MZ vs. Bethlehem Area School District

Pennsylvania
Special Education Hearing Officer

DECISION

Child’s Name: M.Z.
Date of Birth: [redacted]
Dates of Hearing:
August 15, 2008, September 18, 2008, September 25, 2008

CLOSED HEARING

ODR #8913/07-08 AS

Parties to the Hearing: Parent

Bethlehem Area School District 1516 Sycamore Street Bethlehem, PA 18020

Representative: Pro Se

Kristine Marakovits-Roddick, Esquire King, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul, LLC One West Broad Street, Suite 700 Bethlehem, PA 18017-6099

Date Record Closed: October 5, 2008

Date of Ruling: October 19, 2008, 2008

Hearing Officer: William F. Culleton, Jr., Esquire

INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[Student] (Student) is a xx-year old resident of the Bethlehem Area School District (District); he is currently identified as an exceptional child, [redacted] identified with disabilities of autism and speech and language impairment. (NT 25-.) The Student is in seventh grade in the District’s East Hills Middle School. (NT 28-29.) [Name redacted] (Parent) requested due process claiming that the Student’s [educational program] for the 2007-2008 school year was inappropriate, (NT 61, 121-126; S-10, S-12, S-30 p. 3), requesting as a remedy that the District pay for a special program for grade school students, which is offered on line by [Redacted] University, to be provided to the Student during the summer. (NT 36, 60-61, 63-65.)

The District asserted that it had no obligation to provide the requested courses because, 1) there is no legal obligation to provide ESY services to [Student]; and 2) there is no legal obligation to provide college courses or courses that are not already offered as part of the District’s curriculum for [Student]. In addition, the District defended the program and placement that it had provided to the Student.

The parent filed her Complaint for the Student by handing a note to the principal of the School on May 8, 2008. (NT 33; S-30 p. 3.) The District challenged the note’s sufficiency, and the hearing officer dismissed the challenge [redacted]. (S-30 p. 4-5.)

The District thereupon filed its motion to dismiss in writing. (S-23 p. 3-7, P-1 p. 150-160, 165-1671.) At Parent’s request, this was translated into [another language]. (S-23 p. 8-11.) The Parent challenged the accuracy of the translation, (S-27-29, 32-33, P-1 p. 150-160, 165-167), and the hearing officer directed that the District make an oral motion during the hearing, to be interpreted by a qualified forensic interpreter. (NT 35-50, 60-65.) The

hearing commenced on August 15, 2008. The hearing officer reserved decision on the motion and took evidence pertinent to it. (NT 65-68, 74-79.)

During the hearing on the motion, the Parent attempted to introduce evidence pertaining to the Student’s disabilities and special education, to which the District objected in timely fashion. (NT 94, 101.) After the hearing, the Parent argued in an email that the hearing should encompass evidence about the disability as it pertains to the child’s [special] education needs, because to do otherwise would be to consider only half of the relevant facts, and because the Student’s special education needs [redacted] are interrelated [redacted]. Again the District objected to expansion of the scope of the hearing. (HO-1.)2

In a seven page ruling, the hearing officer denied the District’s motion while limiting the scope of the hearing. (HO-2.) The hearing officer concluded that the Parent’s complaint was about the adequacy of the District’s [redacted] program and placement. He excluded from the scope of the hearing [certain] evidence regarding the Student’s disabilities. He also excluded a direct challenge to the District’s evaluation, but allowed the Parent to introduce [certain] evidence that the [educational program] does not address all needs identified in the evaluation [redacted].

The hearing was continued and two more sessions were held, on September 18, 2008 and September 25, 2008.3 At the end of testimony on September 25, the hearing officer reserved decision on the admissibility of documents. (2NT 600-601.) The hearing officer admitted some documents and excluded others in an email decision transmitted on October 5, 2008, (HO-3), at which time the record closed.

ISSUES

1. Was the District’s program and placement for the 2007-2008 school year appropriate?

2. Should the hearing officer order specific programming or compensatory education for the 2007-2008 school year?

M-Z-Bethlehem-Area-ODRNo-8913-07-08-AS

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