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R.T. v. Southeastern York County School Dist.

February 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


Before the court is Plaintiff R.T.'s motion for a temporary restraining order or, in the alternative, for a preliminary injunction upon Defendant South Eastern School District (improperly pled as "Southeastern York County School District") to enroll his son, J.S., for the remainder of the school year. (Doc. 2.) Because the court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this case, it will order this case to be closed.

I. Background

A. Facts

J.S. is the minor son of Plaintiff R.T. J.S. began 8th grade at South Eastern Middle School - East ("SEMS - East") in the South Eastern School District ("School District") in York County, Pennsylvania. Over two days in early November, J.S. ingested four pills of Metadate - a time-release version of the prescription drug Ritalin, used to treat ADHD - given to him by a friend. Doing so violated the student conduct code of the South Eastern School District. After an informal disciplinary hearing on November 13, 2006, J.S. was suspended and the matter was referred to the Superintendent of Schools for the School District.

While J.S. was suspended he was tested for ADD and ADHD by a private doctor. He was diagnosed as having ADD - inattentive type or ADHD. J.S. was also assessed by the psychologist for the School District. She determined that J.S.'s diagnosis did not qualify him as a "child with a disability" as defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3). Therefore, he was deemed ineligible for the protections of that Act.

On December 21, 2006, R.T. and some of J.S.'s teachers and administrators met to determine whether J.S.'s action in taking the Metadate was a manifestation of his ADD or ADHD. This manifestation determination was conducted under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Over the objections of R.T., the group decided that obtaining and ingesting the pills was not a manifestation of J.S.'s disability. R.T. appealed the decision to a hearing officer. On January 24, 2007, the hearing officer issued a written decision and order. She concluded that J.S. qualified as a "child with a disability" under the IDEA, that he was in need of special education and related services under the IDEA, and taking the Metadate was a manifestation of his disability.

During the time between the manifestation determination and the hearing officer's decision, J.S. was formally expelled from school on January 3, 2007. Because his expulsion stemmed from a manifestation of his disability, the hearing officer ordered him reinstated to his regular education classes at SEMS -East. On February 9, 2007, the School District filed an appeal of the hearing officer's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

B. Procedural History

R.T. filed his complaint on February 6, 2007. (Doc. 1.) On the same date, he filed a motion for a temporary restraining order requiring the School District to allow J.S. to finish the school year at SEMS - East and a brief in support of the motion. (Doc. 2.) The School District filed a brief in opposition to the motion on February 12, 2007. (Doc. 9.) This court held a hearing on the motion on February 13, 2007. Accordingly, the matter is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

The IDEA imposes upon States that choose to accept funding under the Act an affirmative duty to provide a free, appropriate public education to school-age children with disabilities. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). A State, or its educational agencies, must establish procedures to ensure that such children with disabilities are protected by the IDEA. § 1415(b). One protection of the IDEA is that a student with a disability may not be expelled for violating the student code of conduct without receiving the benefit of a "manifestation determination." See § 1415(k)(1)(E). At the manifestation determination, the parent and relevant educators review the student's file and behavior to evaluate whether the conduct at issue "was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability" or "was the direct result of the local educational agency's failure to implement" an individual education plan for the student. § 1415(k)(1)(E)(i). If the student's behavior is deemed to have been a manifestation of his disability, the student's expulsion will be vacated and he will be restored to his regular educational program. See § 1415(k)(1)(F)(iii).

A parent aggrieved by the decision made at a manifestation determination has the right to request an impartial due process hearing. § 1415(f)(1)(A). The decision issued at the due process hearing is the final administrative action, unless there is a right of appeal to the State educational agency. § 1415(i)(1)(A); § 1415(g). Pennsylvania provides such a right. 22 Pa. Code § 14.162; Carlisle Area Sch. v Scott P., 62 F.3d 520, (3d Cir. 1995). Thus, either party to the due process hearing, the parent or the school district, may appeal the decision of the hearing officer. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(g); 22 Pa. Code § 14.162(o). The decision of the appeals panel is the final administrative decision in the matter.

20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(1)(B); 22 Pa. Code § 14.162(o). Once the parties have exhausted their administrative remedies and appeals, an aggrieved party has the right to file a civil action in any State court of competent jurisdiction or in a United States District ...

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