PA Appeals Court Sides with Downingtown Schools on Sufficiency of Student’s IEP
(New Britain, PA) - On September 18, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an important new precedential ruling in the field of special education in the case of K.D. v. Downingtown Area School District. Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams represented the district, which prevailed in the case. Attorney Karl A. Romberger, Jr. argued the matter before the court.
At the center of the case is a 2017 ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. In Endrew F., the court ruled that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public school districts must provide eligible students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances.”
Endrew F. sparked new litigation about the appropriate legal standard for an IEP in the Third Circuit. Attorneys and advocates representing disabled children argued that Endrew F. created a new higher standard that school districts would be required to meet. The Third Circuit rejected that argument, noting that the Supreme Court’s language in Endrew F. parallels the existing standard in the Third Circuit. The court held that, under longstanding precedent in the Third Circuit, an IEP “must be reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive meaningful educational benefits in light of the student's intellectual potential and individual abilities.”
In the case that was at the center of this ruling, K.D. et al v. Downingtown Area School District, “K.D.,” a child with learning disabilities, attended school at Downingtown from Kindergarten until the third grade. During that time, IEPs were developed and revised, multiple evaluations occurred, and learning goals were modified annually. However, K.D.’s parents felt that the child’s needs were not adequately being addressed. They withdrew K.D. from the school midway through the third grade and filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Office of Dispute Resolution, seeking reimbursement for private-school tuition. However, both a state hearing officer and the courts have now agreed that Downingtown had provided such an appropriate IEP to K.D., and that current Third Circuit case law does comply with the Endrew F. standard.
In addition to setting a legal precedent, this ruling provides clarity for school districts and the parents of disabled children alike, establishing a clear benchmark upon which IEPs can be measured.
Click here to read the court’s decision.
Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams, LLP was formed in 1995 by nine experienced education lawyers who created the first private law practice in Pennsylvania dedicated entirely to Education Law. Since then, the firm has grown to 15 attorneys who represent over 290 school and municipal entities as Solicitors or as Special Counsel in more than 50 counties throughout Pennsylvania.