TL vs. Blackhawk School District

Pennsylvania
Special Education Hearing Officer

DECISION
Child’s Name: T. L.
Date of Birth: [redacted]

CLOSED HEARING

ODR File No. 16274-14-15 KE

Parties to the Hearing:

Parents Parent[s]

Local Education Agency Blackhawk School District 500 Blackhawk Road
Beaver Falls, PA 15010-1410

Representative:

Parent Attorneys
Jeffrey J. Ruder, Esquire Michelle Kline, Esquire
429 Forbes Avenue, Suite 450 Pittsburgh, PA 15219

LEA Attorneys
Rebecca Heaton Hall, Esquire Annemarie Harr, Esquire
Weiss Burkardt Kramer, LLC
445 Fort Pitt Boulevard, Suite 503 Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Dates of Hearing: 12/4/2015, 1/21/2016, 3/15/2016, 3/17/2016, 3/22/2016

Date Record Closed: April 25, 2016

Date of Decision: May 7, 2016

Hearing Officer: Cathy A. Skidmore, M.Ed., J.D. Certified Hearing Official

INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The student (hereafter Student)1 is an early teenaged student who previously attended school in the Blackhawk School District (District). Student is a protected handicapped student under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,2 and is currently also identified as eligible for special education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).3 Student’s Parents filed a Due Process Complaint against the District, followed by an Amended Complaint, asserting that the District denied Student a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA and Section 504, as well as the federal and state regulations implementing those statutes. Specifically, the Parents claimed that the District failed to comply with its Child Find Obligations, and that it provided inappropriate programming for Student between January 2011 and the fall of 2013 when Student withdrew from the District, including implementation of its Section 504/Chapter 15 Service Agreements that they assert were not adequate to meet Student’s needs. The District contended that its programming for Student addressed all needs exhibited at school, and that no relief was due.

The case proceeded to a due process hearing that was bifurcated to address the scope of the hearing before presentation of evidence on the substantive claims.4 Following an Interim Ruling in favor of the Parents on the statute of limitations, wherein this hearing officer concluded that the Parents filed their Complaint within two years of the date they knew or had reason to know of the facts underlying their claims (S-R), the parties proceeded with evidence on the substantive issues from January 2011 forward.5 Prior to submission of written closings but after the testimony had concluded, the District filed a Motion for Relief from the interim statute of limitations Ruling based on testimony presented in subsequent hearing sessions; because of the timing of the Motion, this hearing officer determined that issue would be most efficiently addressed as part of this final decision.

For the reasons set forth below, I find in favor of the Parents on a portion of their claims and in favor of the District on others.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the District complied with its Child Find obligations in failing to identify Student as eligible for special education from January 2011 through Student’s withdrawal from the District;
  2. Whether the District provided appropriate programming to meet Student’s needs from January 2011 through Student’s withdrawal from the District;
  3. If the District failed in its Child Find or FAPE obligations, is Student entitled to compensatory education and, if so, in what form and amount;
  4. Did the District engage in disability-based discrimination on the basis of the asserted FAPE denials;
  5. If the District did engage in discrimination, are the Parents entitled to expenses associated with transportation of Student between January 2011 and Student’s withdrawal from the District?
T-L-Blackhawk-ODRNo-16274-14-15-KE

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