45 Years of Impact Spotlight
Fighting For Equal Access to Integrated, Effective Education
Helping people with disabilities be fully included in their communities is at the core of DRP’s mission and that begins with school-age children. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives students with disabilities the right to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in their least restrictive environment (LRE) – that is, in the setting in which they can learn alongside their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible. Over the years, DRP has repeatedly challenged schools unlawfully seeking to exclude a student with disabilities from an inclusive educational settings.
For example, in 2002, attorneys from DRP and the Education Law Center filed a class action lawsuit, Serventi v. Bucks County Technical High School, asserting that the school was violating the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by denying admission to students who required learning support, limiting such students’ choice of vocational programs, and/or failing to accommodate such students’ disabilities. In 2004, a settlement agreement was reached and approved by the court wherein the technical school agreed it would 1) not deny admission to any student on the basis of the student’s reading or math level or need for learning support 2) offer learning support classrooms for students who need them and 3) allow students with disabilities to participate in the vocational program of their choice. Additionally, the technical school agreed to invite any student previously denied admission because of a learning disability to reapply on a priority basis.
In 2010, DRP achieved an important victory when it represented a 12-year-old boy who had a rare metabolic disorder that caused him to miss school frequently due to fevers and other health issues. The parent asked the school district to install a webcam through which he could observe and participate in the classroom when he was at home. The school district would only allow a webcam to be set up for the student in a separate classroom – not from his home. The Hearing Officer determined that the school’s obligation to provide education in the least restrictive environmentrequired the school to use technology to give the child access to his regular education environment and peers from home.
In 2010, DRP represented a 16-year-old boy with Autism whose school district placed him in an autism support classroom in a high school that was far away from his home. His parent challenged the placement as there were schools with autism support classrooms closer to his home. The case settled when the student’s district agreed to educate him in his neighborhood high school.
In 2013, DRP represented a 10-year-old boy with an Intellectual Disability whose family had recently moved into the district. Despite his difficulty reading beyond the Kindergarten level, the district failed to evaluate him or realize he needed special education until well into the school year and then wanted to place him in a life skills classroom. The case settled when the district agreed to provide the student with the support he needed to be educated in a regular education classroom.
In 2014, DRP filed a special education due process complaint on behalf of a student with Developmental Delays, Epilepsy, and a Speech and Language Impairment entering Kindergarten. Before the student had even spent a day in the building, the district insisted that he be placed, full time, in a segregated life skills classroom. The District refused to consider what supports the student would need to be included and instead concluded, without any real discussion, that there was simply no way that he could be included in Kindergarten. The Hearing Officer found the District to be in violation of the IDEA for refusing to give meaningful consideration to whether the student could be included. The H.O. ordered the District to promptly convene an IEP meeting to determine what supports the student needed and to provide those supports in a regular Kindergarten classroom.