PP vs. West Chester Area School District

PENNSYLVANIA
SPECIAL EDUCATION HEARING OFFICER

DECISION
DUE PROCESS HEARING

Name of Child: P.P.

ODR #5928/05-06 KE

Date of Birth: xx/xx/xx

Dates of Hearing: November 18, 2005 January 23, 2006 January 24, 2006 March 10, 2006 March 21, 2006 May 15, 2006

CLOSED HEARING

Parties to the Hearing: Mr. and Mrs.

West Chester Area School District Spellman Administration Building 829 Paoli Pike
West Chester, Pennsylvania 19380

Representative:
Tanya Alvarado, Esquire McAndrews Law Firm
30 Cassatt Avenue
Berwyn, Pennsylvania 19312

Hollie John, Esquire
Sweet, Stevens, Tucker & Katz P.O. Box 5069
New Britain, Pennsylvania 18901

Last Transcript Received: May 20, 2006

Record Closed June 17, 2006

Date of Decision: June 30, 2006

Hearing Officer: Linda M. Valentini, Psy.D.

Background

Student is a xx-year-old fourth grade student who resides in the West Chester Area School District (hereinafter District). He was enrolled in a parochial school for his entire educational career, until Mr. and Mrs. (hereinafter Parents) unilaterally enrolled him in a private school for children with learning disabilities. The Parents requested this hearing, raising Child Find issues under the IDEA/Chapter 14 and Section 504/Chapter 15, and asserting that the District’s evaluation and its proffered IEP were inappropriate under these statutes. The Parents sought compensatory education for alleged Child Find violations from 2002-2003 through 2004-2005 and for alleged denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) because of an inappropriate evaluation and IEP. The Parents also sought reimbursement for two independent educational evaluations (IEEs), for vision therapy services from July 2003 through March 2004, for a summer 2005 program at Private School, and for tuition to Private School for the 2005-2006 school year.

Prior to the convening of the hearing, the District filed a motion to limit the issues and remedies (HO-1) and the Parents responded (HO-2, HO-8). The hearing officer determined that she would limit any recovery to the period from October 5, 2003 through October 5, 2005, but would allow the Parents to present evidence from September 2002 through October 4, 2003 in the event a higher body chose to consider that period.

The U. S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Schaffer v. Weast1 regarding the

burden of persuasion in special education matters four days before the first session of the hearing. In an unexpected conference call from the attorneys, the hearing officer was asked which party would bear the burden of production; she ruled that the District retained the burden of production and should present its case first. However, on the day of the first hearing session, having had time to reconsider, the hearing officer reversed her ruling following a motion by the District, and assigned the burden of production to the parents, recessing the hearing after opening statements in order to allow time for the Parents to prepare their case. The hearing officer denied a motion from the Parents to reconsider (HO-3, HO-6, HO-7).

The Parents filed a request that the hearing officer order and/or the District voluntarily fund, an independent educational evaluation (IEE), as they interpreted Schaffer as bestowing such an entitlement. The hearing officer and the District denied this request in a prehearing conference. (HO-4, HO-5).

This matter was delayed at the outset by the hearing officer’s granting a continuance after the first session in order to allow the Parents time to prepare their case presentation and the matter was also delayed at the end of the case as the last witness required unexpected surgery and was not available for the originally scheduled final session.

Issues

  1. Is the School District required to provide compensatory education services to Student for school years 2002-2003, 2003-2004, and 2004-2005 for failing in its Child Find obligation and/or for its failure to timely evaluate Student?
  2. Is the School District required to reimburse Parents for expenditures incurred to obtain vision therapy for Student from July 2003 through March 2004?
  3. Is the School District required to reimburse Parents for an independent educational evaluation conducted when Student was in 1st grade and/or an independent educational evaluation conducted when he was in 3rd grade?
  4. Is School District required to reimburse Parents for their expenditures for Student’s summer programming for the summer of 2005?
  5. Is the School District required to reimburse Parents for tuition at the Private School in which they unilaterally placed Student for the 2005-2006 school year, based on their assertion that the District conducted an inappropriate evaluation (timeliness and substance) and produced an inappropriate IEP under Chapter 14 and [redacted]?
P-P-West-Chester-Area-ODRNo-5928-05-06-KE

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