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Rylan M. v. Dover Area School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 9, 2017

RYLAN M., by ANGELA M. and BRIAN W., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case concerns the education of Rylan M., [1] an elementary school-age student enrolled in the Dover Area School District (“District”). Rylan is a protected handicapped student under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (“Rehabilitation Act”), and has had a 504 Service Plan since December 2014.

         Currently before the court is Rylan's motion for judgment on the administrative record, (Doc. 9) in which Rylan asks the court to reverse the Hearing Officer's decision that the District is not required to provide Rylan with a medically trained dedicated aide in order to comply with its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that Rylan is given access to free appropriate public education (“FAPE”).

         The court has thoroughly reviewed the administrative record, and for the reasons that follow, will deny Rylan's motion for judgment on the administrative record. Specifically, the court affirms the Hearing Officer's decision that the District is not required to provide Rylan with a medically trained dedicated aide under the Rehabilitation Act.

         I. Factual Background [2]

         Rylan is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a complication of which is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (“POTS”). (Doc. 7, Certified Admin. R., Ex. 2, Decision of Due Process Hr'g at 2, ¶ 1 (“Due Process Hr'g”).) POTS involves “severe dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, and includes varied symptoms such as severe dizziness and fainting, headaches, severe fatigue, difficulty with concentration, heat or cold intolerance, palpitations and chest pain, weakness[, ] and abdominal discomfort.” (Id. at 2-3, ¶ 2.) Although Rylan's fainting spells due to his POTS have been infrequent, he has fainted twice in three and a half years. (Id. at 4, ¶ 14.)

         In late 2014, the District developed an initial service agreement under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Chapter 15 of the Pennsylvania Code (“504 Plan”), with implementation beginning on January 21, 2015 prescribing certain accommodations necessary to support Rylan at school. These accommodations, which were recommended by Rylan's pediatrician, pediatric cardiologist, and parents, included having unlimited access to water and the restroom, being accompanied to the restroom by a buddy, permitting extra time for homework and testing, and providing forbearance for frequent tardiness and/or absence. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 5-6.) The 504 Plan also required that, “[i]f student reports dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling of passing out, call nurse to escort to health room for evaluation.”[3] (Id. at 3, ¶ 9.)

         On March 1, 2016, Rylan's teacher, who was knowledgeable of Rylan's 504 Plan, overheard him telling a classmate that he thought he “was going to be sick.” (Id. at 4, ¶ 11.) However, the teacher believed that Rylan was suffering from a gastrointestinal condition that many of the children in the school had at the time, as opposed to pre-fainting symptoms. (Id. at 4, ¶ 12.) The teacher sent Rylan to the nurse's office where he fainted, fell from the chair, and sustained a concussion while waiting for the nurse. (Id. at 4, ¶ 13.)

         After this fainting incident, on March 17, 2016, the District convened a meeting in order to discuss proposed modifications to Rylan's 504 Plan. (Id. at 4, ¶ 17.) Unlike its predecessors, the proposed March 17, 2016 Plan[4] reads as follows:

If student reports or shows signs of any of the following symptoms: severe dizziness, fainting, headaches, severe fatigue, difficulty with concentration, heat or cold intolerance, palpitations, chest pain, weakness, and abdominal discomfort, have student lie on floor immediately and then call nurse for a wheelchair escort to the health room for evaluation.

(Id. at 4, ¶ 19.) After this meeting, Rylan's parents asked the principal for a dedicated aide. (Id. at 5, ¶ 21.) However, none of the specialists who treated Rylan for POTS or for his concussion have ever, either before or after the March 1, 2016 incident, recommended a dedicated aide for Rylan. (Id. at 5, ¶ 22.) In a letter dated March 17, 2016, the physician treating Rylan's concussion provided several recommendations, none of which were for a dedicated aide. (Id. at 5, ¶ 23.) Rylan's neurologist recommended several interventions including keeping a diary of food, fluid intake, and sleep in a letter dated April 4, 2016, but did not recommend a dedicated aide. (Id. at 5, ¶ 24.) In a report dated May 1, 2016, Rylan's pediatric cardiologist indicated that Rylan had no barriers to learning and recommended several possible interventions, such as a cooling vest and adequate fluid intake, but did not suggest the need for a dedicated aide. (Id. at 5, ¶ 25.)

         While none of these specialists recommended a dedicated aide, Rylan's parents asked Rylan's pediatrician to recommend a dedicated aide. (Id. at 5, ¶ 28.) In a letter dated April 12, 2016 addressed to parents' counsel, Rylan's pediatrician stated that he would “support the following accommodations, ” the first of which was a “medically trained aide to be immediately available to [Rylan] throughout the entire school day.” (Id. at 5, ¶ 29.) In a second letter dated April 25, 2016, the pediatrician stated that “it is a reasonable accommodation to have a nurse or medically trained aide in near proximity to [Rylan] in school and at other locations away from home such as summer programs.” (Id. at 5, ¶ 30.) The pediatrician later explained, while testifying before the Hearing Officer:

I would foresee this person as being available to [Rylan] . . . I think that as much as possible that I would . . . hope for . . . 95 percent of the day this person could be available to [Rylan]. . . . [W]e're going to be depending on [Rylan] a lot to give us these early warnings and . . . if [Rylan] has an upset stomach or a headache . . . [Rylan] can't be treated like another child because . . . this could rapidly progress to a fainting episode, but I think . . . a medically trained person could keep an eye on [Rylan] and if [he] looks pale or is not acting right[, ] could intervene to . . . see if [he] needs to be taken to the nurse's office.

(Id. at 6, ¶¶ 31-33.) The pediatrician defined “medically trained” as someone with training as a medical assistant or higher. (Id. at 6, ¶ 34.) The District's school nurse, on the other hand, testified that she was confident that Rylan did not require a dedicated aide. (Id. at 6, ΒΆ 36.) She testified that, as a school nurse, she has had ...


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