Student v. Marshfield Public Schools – BSEA #03-2117
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
Student v. Marshfield Public Schools
BSEA # 03-2117
RULING ON MARSHFIELD’S MOTION TO DISMISS
This ruling is issued pursuant to Marshfield’s Motion to Dismiss filed on November 25, 2002. Marshfield asserted in its motion that Parent’s request for compensatory services should be dismissed because the claim for services was over three years old and as such fell outside the BSEA’s three year statute of limitations. Parent was given until December 9, 2002 to file an opposition to Marshfield’s motion. Parent filed on opposition on December 5, 2002.
After careful consideration of the Motions and Opposition, I hereby ALLOW Marshfield’s Motion to Dismiss.
1. Student (born January 20, 1988) is a 14 year old boy who has resided in Marshfield since 1994. Student is diagnosed with allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and allergic asthma (Parent Opposition Exhibit A). He has received special education services since 4 th grade (Parent’s Opposition #6). Parent alleges that when Student was in the first, second and third grades (School Years 94-95, 95-96, 96-97) Marshfield failed to evaluate Student for a language-based learning disability and failed to accommodate his special needs (Opposition #’s 2-5, Attachments C,D,E). Parent further alleges that when Student was in 4 th and 5 th grade (SY 97-98, 98-99) Marshfield committed procedural violations that denied Student a FAPE (Opposition #’s 7-8). She further alleges that when Student began 5 th grade (SY 98-99) Marshfield began construction in the school building Student attended, that the construction entailed construction dust and paint odors that caused worsening of his allergies; and that because of this construction Student had to have a home program from May 10, 1999 to the end of the school year; and that when construction was not completed as scheduled Student had to be enrolled Student in a Charter School in September 1999 ( See Opposition #’s 9-12, Attachment’s A,B,F). Parent is requesting compensatory education. See Parent’s November 7, 2002 Hearing Request, received by the BSEA on November 14, 2002.
2. In June or July, 1999 Parent filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Program Quality Assurance Division (PQA) (Intake # 99-1142), alleging that evaluations were not followed up with a TEAM meeting, IEP timelines had not been met and that the School District had failed to send unsigned IEPs to the BSEA after thirty days. Parent also asserts that she filed a request for mediation with the BSEA1 . PQA placed Parent’s complaint on inactive status on August 19, 1999. PQA placed the matter on active status on October 22, 1999 when the matter was no longer considered by the BSEA (School Motion Attachment B). On December 7, 1999 PQA notified the Parties of the results of its investigation and issued a corrective action plan. Id. The plan directed the School District to review concerns related to appropriate TEAM meetings flowing evaluations, timelines within which the district will hold evaluations and appropriate follow-up to unsigned and rejected IEPs. Id .
3. On January 25, 2000, the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Environmental Assessment conducted an indoor air assessment and determined that there were problems identified and issued recommendations as to how to correct the problems.2
4. On March 10, 2000 Parent filed a complaint with PQA requesting compensatory services for violations that occurred from September 1997-September 1999 (PQA Intake 00-0715). In that complaint Parent also requested transportation costs from September 2000 to the end of the school year or when the option to return to the Furnace Brook School was available (Opposition Exhibit G, H, J). PQA officially closed the matter on March 23, 2000 after receiving Marshfield’s corrective action plan.
5. On March 29, 2000 Parent’s educational advocate requested mediation with PQA regarding the issues filed in the PQA complaint requesting compensation for transportation costs from September 1999-June 2000 (Opposition Exhibit I).
