discouraged meaningful parent, teacher, and service provider participation at the Committee on Special Education (“CSE”) meetings; (4) denied the provision of requested services on erroneous grounds or without any basis; (5) failed to provide special education and related services as required by plaintiffs’ respective individualized education programs (“IEPs”) and to ensure that these missed special education and related services are made up within a reasonable period of time; (6) changed special education and related services without advance notice; (7) compelled plaintiffs to forego educational opportunities to which they were entitled in order to receive special education and related services; and (8) refused to conduct reevaluations upon parental request.

The complaint further contends that the defendants’ actions and omissions have violated the rights of children with disabilities in Hastings on a broader, systemic basis, as a result in part of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the Hastings special education system that deters specialists and service providers from recommending needed services for the children. It alleges that the District and its administrators have failed to address these issues despite numerous complaints over the years from both families and teachers.

The complaint asserts that the District’s decision to ignore earlier complaints and violations of law is driven in part by a desire to lower costs. For example, although the overall operating budgets and disabled student enrollments at neighboring school districts are comparable in scope and size to those in Hastings, only Hastings’ special education budget has seen a net decrease in recent years. From the 2011-2012 to the 2013-2014 school years, Hastings’ special education budget has decreased by 4.63%, while the special education budgets of neighboring Ardsley and Irvington have increased by 6.73% and 7.61%, respectively.

The plaintiffs seek various declaratory and injunctive relief, including (1) a comprehensive assessment of Hastings’ compliance with IDEA and other special education laws; (2) an independent investigation into whether Ms. Augarten and/or Superintendent Montesano committed misconduct and should be removed from service; and (3) a corrective action plan that includes (a) a plan to bring Hastings school district into compliance with the federal and state special education laws; (b) training for all Hastings administrators and staff on the requirements of IDEA and other federal and state laws and regulations relating to special education; and (c) training and professional development of Hastings staff to ensure that they are prepared to adequately meet the needs of children with disabilities.

The Debevoise team, led by partner Maura Kathleen Monaghan and associate Jane Shvets, includes associates Brandon H. Johnson, Sisi Wu, and Jonathan Metallo.