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High v. Exeter Township School Dist.

February 1, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sánchez, J.


Stephanie H., a learning disabled child,*fn1 and her parents ask this Court to find the Exeter Township School District (District) violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (IDEA) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, by denying Stephanie a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for the 2007-2008 academic year. The District argues it provided Stephanie with FAPE by formulating an appropriate Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and providing Stephanie with appropriate special education services. For the reasons explained below, this Court will grant the District's Motion for Disposition on the Administrative Record.


Stephanie H. has dyslexia and learning disabilities in math, writing, and reading. Because of her learning disabilities, Stephanie is eligible to receive services under the IDEA. From 2005 to 2007, her freshman and sophomore years of high school, Stephanie attended the Janus School, a private school for students with learning disabilities. Because of a prior settlement between the District and Stephanie's parents, the District's IDEA obligations were waived while she attended Janus. In the spring of 2007, the District re-evaluated Stephanie's needs and recommended she attend a District high school for her junior and senior years.

To ensure Stephanie received an appropriate education, the District was required to provide her with an IEP. District representatives, including Wendy Skoczen, the District's assistant supervisor of special education, met with Stephanie in the spring of 2007 to assess her learning disabilities and create her 2007-2008 IEP. The District measured Stephanie's academic levels by using the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and other standard tests. These assessments showed Stephanie was reading at a fourth-grade level. Skoczen's involvement with Stephanie's IEP continued during the school year. In addition to the IEP, the District recommended an Extended School Year (ESY) service for Stephanie during the summer of 2007 to acclimate her to the new school, which Stephanie's parents declined.

Stephanie's 2007-2008 IEP set specific goals to address her deficiencies in math, writing and reading. Stephanie's IEP also included goals to improve her speech and language. Because Stephanie was only reading at a fourth-grade level at the end of her tenth-grade year, her initial IEP goal in reading was to be fluent at a fifth-grade level.*fn2 The fluency goal and grade-level goal were increased in November 2007 to require Stephanie to read at a sixth-grade level.*fn3

According to Stephanie's final IEP progress report, she improved in math, writing, and reading after her goals were increased in November. Stephanie's math teacher said she made meaningful progress on her IEP goals during the year.*fn4 Hr'g Tr. 278-81, 283. At the end of the academic year, Stephanie's writing was near collegiate-level,*fn5 and she earned a score of "proficient" in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs). Although Stephanie's reading level was still poor at the end of the school year, her reading improved by at least one grade level.

Under the IDEA, an IEP must include a post-secondary transition plan for students aged 16 and older. Stephanie's original IEP included a transition plan requiring Stephanie to explore career options, file for accommodations for the Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test (PSAT) and the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), and practice completing a variety of job applications. Beginning in fall of 2007, Stephanie met with Nina Owens, the District's transition coordinator, to develop and expand her transition plan. They continued to meet once or twice a week during the year. Because the Janus School did not provide transition services for Stephanie, Owens gave Stephanie initial assessments, normally provided to ninth- and tenth-graders, to determine Stephanie's skills and interests. During her meetings with Owens, Stephanie's math and reading skills were analyzed using the Keys to Work research program, which measures a student's skills, helps identify potential careers, and provides lessons to help the student attain her goals. Stephanie's IEP was revised in May to include Owen's transition activities summary.

The Keys to Work program revealed Stephanie's interests in education and health-care careers. Based on these interests, Owens created an internship position for Stephanie in the school's life skills room and arranged for her to shadow a sonography technician. Because most of the careers identified by the Keys to Work tests require post-secondary education, Stephanie expressed her desire to attend college. To help Stephanie achieve this goal, Owens transferred Stephanie to a college-track English class, helped Stephanie apply for the PSAT and the SAT and obtain accommodations for both tests, sent Stephanie to a science and technology career fair and a college fair, and identified specific post-secondary education programs related to her interests. Stephanie also took a placement test at Reading Area Community College (RACC), which showed her writing was "a step away from college level," but that she would need to take remedial math and reading classes before she could enter RACC.*fn6 Ninety percent of students who enroll at RACC do not place in the placement tests and are required to take remedial classes before admission to collegiate-level classes. Hr'g Tr. 441.

Because Stephanie's parents were concerned with her progress at the District, they arranged for her to undergo several evaluations. In September 2007, Lisa Hain, a psychologist who specializes in learning disabilities, evaluated Stephanie. Hain was concerned Stephanie was six grade levels behind her peers and believed the District was not doing enough to close this achievement gap. One year later, Hain evaluated the progress Stephanie made between August 2007 and November 2008, using the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement. Stephanie's November 2008 scores showed improvement in 12 of 18 subject areas over her August 2007 tests.*fn7 Stephanie's abilities were still moderately or mildly impaired, however, in most areas.

To address Stephanie's reading, the Lindamood-Bell Center (Center) tested Stephanie's abilities in December 2007 and recommended Stephanie receive intensive, one-on-one multi-sensory cognitive instruction at the Center. Stephanie never received instruction there, though she returned to the Center for follow-up testing in March and June of 2008. Although the tests showed Stephanie's reading and comprehension skills were well below those of a typical eleventh-grade student, her abilities in "word attack" significantly increased over six months.*fn8

In addition, Stephanie's parents sent her to the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital to determine whether Stephanie needed assistive technology. Stephanie met with Mary Jane Frick, who concluded Stephanie needed assistive technology in reading and writing. Toward the end of the school year, Frick participated in one of Stephanie's IEP meetings and suggested the District provide Stephanie with assistive technology devices. The District declined this suggestion, as it believed such devices were unnecessary.

After comparing college course requirements with Stephanie's present level of achievement, Stephanie's parents became concerned the District was not adequately preparing her for college. Stephanie's mother requested the District provide Stephanie with Extended School Year (ESY) services for the summer of 2008. However, in March 2008, the IEP Team determined Stephanie was not eligible for ESY services, and notified Stephanie's mother. Stephanie's mother formally objected to this determination in June.

Dissatisfied with the education Stephanie was receiving, Stephanie's parents requested a due process hearing with the District. On March 24, 2009, after a five-day hearing, Special Education Hearing Officer Anne L. Carroll concluded the District provided Stephanie with FAPE during the 2007-2008 academic year because she made meaningful progress on her IEP goals, did not require assistive technology, and received appropriate transition services. In addition, Carroll found Plaintiffs did not provide sufficient evidence ESY services were necessary. ...

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