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Centennial School District v. S.D.

December 8, 2011

CENTENNIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
S.D., BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS DANIEL AND LORI D.,
DEFENDANTS



MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff S.D. has raised various challenges to Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Centennial School District's ("Centennial" or "District") alleged failure to provide him with a public education because of his disability. S.D. seeks summary judgment on Count 1 of S.D.'s Counterclaim, which challenges a Hearing Officer's decision limiting S.D.'s claims to a two-year period ending in 2009. Centennial agrees summary judgment is the appropriate method for deciding the claim.

For the following reasons, S.D.'s motion is GRANTED.Because the District failed to fulfill its affirmative obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., and corresponding Pennsylvania law, S.D. and his parents did not have actual or constructive knowledge S.D. might have been deprived of services for which he was eligible under the IDEA until after January 23, 2007.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 23, 2009, S.D.'s parents filed a due process complaint alleging Centennial denied S.D. a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") under the IDEA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, because it failed to identify S.D. as a child with a disability and provide appropriate accommodations. See Notice of Complaint for Due Process at 10-11, In re S.D., ODR No. 9645/08-09 KE (Pa. Special Educ. Hr'g Officer Jan. 23, 2009). Due process hearings were conducted over eight sessions between April 23, 2009 and March 5, 2010.

The first two hearings were to determine the applicable statute of limitations. See Hr'g Officer Correspondence No. 4 at 1, In re S.D., ODR No. 9645/08-09 KE (Pa. Special Educ. Hr'g Officer Aug. 14, 2009) [hereinafter Hr'g Officer Statute of Limitations Determination]. On August 14, 2009, the Hearing Officer concluded the statute of limitations began to run on September 5, 2001. Id. The Hearing Officer summarily concluded S.D.'s parents knew or should have known of the alleged action forming the basis of their complaint when they re-enrolled S.D. in the District in fifth grade after the staff at Our Lady of Good Counsel School told them S.D. was missing too much school and falling behind. Id. By fifth grade, the Hearing Officer found, S.D.'s parents acknowledged the public school could offer more help. Id. The Hearing Officer determined neither exception to the statute of limitations applied.*fn1 Id. The Hearing Officer noted "each day of the alleged FAPE denial is a separate action from which the Parents knew or should have known of their right to file a complaint . . . ." Id.*fn2 The Hearing Officer concluded "every date up to January 23, 2007, two years back from the date Parents filed the instant complaint on January 23, 2009, is untimely . . . ." Id. S.D.'s claims, therefore, were limited to the two-year period between January 23, 2007 and January 23, 2009. Id. at 2.

Six more hearings were held to determine whether S.D. was denied a FAPE between January 23, 2007 and January 23, 2009. See Notes of Testimony of Hr'g, Vols. III-VIII, In re S.D., ODR No. 9645/08-09 KE (Pa. Special Educ. Hr'g Officer Aug. 25, 2009, Sept. 1, 2009, Sept. 15, 2009, Dec. 2, 2009, Dec. 7, 2009, Mar. 5, 2010).*fn3 On May 19, 2010, the Hearing Officer found for S.D., reasoning the District failed to identify S.D. as a child with a disability and to provide reasonable accommodations. See Decision at 3, In re S.D., ODR No. 9645/08-09 KE, ODR No. 09469/08-09 LS (Pa. Special Educ. Hr'g Officer May 19, 2010).

On August 16, 2010, Centennial filed this suit, seeking reversal of the May 19, 2010 order, and alleging the Hearing Officer was motivated by bias and had incorrectly denied Centennial's motion for recusal. See Complaint, Centennial Sch. Dist. v. S.D., No. 10-CV-4129 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 2010).

II. FACTUAL HISTORY

Twenty-one-year-old S.D. suffers from asthma and a lifelong gastrointestinal condition that causes nausea and cyclic vomiting. Hr'g, Vol. I at 42-43. S.D.'s mother testified he has required accommodations since kindergarten. Id. at 149-50. S.D.'s parents, however, did not make a written request to the District for an IDEA evaluation until January 23, 2009. Id. at 170.

S.D. began kindergarten in the District in 1996.*fn4 Id. at 43. S.D. was often unable to take the bus because he was vomiting. Id. at 48. Even after S.D.'s mother drove him to school and walked him to the classroom, S.D. sometimes was unable to attend school because he was ill. Id. at 48-49. The teacher warned S.D.'s mother that S.D. was missing too much school. Id. at 54.

Neither the teacher nor the District offered services, discussed potential accommodations, or provided S.D.'s mother with any written notice of her rights. See id. at 55-56. S.D.'s parents withdrew S.D. from the District after kindergarten and enrolled him in first grade at Our Lady of Good Counsel School, id. at 70, because they "felt . . . they would be a little more understanding at the smaller school in a smaller atmosphere," id. at 58. S.D.'s mother hoped Our Lady of Good Counsel would provide accommodations the District had not offered. Id. at 153-54. S.D. remained at Our Lady of Good Counsel through fourth grade, id. at 70, but continued to miss school due to his medical condition, id. at 72. His teachers permitted S.D. to make up work, but warned his parents he was missing too much school. Id.

S.D.'s parents re-enrolled him in the District in 2001 at the beginning of fifth grade, believing that "there [were] other provisions with the public school that could help him, and . . . prepare[] [him] to go into middle school." Id. S.D.'s problems with vomiting and school attendance persisted. Id. at 73-74. S.D.'s teachers and the school nurse were aware of the problem, but the District offered no services or assistance. Id. at 76. S.D.'s mother did not "demand" help, but when she would explain S.D.'s medical condition to his teachers "they would . . . look concerned, but not necessarily say this is what we can do for you." Id. at 77. The District did not explain S.D.'s mother's rights under the IDEA, see id. at 76, 78, such as her right to request an evaluation -- the first step to assessing the need for further services under the IDEA, see 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(A).

S.D. began middle school in the District in 2002. Hr'g, Vol. I at 80. S.D.'s mother explained his medical condition to the school nurse and his homeroom teacher. Id. at 80-81.

S.D. continued to miss school. Id. at 82. His teachers were "frustrated that he wasn't there," and that he had to make up work. Id. Although a guidance counselor was available to help S.D. "with the whole transition of the medical difficulties and trying to be there, and . . . do what he has got to do," id. at 84, the District never ...


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