Pennsylvania Record

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Autistic student, parents take fight with Colonial School District to Third Circuit


By Glenn Minnis | Jul 11, 2018

PHILADELPHIA - A 12-year-old special needs student and his parents have filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court in a case in which they allege the autistic child did not receive a free and appropriate public education.

The case stems from a complaint filed by the parents of a boy identified in court documents as G.K. It argues that after the parents enrolled their son in Colonial School District, they found that the school “failed to provide a free and appropriate education” to him, as mandated by their guidelines entitling them to federal assistance.

According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, each special needs student enrolled in the district is enrolled in an individualized educational program (IEP), with a full team consisting of their parents, teachers and school officials participating in the program.

Colonial School District Superintendent Michael Christian | Colonial School District

All IEP-related complaints are first heard by a state or local educational agency in a “due process hearing,” with an option to take the case to the courts after an initial verdict is rendered. Colonial School District asked the district court to overturn a hearing officer's order agreeing that the district did not "provide a free and appropriate education" to G.K..

The court filing alleges that G.K.’s condition causes him “difficulties particularly with reading comprehension, written expression, math problem-solving and social language/social skills.”

The district's motion said G.K.'s initial complaint dates back to when he was in the fourth grade in 2016. After that school year, his parents officially requested that he not be promoted to the fifth grade because they believed that their son had not demonstrated “grade level appropriate achievement/proficiency” in all areas.

In May 2016, the school district denied the request in a letter to the parents, claiming that both school data and “anecdotal information” demonstrated that the boy had made “excellent improvement” that year, both academically and socially.

School officials also said that by the end of the first semester in the new school year G.K. would be turning 12, and they were convinced it would not be “appropriate or beneficial” for him to be in a setting where he would be two years older than his classmates.

G.K.’s parents ultimately requested a due process hearing that was held in early 2017. In June 2017, the hearing officer awarded G.K. 300 hours of compensatory education and ordered a comprehensive reading evaluation to be funded by the school district.

In his decision overturning the hearing officer's verdict, Magistrate Judge Jacob Hart said “the hearing officer’s decision lacks an appropriate legal basis for an award of relief. Further, although the September 2016 IEP was not perfect in all respects, I conclude that it did not deny G.K. the fair, appropriate public education to which he is entitled.”

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