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Sweet Stevens Prevails for Manheim Township in FAPE Suit

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Posted on in Press Releases and Announcements

New Britain, PA – The Manheim Township School District (MTSD), represented by Mark W. Cheramie Walz of Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP recently prevailed before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a successful defense of the district’s special education programming for a young student who was diagnosed with autism. The parents withdrew the student from MTSD and sued the district for both compensatory education and private school tuition. However, the district has prevailed - in a prior administrative hearing, before a district court judge, and now at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

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. The United States Supreme Court has explained that students with disabilities should have the chance to make meaningful and appropriately ambitious progress based on their intellectual potential.

The student in question, identified as I.K., was diagnosed with autism, a speech and language impairment and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. I.K. was enrolled in the district for only one year. During that time, the district took a number of steps to identify I.K.’s needs and to adjust her programming when behavioral and social/emotional programming proved unsuccessful.   

In their lawsuit against MTSD, the parents argued that I.K. had been denied an appropriate education because she had not made progress in her social/emotional and behavioral needs, despite making progress on her academic needs. An administrative hearing officer and district court disagreed, finding that MTSD provided an appropriate education and were responsive to I.K.’s changing needs.

The parents and child then appealed to the Third Circuit, contending that a lower court applied the wrong legal standard in evaluating their daughter’s IEP. They argued that there was a failure to adequately take into consideration I.K.’s significant improvement in the private school. They contended that the school district ignored a rapid behavioral and emotional spiral that prevented I.K. from reaching her learning goals.

Cheramie Walz and his team at SSKW successfully defended against the parents’ claims, citing a series of precedential decisions that the appropriateness of an IEP is not determined based upon whether a student makes progress or not. An appropriate IEP is determined at the time it is offered to the student and not with the benefit of hindsight. In the district’s briefing before the court, Cheramie Walz cited multiple examples of the child’s educational progress, and that the student’s test scores remained constant during her third-grade year, indicating learning, growth and progress.

Mark Cheramie Walz dedicates his work to the use of technology in education and advising practical solutions that reduce liability while harnessing the benefits of new technology. Additionally, Mark counsels school entities in all matters related to special education litigation, including due process hearings and federal court appeals. Mark frequently lectures to school administrators, parents, and students on the safe use of social networking and modern technology both in school and at home.

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