Special Education Hearing Officer
FINAL DECISION AND ORDER
Student’s Name: E.S.
Date of Birth: [redacted]
ODR No. 14486-1314KE
Parties to the Hearing:
Oxford Area School District 125 Bell Tower Lane Oxford, PA 19363-1208
Thomas C. Warner, Esq. 331 Butler Avenue
New Britain, PA 18901
Dates of Hearing: 01/06/2014
Record Closed: 01/06/2014
Date of Decision: 02/05/2014
Hearing Officer: Brian Jason Ford
Introduction / Procedural History / Process for Stipulations
The Parent requested this special education due process hearing on November 19, 2013. The Parent is not represented by an attorney, and is not comfortable with legal jargon. I will avoid jargon as much as possible, and explain unavoidable jargon.
The Parent used a form called a Due Process Complaint Notice to request this hearing. I will call that form the Complaint. The Complaint includes blank spaces for the Parent to write in the “Nature of the problem” and the “Proposed Resolution.” For the nature of the problem, the Parent wrote:
[The Student] is is not permitted to attend [redacted] High School. Tried numerous accounts to meet [student registration] requirements by showing bills, notarized letters from landlord, PennDOT registration, bank statements and rent receipt. [These were sent to the District] via fax, mail and personally handing in documents. [NAME REDACTED] called [NAME REDACTED] and I followed orders to send in another notarized letter from [the] landlord.
For the proposed resolution, the Parent wrote:
[The] best solution is for [the Student] to attend another school, of our choice, at [the] expense of [the District]. Where [the Student] feels welcomed and catches up to level, assignments and skills that were taught. Some may be [too] important or vital information … that should not be lost due to [redacted] High School not permitting [the Student] to attend. Please help us. [The Student] has an IEP [and the Student] really can’t lose any more schooling.
After the Parent sent in the Complaint, the District asked me to dismiss it. On December 4, 2013, the District filed a motion giving several reasons why I should dismiss the Complaint. The District argued that 1) I do not have the power to decide whether the Student is a resident of the District, and 2) the Parent is not entitled to a private school placement even if I could decide if the Student is a resident.
In a document called a Pre-Hearing Order dated December 12, 2013, sent after a conference call with the Parent and the District’s attorney, I refused to dismiss the hearing.1 In the Complaint, the Parent said that the Student has an IEP and was being kept out of school. I have the authority to determine whether a school is providing an appropriate special education to a student with an IEP, and I also have the authority to determine if a school is excluding a student on the basis of disability. The “problem” written in the Complaint is something that I have the power to resolve.
At the same time, I cautioned the Parent that I can only award a private school placement or tuition reimbursement in limited circumstances. I explained that to obtain tuition reimbursement, the Parent would have to prove that 1) the District is not providing an appropriate education to the Student, 2) the private school is appropriate for the Student, and 3) it is fair for me to award tuition reimbursement. I also explained that I could award a private school placement if the Parent could prove that the District cannot educate the Student in the public schools.
In sum, I explained that I have authority to hear about the “problem,” but that the problem does not automatically lead to the “proposed resolution.” More importantly, I explained to the Parent that the circumstances alleged in the Complaint, even if proven, would not likely result in a private school placement. Even so, I would not deny the Parent an opportunity to be heard.2
After the December 12, 2013 Pre-Hearing Order, the District asked me again to dismiss the Complaint because the Parent had not participated in a resolution session. Ultimately, the Parent and District met at a resolution session immediately before the hearing convened.
In addition to the foregoing, the District also moved to dismiss this matter as moot, and maintained that position consistently leading up to the hearing. In sum, the District argued that the only issue raised in the Complaint was the District’s alleged failure to enroll the Student. The District claimed that the residency dispute was resolved and that the Student had been enrolled. Consequently, the District argued that the sole issue raised in the Complaint was moot. I held the District’s motion in abeyance until the start of the hearing.
The hearing convened on January 6, 2014. The Parent was accompanied and assisted by a lay advocate during the hearing. At the outset of the hearing, I addressed the District’s arguments regarding mootness, and I explained the concept of mootness to the Parent. (NT at 11-13). A lengthy, on the record dialogue then followed, and the Parent limited the scope of her claim. (NT at 13-29). For practical purposes, the Parent argued that the District improperly denied the Student’s residency from the start of the 2013-14 school year through December 11, 2013. (See NT at 15). The Parent continued to argue that the Student was improperly denied a special education during that period of time, and continued to demand placement at a private school as a remedy for that denial.3
Upon hearing the Parent’s revised claims, I reiterated my concerns that the claims, even if proven, could not yield the demanded remedy: a private school placement. I reiterated what the Parent would have to prove in order to obtain tuition reimbursement or a private school placement. Then, I asked the Parent for an offer of proof, explaining what that meant, as to what facts she would establish in support of her demand. (See NT at 15-28). A recess was taken so that the Parent could formulate the offer of proof, and then the Parent made her offer on the record.
Upon hearing the Parent’s offer of proof, I asked the District if it agreed with the facts that the Parent intended to prove. The District could not agree or disagree with certain facts without some research, and so another recess was taken. After the recess, the District was able to stipulate to some of the facts offered by the Parent.4
- The Parent had a meeting with one of the District’s administrators and another individual prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year. (NT at 40-41).
- The Parent and the District were in frequent communication prior to and at the start of the 2013-14 school year. During this time, the Parent sent at least one letter to the District. (NT at 41, H-1).
- The Student is IDEA-eligible (meaning that the Student has a disability and, by reason thereof, requires special education).5