Newsroom Article

Sweet Stevens Successfully Defends School District in Challenge from 21-Year-Old Student

News Release

Posted on in Press Releases and Announcements

New Britain, PA – The Owen J. Roberts School District, represented by Karl A. Romberger, Jr. of Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP, recently prevailed before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a successful defense that it had met its obligation to a special education student who aged out of the system.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public school districts are required to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities until they reach age 21. Pennsylvania’s Act 66 further extended enrollment to address education gaps caused by the pandemic, so students who turned 21, while enrolled for the 2020-21 school year, were subsequently allowed to attend the following school year. Also, as part of the act, students over age 18 were allowed to repeat a grade level to make up for lost education.

The student in question turned 21 during the 2021-22 school year, and therefore was not eligible for this accommodation. The school district denied a parent’s request to continue the student’s enrollment past 2021-22. The parent filed a due process complaint arguing that the district was required to provide the student with a FAPE for 2022-23 and claimed that the student may remain in his educational placement while the case was being decided. A hearing officer issued a decision that the student had no right to continued enrollment.

The parent again filed a complaint challenging the hearing officer’s decision and naming the school district’s director of pupil services and special education supervisor for violation of the student’s constitutional rights. A district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice and subsequently denied the parent’s timely motion for reconsideration. The higher court then upheld the ruling of the district court, noting that the parent’s claim was based on a misunderstanding of the law. Act 66, the court concluded, does not allow students to repeat a grade and also enroll in an additional year of schooling.

Karl A. Romberger, Jr. advises school entities about special education, student services, school-behavioral health placement reimbursement disputes, civil rights, policy development, contracts, and service provider arrangements. He also represents educational institutions in administrative hearings, including special education cases, MOU reimbursement actions, and actions before the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and litigation in both state and federal courts.

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 25 attorneys who represent over 290 school and municipal entities as Solicitors or as Special Counsel in more than 50 counties throughout Pennsylvania.