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D.E., A Minor, On His Behalf By His Parents, Et.Al v. Central Dauphin School District

January 3, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


D.E. was a minor diagnosed with a learning disability and enrolled in school at the Central Dauphin School District.*fn1 D.E.'s parents, Mrs. Maria English and Mr. Ronald Sheffy,*fn2 on behalf of D.E. claim that while enrolled in the District he was deprived of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") and that he was discriminated against based on his various disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.*fn3


D.E. attended a school in Central Dauphin County School District from kindergarten to the seventh grade, when he and his family moved. In 1994, when D.E. was in kindergarten, his school file indicated that he should have been placed in special speech and language therapy courses, but he was not. (Doc. No. 1-2. ¶¶ 11-12). Despite recommendations, the District did not develop an individualized education program ("IEP") for the student for the first kindergarten year. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 11). Seven months into the school year, the District evaluated D.E. for speech and language therapy, but did not test him for any other potential learning disabilities. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 13). Additionally, the subsequent IEP contained only speech and language goals despite teacher and parent concerns. The report card for the 1995-96 school year stated that D.E. had difficulty with "reading readiness," although the District had more information that other needs existed for the student. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶¶ 14-15). D.E. had to repeat his kindergarten year. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 16). At the end of the repeat kindergarten year, the teacher noted that D.E. was still not doing grade level work. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 32).

In 1997, D.E. started first grade, and his IEP was modified to recommend that he be placed in a full-time learning support room and the parents approved. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 32). D.E.'s parents had D.E. evaluated by Pinnacle Health Services, which recommended that D.E. be re-evaluated by the District "within the next year." (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 39). The District failed to re-evaluate D.E. for intelligence, but did administer an additional WIAT scale. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 42). Although the teacher questioned D.E.'s placement in the program, the CER did not address D.E.'s language-based disabilities. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 42).

D.E. started second grade in 1998 in a full-time support program. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 45). D.E.'s mother requested evaluations because the student was regressing. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 47). D.E.'s second grade teacher expressed concern about whether the emotional support class was appropriate. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 48).

When D.E. began third grade, his IEP was again modified to read "seriously emotionally disturbed." The NORA issued in March 2000 calls for continued placement in life skills support, although this placement was unsupported.*fn4 (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 66). The student was then mistakenly identified as having mental retardation. There was no adaptive behavior assessment completed. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 68). D.E. remained in the Life Skills Program throughout third and fourth grade. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 75). When D.E.'s mother realized D.E. was identified as mentally retarded, she filed a complaint and withdrew D.E. from the summer program. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 78). In response to the complaint, the District was willing to apologize and change the inaccurate designation on the student's records. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 79). In August 2000, during an IEP meeting, a District staff person found the designation error, fixed it, and advised D.E.'s mother.

(Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 81). The student was then inaccurately found to be ineligible for extended school year services. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 88).

In 2001, D.E.'s IEP was changed, and D.E. was to participate in regular education courses for his fifth-grade year, with an emphasis on his specific learning disability.*fn5

(Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 89). In sixth grade goals and specially designed instruction regarding behavior and social issues were dropped from the IEP with no explanation. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 95). Yet again, the student was found to be ineligible for extended school year services. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 96).

In the 2003-2004 academic year, D.E. was in seventh grade. D.E.'s goals were to increase his math skills to a fourth grade level. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 103). The seventh grade teacher was not trained in any research based math instruction and she did not show any records demonstrating progress on IEP goals. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 106). In December 2003, the team responsible for D.E.'s IEP delayed the process while waiting for a new ER, which resulted in D.E. working under an expired IEP for three months. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 109). The hearing officer determined that the new ER did not go far enough in assessing D.E.'s needs and the subsequent designation of emotional disturbance is problematic based on the records or D.E.'s behavior. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 113).

Beginning in eighth grade, the District convened a meeting with D.E.'s parents where they reviewed the previous IEP and an evaluation report. (Doc. No. 1-2 ¶ 116). D.E. then moved from the District. D.E.'s parents requested a due process hearing after they moved alleging D.E. had not received a free adequate public education. After leaving the district, D.E. attended Cumberland Valley School District and then Pennsylvania Cyber School where he remains enrolled and taking classes. (Doc. No. 91 at ¶ 11). Later, D.E. obtained a forklift operator's license with the assistance of a job coach and a driver's license. (Doc. No. 91 at ¶¶ 12-13).

A. Outcome of the Administrative Hearing

A hearing was held, and, in a detailed decision, the administrative officer found violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") and the Rehabilitation Act. Among his factual findings were that D.E. was entitled to compensatory education from kindergarten to seventh grade because D.E. was denied a FAPE for all eight years while a student at the Central Dauphin School District. The District knew the student had more needs than ...

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