6. On November 14, 2002 the BSEA received a hearing request for compensatory services from Parent requesting that Marshfield reimburse Parent for evaluations and tutoring services paid for by Parent while attending the Marshfield School System; transportation reimbursement for the years traveled to and from the Charter School, and retroactive and prospective payment for three hours of weekly home tutoring services for Math and English until Student graduates from high school. On November 25, 2002 Marshfield filed a motion to dismiss.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that establishes a time period that a party must bring a case before a Court (or administrative agency). The reason for having a statute of limitations is to ensure timely resolutions of claims and an opportunity for a defending party to investigate and have available witnesses that have a fresh recollection of the events so that they can present an adequate defense and/or otherwise have the dispute resolved in a timely manner. The BSEA has previously held that the applicable statute of limitations for IDEA and § 504 claims is borrowed from the civil rights action statute and is three years. See In Re: Fall River Public Schools , 5 MSER 183 (1999). IDEA claims accrue when the parents know or have reason to know of the injury or event that is the basis for their claim. See Murphy v. Timberlane Regional School District , 22 F.3d 1186, 1194 (1 st Cir. 1994). Fall River articulated the reasons for requiring a three-year statute of limitations for education-related claims. Although there are many important policies underlying the IDEA, prompt resolution of educational disputes is among the most frequently cited. See Strawn v. Missouri State Board of Education , 210 F.3d 954 (8 th Cir. 2000); Livingston School District No. 4 v. Keenan , 82 F.3d 912 (1996 ); In Re: Fall River Public Schools , 5 MSER 183 (1999). “[Children protected by the IDEA benefit greatly from quick resolution of disputes because lost education is a substantial harm, and that harm is exactly what the IDEA was meant to prevent.” Strawn v. Missouri Board of Education , 210 F.3d 954 (8 th Cir. 2000).
Marshfield asserts that the statue of limitations began when the alleged violations occurred. Parent claims that the three-year statue of limitations does not apply in this case because the parent and her Advocate filed a PQA action on March 1, 2000 and the original case was not officially closed until March 23, 2000.
Parent filed her request for Hearing on or about November 7, 2002 regarding compensatory education claims for alleged violations in beginning in September 1994 and ending in September 1999. These alleged violations are between four and seven years old and fall outside the statue of limitations. As such, claims regarding denials of FAPE while Student was in first, second, third, fourth and fifth grade are dismissed.
Parent also claims that Student was not able to attend his sixth grade year (SY 99-00) because the School District did not accommodate his disability. Parent knew that Student would not be able to return to his current school as early as June or July 1999 and in no event no later than September 1999 when school opened and construction was not completed. If the defendant pleads the statute of limitations as a defense and establishes that the action was brought more than three years after the time of the alleged violation, the plaintiff has the burden of proving facts that remove the case from the statutory limitation. See Riley v Presnell, 409 Mass. 239 (1991). In some instances the question of when a cause of action accrued is properly a question for the factfinder. Id . Where, however, the record reveals no factual dispute as to when the harm actually occurred, the Court must decide as a matter of law whether the plaintiff, within the statutory period, had knowledge or sufficient notice of that Student was harmed and what the cause of the harm was. See Riley v Presnell, 409 Mass. 239 (1991). Phinney v Morgan 39 Mass. App. Ct. 202, 209 (1995).
Here, the School District has established that Mother knew that the alleged discrimination occurred no later than September 1999. As such the matter needed to filed within three years of this date or no later than September 2002. Parent filed her request in November 2002. Therefore her action is time-barred. The Parties also do not dispute that Student has been enrolled in a Charter School since 1999. As such, the Charter School bears future programmatic responsibility for Student.3
Marshfield’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
By the Hearing Officer,
Joan D. Beron
Dated: December 16, 2002
BSEA records show that the mediator sent Mother a letter in July 1999 informing her that she had the option of mediation and if mediation was wanted that Parent should call the mediator. The mediator closed the case on November 25, 1999 because she did not receive a request for intervention.
The Parent did not include the recommendations nor did she indicate if the problems were such that Student could not return to the Middle School or attend an alternate middle school.
Student is a resident of Marshfield and can enroll in the Marshfield Public Schools and receive services. The record is silent as to whether Parent wishes Student to return to the Marshfield public schools.