Appeal from the Order of the Secretary of Education in the case of In Re The Educational Assessment of Branden F., a student in the School District of Philadelphia, Special Education Opinion No. 318.
Robert T. Lear, for petitioner.
Timothy D. Searchinger, Deputy General Counsel, for respondent.
Lorrie McKinley, Penn Legal Assistance Office, for intervenor.
Judge Colins, and Senior Judges Barbieri and Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins. Senior Judge Kalish dissents.
[ 119 Pa. Commw. Page 472]
The School District of Philadelphia (District) appeals an order of the Secretary of Education (Secretary) which directed it to provide Branden F., a hearing-impaired child residing in the District, with transportation to a private clinic offering specialized auditory therapy. Branden's mother has intervened on behalf of her son.
Branden is an eight year old who suffers a progressive hearing loss. At times relevant here, Branden was severely to profoundly hearing impaired when not wearing hearing aids and, for his impairment, received biweekly "multisensory" therapy provided by the District hearing therapist. These services are so termed because they include not only auditory traning intended to maximize the student's residual hearing but also emphasize lip-reading, reading, and vocabulary skills. In addition to his therapy, Branden was enrolled in the regular third grade and, by virtue of his successful performance, has been recommended for the gifted student program.
In 1986, Mrs. F. enrolled her son in the Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center (Center), a private clinic offering "unisensory" auditory training. That therapy, as contrasted with the District's "multi-sensory" approach,
[ 119 Pa. Commw. Page 473]
solely emphasizes the development of residual hearing, apart from the development of the other senses, with a goal of decreased dependence upon visual cues. Branden's mother requested that the District provide transportation to the Center's program in Paoli, twice monthly during the school day.*fn1 The District refused and Mrs. F. requested a due process hearing, pursuant to 22 Pa. Code § 13.32. Following hearings, the Hearing Examiner concluded that the District's existing program was of obvious benefit to Branden and, thus, was appropriate, thereby relieving the District of any obligation to provide transportation to an alternative center. Accordingly, he denied the request for transportation.
Upon appeal, the Secretary reversed the Hearing Examiner's decision and, as noted, directed that transportation be provided. He found that the Center's unisensory approach would allow Branden to make better use of his residual hearing, thereby allowing him to develop more natural language and voice quality. He further found that such therapy would not only assist Branden in his current classroom, but would insure that he continued to function independently and successfully in the future. Finally, the Secretary concluded that the combined programs, that is, the District's ...