MH vs. Propel Charter Schools

Pennsylvania
Special Education Hearing Officer

DECISION

Child’s Name: M.H.

Date of Birth: [redacted]
Dates of Hearing: 10/27/2016

Closed HEARING ODR File No. 18325-16-17

Parties to the Hearing:

Parents Parent[s]

Local Education Agency
Propel Charter Schools
3447 East Carson Street, Suite 200 Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Representative:

Parent Attorney
Tiffany E. Sizemore-Thompson Esq. Tribone Center for Clinical Legal Education
Duquesne University School of Law 600 Forbes Avenue, Tribone Building Pittsburgh, PA 15282
412-396-5694

LEA Attorney
Jordan Lee Strassburger Esq. Four Gateway Center, Suite 2000 444 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222 412-281-5423

Date Record Closed: October 31, 2016

Date of Decision: November 4, 2016

Hearing Officer: Charles W. Jelley Esq. LL.M.

Introduction and Overview

The Student1 is eligible for specially-designed instruction (SDI) as a person with a Specific Learning Disability, in Math and Reading, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §1401 et seq. (IDEA). The Student attends the Propel Charter School (Charter School). The Parents requested due process to challenge the Charter School’s unilateral disciplinary removal of the Student to an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) for possession of an alleged weapon on school property.

The Charter School asserts that the student possessed a weapon, more specifically a knife, on school property. The Charter School also contends the knife blade measures 2 1⁄2 inches in length. The Charter School next asserts its actions are justified by the IDEA weapon “special circumstances” rule. The Charter School argues that the “special circumstances” rule permits the Charter School to unilaterally change the Student’s pendent placement for 45 days, regardless of whether the possession of the knife is a manifestation of the Student’s disability.

The Parents do not dispute the fact that the Student possessed the knife on school property. The Parents do not dispute the fact that the Student showed the knife to other students. The Parents do not contest the determination that the possession of the knife on school property was not a manifestation of the Student’s disability. The Parents do however dispute the Charter School’s decision to place the Student at an Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES). The Parents contend the Charter School made three fundamental errors in disciplining the Student and changing the Student’s placement. First, they argue, the Charter School erred in measuring the length of the knife blade. Second, they contend the Charter School erred in accurately reporting the events in the summary of the manifestation meeting. Third, they contend the IAES selected is inappropriate. More specifically, they contend the IAES is a specialized school for students with Emotional Disturbance, and therefore, the IAES cannot implement the Student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP).

The hearing was conducted on an expedited basis and concluded in one session. The Parties participated in a prehearing conference call, wherein, the Parents first asserted the alleged error in measuring the length on the knife blade. The hearing officer instructed both Parties to file a prehearing memorandum on the issue of how to measure the knife blade.

The Parents and the Charter School both submitted timely memoranda and made timely disclosure of all exhibits and witnesses. Neither Party in the prehearing memoranda identified any specific case law about how to measure the length of the knife blade as described in the IDEA.

During the hearing, the Parties offered two Joint Exhibits. Joint Exhibit 1 is a photo of the knife, with the tip of the blade at the end of a standard 12-inch ruler. When viewed in this fashion, the length of the blade is measured from the tip of the blade to the point the blade meets the handle. When the blade is measured in this fashion, the blade measures 2 1⁄2 inches.

The Parents contend the photo display exaggerates the length of the blade. The Parents further contend the proper way to measure the length of the blade is to place the tip of the blade at the end of the ruler and then stop the measurement at the end of the edge of the cutting surface. Using the Parents’ frame of reference, the blade then measures 2 1⁄4 inches. The factual dispute over the measurement centers on the 1⁄4-inch variance between the end of the cutting surface and point the blade meets the tip of the handle. The second Joint Exhibit is the knife at issue. The knife is similar to a multi-purpose Swiss Army knife.

The record closed upon receipt of the transcripts. I find the Charter School properly calculated the length of the blade. I find that the unilateral change of placement was appropriate; I also find the IAES is an appropriate placement for 45 days. I do however order the Charter School to convene an IEP team meeting 10 days before the Student returns to the Charter School to determine if the Student needs additional specially-designed instruction, goals or supports to make prospective meaningful educational progress.

Issues

  1. Was the Charter School’s unilateral removal of the Student from the Student’s placement authorized under the IDEA “special circumstances” rule?
  2. Was the District’s manifestation determination procedurally and substantively appropriate?
  3. Is the interim alternative educational setting to which Student is assigned appropriate?
M-H-Propel-Charter-ODRNo-18325-16-17

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