Monday, August 23, 2004

Depressing, but Ultimately Uplifting

P.S. was an unlucky kid. For whatever reason, all the kids harassed him relentlessly. It got to a point where he was diagnosed as suffering from depression. The psychiatrist prescribed medication, but there was no appreciable improvement. When his grades slipped badly, the school district classified him as eligible for special education and related services based on perceptual impairment. The school district's Child Study Team (CST) developed an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that place P.S. in the resource room for math and gave him extra teacher attention to help with his organizational skills. The CST manager believed that his poor academic work was due to the bullying rather than any cognitive deficiencies. Over the next few years, P.S.'s IEP was tweaked and his classification remained the same

When P.S. reached eighth grade, the harassment became so bad that he attempted suicide. At the request of his psychiatrist, he was home schooled for six weeks. His classification was then changed in that the school district found him eligible for special education on the basis of emotional disturbance.

When the time came for P.S. to go to high school, his parents requested that he be assigned to a school in a neighboring district, where his current classmates could not go and which had a drama program in which P.S. had an interest. The CST from his junior high school concurred that that placement would be good for P.S., but the new high school rejected the request. P.S.'s parents unilaterally placed him in the out-of-district school. They sought mediation (which was unsuccessful) and requested a due process hearing.

The hearing officer held that the high school could not provide P.S. with a free appropriate public education as required by IDEA and ordered the school district to reimburse for the out-of-district tuition and related costs, including attorneys' fees.

The school district commenced an action in District Court against P.S.'s father, and the father cross-claimed for atttorneys' fees. Relying on the administrative record, the Court found that the least restrictive environment was the high school in P.S.'s school district.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the District Court did not give due weight to the findings of the ALJ.

The decision in Shore Regional High School Board of Education v. P.S. can be found here.


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