ZZ vs. Pittsburgh School District

Pennsylvania
Special Education Hearing Officer

DECISION

Child’s Name: Z. Z.
Date of Birth: [redacted]

CLOSED HEARING

ODR File No. 16353-14-15 KE

Parties to the Hearing:

Parents Parent[s]

Local Education Agency Pittsburgh School District 341 South Bellefield Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3516

Representative:

Parent Attorney
Charles E. Steele, Esquire Christopher N. Elnicki, Esquire 428 Forbes Avenue, Suite 700 Pittsburgh, PA 15219

LEA Attorney
Aimee Rankin Zundel, Esquire Weiss Burkardt Kramer, LLC
445 Fort Pitt Boulevard, Suite 503 Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Date Record Closed: January 20, 2016

Dates of Hearing: 7/27/2015, 8/31/2015, 9/23/2015, 10/28/2015, 12/9/2015, 12/10/2015, 12/18/2015

Date of Decision: January 30, 2016

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

INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The student (hereafter Student)1 is a mid-teenaged student who is a resident within the boundaries of the Pittsburgh Public School District (District) and currently eligible for special education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).2 Student attended school in the District upon entry into school-aged programming through the end of the third grade year before enrolling in a private school; the Parent later sought to re-enroll Student in the District. In May 2015, Student’s Parent filed a due process complaint against the District asserting that it denied Student a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA and the federal and state regulations implementing those statutes from the time of Student’s first enrollment as well as through current program development.

The case proceeded to a due process hearing convening over several sessions,3 at which the parties presented evidence in support of their respective positions. There was considerable evidence of Student’s extremely disconcerting early life experiences that was necessary to understand because those events and circumstances continue to impact Student through the present. The Parent sought to establish that the District failed to timely identify Student as eligible for special education, and failed to offer and provide Student with an appropriate educational program. The District maintained that its educational program, as offered and implemented, was appropriate for Student.

Initially, the Parent sought relief for claims from the spring of 2009 through Student’s enrollment in private school in the fall of 2011, as well as for the program proposed by the District during the 2014-15 school year when the Parent contemplated returning Student to public school. In an interim ruling following presentation of evidence on the statute of limitations, the scope of the claims was limited to the time period from May 2013 forward. The Parent’s motion to reconsider that ruling was granted following the Third Circuit’s decision in G.L. v. Ligonier Valley School District Authority, 802 F.3d 601 (3d Cir. 2015), but there was no change to the final determination on the scope of the claims following reconsideration. As a result of the interim ruling, there will be no discussion on the merits of the Child Find claim or the provision of FAPE prior to the program proposed for the 2014-15 school year.

For the reasons set forth below, I find in favor of the District, but will order it to convene an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting to collaborate with the Parent on an appropriate program going forward.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the District proposed a program for Student during the 2014-15 school year;
  2. If the District did propose a program, whether that program was reasonably calculated to provide Student with FAPE;
  3. If the District proposed a program that did not offer FAPE, whether Student is entitled to compensatory education and/or an order for placement in a private school;
  4. If the District did not propose an educational program for Student, whether the Parent should be ordered to participate in a meeting to devise a program.
Z-Z-Pittsburgh-ODRNo-16353-14-15-KE

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