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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Advocating for Full Enforcement of IDEA Rights

Over the past decade, DRP has filed numerous complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education and Office for Dispute Resolution to ensure that students with disabilities receive the individualized educational services to which they are entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Chapter 14.

In 2010, DRP filed a Due Process Complaint on behalf of a student with a Learning Disability and a rare genetic disorder that caused him to be sick for several days every month. The student’s illness consisted of an acute phase during which he would experience severe and debilitating symptoms such as a very high fever, vomiting, deep bone and joint pain, diarrhea / constipation, and gastrointestinal pain, followed by a recovery phase in which the student required intricate nursing services, including a nutrition formula delivered through a gastric tube to help him regain muscle mass lost during the acute phase. During the recovery phase, the student was awake, alert, and able to read or watch tv. Following a period of illness and absence from school, the student was often overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork he had to make up. His parents requested that the district set up a webcam or some means of remote access to the classroom that would allow him to receive instruction during the recovery phases of his illness. The district refused, and DRP filed a Due Process Complaint alleging that the district was violating the student’s right to receive a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The Hearing Officer agreed and held that the district was obligated to provide the student with remote access to direct instruction in the regular education classroom during the recovery phase of his illness.

In 2010, DRP filed a complaint in the Western District of Pennsylvania on behalf of a high school-aged student with Autism and Learning Disabilities alleging that her school district failed to provide her with appropriate and individualized transition services under the IDEA. The case was resolved successfully through federal court mediation and, as a result, the student was able to access tutoring and other individualized services she needed to aid her transition into adulthood.

In 2011, DRP filed a Due Process Complaint on behalf of a high school-aged student with Learning Disabilities when her school district attempted to exit her from special education services and force her to graduate against her and her parent’s wishes. Through her high school, the student had enrolled in a vocational program focused on baking. She wanted to complete the program and wanted to continue working on her IEP goals – including goals that would help her reach her goal of working in a bakery. DRP argued that under the IDEA, she was eligible to receive special education services for another school year (through the age of 21) and could not be forced to leave school.  The Hearing Officer agreed, finding that the district was obligated to provide her with a free, appropriate public education, through an IEP that included individualized goals and transition services, until the end of the school year in which she turned 21.

In 2013, DRP filed a Due Process Complaint on behalf of an elementary-aged student with disabilities to secure an individualized Extended School Year (ESY) program for a student with an Intellectual Disability, Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, and Epilepsy. Breaks in school had been shown to cause the student significant regression in learning, communication skills, and mobility. Despite that, her district proposed that she attend their standard, cookie-cutter, 4-week-long ESY program. After filing a complaint, DRP successfully resolved the case with the district when they agreed to provide her with ESY services that were individualized in both duration and scope.

In recent years, DRP has filed and favorably resolved numerous cases to ensure that students with medical issues who require one-to-one assistance from a nurse at school receive such service instead of being forced to stay home. Several of these cases involved students with seizure-related disorders who require a nurse to administer a rescue medication within moments of a seizure starting. Many of our clients were told to stay home for extensive periods of time while the district searched for a one-to-one nurse or were told that the student would not have transportation to school because the district could not find a nurse to keep the student safe on the bus. With DRP’s intervention, these students were able to receive the one-to-one nursing services they needed to safely attend and receive transportation to school.

In recent years, DRP has also filed and successfully resolved several cases involving students with disabilities being unlawfully disciplined for disability-related behaviors. One such case involved a student with Down Syndrome whose school district called the police and referred him for criminal charges after he wrote a note the district called “threatening”, despite acknowledging that the student did not have the intention or means to harm anyone. With DRP’s intervention, the criminal charges were dropped and the student was able to enroll in a different public school that could properly support him. In numerous cases, DRP has filed complaints to prevent school districts from expelling students and/or excluding them from school activities such as assemblies and field trips as a punishment for disability-related behaviors.