OF vs. South Western School District

Pennsylvania
Special Education Hearing Officer

FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

Student’s Name: O. F.

Date of Birth: [redacted]

ODR No. 16546-1516AS

CLOSED HEARING

Parties to the Hearing: Parent[s]

South Western School District 225 Bowman Road
Hanover, PA 17331

Representative:

Andrew Favini, Esq.
Jeni Hergenreder, Esq.
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania 429 Forbes Avenue, Suite 701 Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Brooke Say, Esq.
Leigh E. Dalton, Esq.
Stock and Leader
Susquehanna Commerce Center East Suite E 600
221 West Philadelphia Street
York, PA 17401

Dates of Hearing: 01/26/2016, 01/27/2016, 03/07/2016, 03/09/2016, 03/10/2016, 03/11/2016

Record Closed: 04/22/20161

Date of Decision: 05/13/2016

Hearing Officer: Brian Jason Ford, JD, CHO

Introduction

This special education due process hearing was requested by the Parents, on behalf of their minor child, the Student, against the School District (District).2 The Parents claim that the District violated the Student’s educational rights in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

The Student has Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). PWS is a rare, genetic disorder. The parties agree that the Student has PWS. The parties also agree that symptoms of PWS generally include cognitive disabilities, behavior problems, and hyperphagia. Hyperphagia, generally, is a persistent feeling of extreme hunger even after eating. Individuals with hyperphagia, and especially individuals with hyperphagia as a symptom of PWS, may compulsively seek food and overeat to a dangerous extent.

Despite the parties’ agreement that the Student has PWS, they disagree about how (or whether) the Student exhibits PWS symptoms in school, and what accommodations should be made for the Student. Specifically, the Parents claim that the District’s failure or inability to limit frequent and unpredictable uses of food and images of food in the Student’s classroom creates an unsafe environment for the Student, which is a violation of Section 504. Further, the Parents claim that the District’s proposal to increase the amount of time that the Student spends outside of the regular education classroom, without first conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) to determine what supports could make a more inclusive placement appropriate for the Student, violates the IDEA.

To remedy these alleged violations, the Parents demand both specific performance and compensatory education. Regarding specific performance, the Parents demand changes to the Student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Specifically, the Parents demand an IEP that places the Student in regular education classrooms with supports that are recommended by a private evaluator, an appropriate positive behavior support plan (PBSP) to address the Student’s behaviors. Regarding compensatory education, the Parents argue that the District’s failure to have appropriate supports in place resulted in behaviors which caused frequent removals from the classroom. The Parents demand compensatory education to remedy this time out of the classroom.3 The Parents also demand attorneys’ fees and costs, which I have no authority to give.

The hearing convened over six (6) sessions, some of which were extended sessions running from the morning into the evening. The duration of this hearing was a direct result of the parties’

motions to abrogate time allotments for certain witnesses – as opposed to the complexity of this case. The extreme inefficiency with which evidence was presented in this matter will serve as a lesson to this Hearing Officer going forward.

Issues4

  1. Must the District revise the Student’s IEP to include accommodations that require the complete removal of food and food images from all lessons?
  2. Must the District completely remove food from all events that fall outside of the Student’s eating schedule?
  3. Must the District restrict the amount and type of food in all events that occur during the Student’s eating schedule?
  4. Is the Student entitled to compensatory education for time spent out of the regular education classroom, resulting from food-related behavioral issues that were not appropriately accommodated in the Student’s IEP?
O-F-South-Western-ODRNo-16546-1516AS

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