Special Ed law is Civil Rights law
We opened this firm with a belief in the civil rights principle of "inclusion" for children with special needs. Inclusion flows directly from the Civil Rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s, when Supreme Court cases like the 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas declared that racial segregation violated the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. In 1971, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania cited Brown v. Board in the decision Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, declaring: "Having undertaken to provide a free public education to all of its children, including its exceptional children, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may not deny any [intellectually disabled] child access to a free public program of education and training."
In Mills v Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the D.C. District Court cited Brown and its 1954 companion case, Bolling v. Sharpe, to find that the District had violated the rights of exceptional children both by denying them educational opportunities afforded to typical children, and by doing so without providing them basic procedural rights - due process - before depriving them of education. The Mills court issued a 15-point decree requiring the District to provide specific procedural safeguards to parents of exceptional children.
Following the PARC and Mills cases, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, the predecessor law to the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). Codifying PARC and Mills, the Act's legislative history states that "the right to education of handicapped children is a present right, one which should be implemented immediately ... Congress. . . has a responsibility to assure equal protection of the laws and thus to take action to assure that handicapped children throughout the United States have available to them appropriate educational services."
The principle of inclusion is still codified in the IDEA, mandating that children with special needs be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - learning to the maximum extent possible along-side their non-disabled peers. We believe that inclusion benefits "typical" students as well as those with disabilities, developing the qualities of acceptance and empathy in non-disabled children. Thus, school districts that seek to avoid the perceived added expense of full inclusion are not merely acting in penny-wise, pound-foolish fashion, but doing a disservice to their entire student bodies.
Some of our Successes
June 2020 - We teamed up with Catherine M. Michael, Esq. and Sonja D. Kerr, Esq. of Connell Michael Kerr, LLP in Carmel, Indiana to win a federal appeal on behalf of Brandi Wetherald and her son C.W., filed by the Carmel Clay School Corporation. The district court affirmed the independent hearing officer's ruling that Carmel Clay denied C.W. a free appropriate public education.
December 2019 - We won a due process hearing against the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU) on behalf of A.F. and his parents. The independent hearing officer ruled that the MCIU failed to provide A.F.'s parents sufficient information to understand the IEP it offered them. MCIU was ordered to reimburse A.F.'s parents for his tuition at A Step Up Academy, where A.F. was receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) interventions.
November 2019 - We won a due process hearing on behalf of D.S. and his parents against the Downingtown Area School District. The independent hearing officer ruled that Downingtown did not offer D.S. a free appropriate public education and ordered it to reimburse his parents for tuition at the Delaware Valley Friends School (DVFS), a private Quaker school accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC). where D.S. has been receiving intensive Orton-Gillingham literacy instruction.
September 2019 - Along with Gina DeCrescenzo P.C., in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, we received a groundbreaking decision allowing us to proceed to trial on behalf of B.W., a gay middle schooler with learning disabilities who was being bullied on the basis of his sexual orientation, against the Mt. Vernon School District. The court sustained claims under several federal and New York laws. We are presently preparing for trial.
September 2017 - On behalf of J.D., a 10 year-old student with autism, we negotiated J.D.'s placement in a specialized school that employs applied behavior analysis (ABA), a research based method for preparing children on the autism spectrum for school. We also obtained a substantial compensatory education award that J.D.'s parents can use to supplement her education.
June 2017 - On behalf of E.S. a 17 year-old student with multiple disabilities, who had been receiving no services from his public school district, we negotiated a ground-breaking agreement not only to create a substantial compensatory education fund, but also to extend E.S.'s legal eligibility for special education to the age of 23.
July 2016 - On behalf of T.F., a 15 year-old foster child from Philadelphia residing in the Downingtown School District, we obtained an Independent Educational Evaluation, despite the district's efforts to avoid responsibility for administering that evaluation.
November 2015 - On behalf of T.K. a 12 year-old student in the Methacton School District with ADHD and behavioral challenges, we prevailed in a Due Process hearing. The Hearing Officer found that the district failed to provide T.K. with a free and appropriate public education, and ordered it to establish a large compensatory education fund and to reimburse the parents for a large part of the cost of tuition at a private school.
May 2015 - On behalf of C.S., a nine year-old student with speech-language deficits and behavioral concerns in a large urban school district, we negotiated for the district to provide an independent, comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation at public expense, despite that district's initial unwillingness to do so.
April 2015 - On Behalf of M.S., a ten year-old student with multiple disabilities in a large urban school district, we negotiated a settlement agreement establishing a compensatory education fund worth in excess of $30k, as well as full implementation of an improved IEP guaranteeing M.S. full and safe access to his educational environment.
March 2015 - On behalf of L.N., an eight year-old student with autism in a large urban school district, we negotiated a settlement establishing a compensatory education fund worth $60k.
February 2015 - On behalf of J.H., a nine year-old student with autism in a large urban school district, we negotiated a settlement establishing a compensatory education fund worth in excess of $100k.
July 2014 - along with the Public Interest Law Center, we prevailed on behalf of E.W., a child with learning disabilities. The Hearing Officer found that the District failed to provide E.W. with an individualized Extended School Year (ESY) program for 2014. E.W. was awarded 150 hours of compensatory education by the hearing officer. Read about it here.
March 2014 -- the firm and the Public Interest Law Center prevailed in an action against the School District of Philadelphia on behalf of a sixteen year-old student with a severe language-based learning disability. After a ten-day hearing, the Hearing Officer held that the District failed to provide our client with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and ordered the District to provide more than 1200 hours of compensatory education, to fund two separate independent educational evaluations, and to provide the student with daily 1:1 or small-group tutoring using Orton-Gillingham based teaching techniques for the student’s entire IDEA eligibility period. Read more about this important decision here.
June 2013 - the firm successfully resolved a Due Process action with a large suburban school district on behalf of a client with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare connective-tissue disorder. The District agreed to fund an independent physical therapy evaluation for the student, and to accelerate the timeframe for reevaluations in several other domains.
May 2013 - the firm and the Public Interest Law Center teamed up on behalf of M.B., a student with autism in a large urban school district. We reached an agreement to place the student in an approved private school for Extended School Year services and for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
March 2009 - we collaborated with the Public Interest Law Center and Phillip Drumheiser, Esq. on behalf of triplets in the Manheim Township School District who sought IEEs.