Newsroom Article

Sweet Stevens Prevails in School Expulsion Case

News Release

Posted on in Press Releases and Announcements

New Britain, PA – The Blue Ridge School District, represented by Christopher A. Bambach of Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP, has prevailed in a hearing officer’s decision to uphold a May 2023 expulsion. The hearing officer determined that a student’s parents failed to prove that the student is affected with a disability and, as such, is ineligible to receive discipline protections found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In the case, a student was expelled for one school year after threatening to assault a staff member in May of 2023. Following the expulsion, and with parent approval, the district enrolled the student in a virtual learning network. An expedited evaluation that followed in October of 2023 was ultimately determined inadequate by the hearing officer.

In that evaluation, a private clinical psychologist, who was also a school psychologist, completed an independent educational evaluation (IEE) of the student. The evaluation included a measure of intelligence and achievement, but no behavioral, social, or emotional assessment. The student’s mother completed a behavior assessment, noting concerns with challenging conduct, depressed mood, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. In a self-report, the student noted personal struggles with organizing, prioritizing, focusing, and sustaining attention, managing frustrations, and modulating emotions. The psychologist concluded that the student was IDEA eligible under Emotional Disturbance and Other Health Impairment, which protects students from long-term suspensions and expulsion if the student's actions are a manifestation of the student's disability.

The parents then filed an expedited due process complaint to return the student to high school, along with a second complaint seeking a reversal of the first expedited decision and order. The hearing officer, however, found the parents’ witness, the psychologist who wrote the IEE, potentially biased, asserting that she advanced opinions, recommendations, and conclusions that were not grounded in the report. And, since a team - and not an individual - must complete such a report, it then did not meet the criteria of the law. Therefore, the officer ruled in favor of the district.

Christopher Bambach represents school entities at both the administrative and appellate levels, and also proactively provides informed counseling to his clients in all matters of special education.

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.