For the first time in Pennsylvania, the state has required a school district to provide a student with two independent educational evaluations, as well as Orton-Gillingham services, which are specialized instructions for teaching students with dyslexia.
The Law Center’s client, I.W., is a 16-year-old student with dyslexia enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia. In 2008, his mom felt that he was not receiving enough individualized support, so she asked the District to change his placement to a private school.
After five years of instruction in the private setting, it became clear that I.W. was still not making progress. His lack of success was directly tied to the District’s failure to address his significant language disability after it was first identified in a 2008 reevaluation. I.W.’s mom approached the Law Center looking for legal representation to secure the services I.W. needed to finally get the services he needs. Law Center attorney Sonja Kerr, along with pro bono counsel Benjamin J. Hinerfeld, took on the case and requested a due process hearing.
During the hearing, it became clear that none of I.W.’s private school reading teachers received training in Orton-Gillingham principles, which are research-based and effective for high school students with learning disabilities. But this was not the District’s only shortcoming. The District also failed to offer educational evaluations for I.W. And perhaps worst of all, the District went so far as to deny that I.W.’s learning difficulties, particularly in reading and written expression, were increased by a severe language disability.
In his opinion, the hearing officer wrote, “…[a]lthough Student was attending a private school, the District was not relieved of its independent obligation to effectively monitor Student’s progress and propose changes to Student’ educational program, since the District specified the placement in Student’s IEPs.”
The District will now be required to pay for two separate evaluations—one for neuropsychology and one for speech/language. On top of that, the District will also be required to provide I.W. with three hours of compensatory education in reading, writing and math for every day he was enrolled at the private school, which amounts to approximately 1200 hours.