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Cleveland Heights-University Heights v. Sommer Boss (United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit)
On May 6, 1998, the Sixth Circuit issued their decision in Cleveland Heights-University Heights v. Sommer Boss. Letís look at the factual and legal issues in this new case.
Several "red flags" went up before Sommer entered school. On advice from the school, her parents held her back from Kindergarten. Her Kindergarten teacher recommended that she be evaluated for special education services. The district evaluated her and found that she was eligible for speech and language services.
Although her reading skills were low, the district did not offer special education to address these reading problems. Instead, they placed her in their Chapter I reading program. Over the next three years, her reading skills and other academic skills declined. She fell further behind her peer group.
Her report cards said that her progress was "satisfactory."
In first grade, Sommerís reading skills were at the 15th percentile. By the end of third grade, her reading skills had dropped to the 5th percentile.
(Note: to learn how to compute the percentile ranks for your child, read our article "Understanding Tests and Measurements" located at our website at
When her parents urgently requested help, the district developed an "action plan." Their "action plan" called for the parents to secure private tutoring during the summer. According to this "action plan," the school would "monitor her progress" during fourth grade. (No real "action" by the school.)
After a disastrous third grade, Sommerís parents had private testing done. The reading tutor said Sommer would never catch up unless she received intensive instruction. The tutor advised the parents to place her in The Lawrence School. Lawrence is a private school for children with learning disabilities that focuses on teaching children with learning disabilities how to read, write, spell and do arithmetic. While teaching the acquisition of basic skills, it also teaches course content to the children.
The parents went to the district and asked for intensive instruction. The summer passed and the district did nothing. After they received no help from their school district, the parents placed Sommer in Lawrence School. The district did not offer to evaluate Sommer until after the new school year began. This evaluation showed that Sommer had a reading disability. Sommer continued in the Lawrence School for the rest of the school year.
In May of that year, the parents asked the district to provide special education. At first, the district insisted that they were under no obligation to help Sommer because she was no longer one of their students.
Finally, the district agreed that they were responsible for providing special education services. The district developed an IEP. The parents rejected this IEP as inadequate and inappropriate. The parents objected to the IEP because the goals and objectives were vague; the IEP didnít include an objective way to measure progress; the IEP did not explain what services Sommer would receive while she was mainstreamed.
The district refused to make any changes to the IEP.
Sommer continued to attend The Lawrence School during the next school year. Her parents requested a Special Education Due Process Hearing. The Hearing Officer concluded that the district failed to provide Sommer with a free, appropriate education. He ordered the district to reimburse the parents for her tuition.
The district appealed.
The State Reviewing Officer agreed that the district failed to provide Sommer with a free appropriate education and ordered tuition reimbursement. The district appealed the adverse decision to the United States District Court.
Instead of overturning the case in favor of the school district, the court ruled that the school failed to provide Sommer with a free appropriate education. The Federal Judge ordered the school district to reimburse the parents for her tuition.
The district appealed the Judgeís decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In their appeal, the district claimed that: the IEP in question was only a "first draft;" the deficiencies in the IEP were "minor technicalities;" because the private school only enrolled children with learning disabilities, it failed to meet the mainstreaming requirement of IDEA.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed with that argument. The Court of Appeals awarded the school to reimburse the parents for Sommerís tuition at the Lawrence School. Citing the U. S. Supreme Court Burlington and Carter (Peteís case) decisions, the Sixth Circuit wrote that . . . it is clear that the IDEA was intended to provide BOTH a free AND an appropriate education for disabled children and the Act should not be read to provide one of these benefits at the expense of the other. This new case is reproduced at our website. The address is:
TACTICS AND STRATEGY CORNER:
Parents must write letters to document their dealings with the school. When you write letters, assume that your letter will be read by a Stranger. Assume that you dropped your letter in the street. A Stranger finds your letter and reads it.
After reading your letter, "The Stranger" understands the facts of your case, the issues, knows what you want, why you want what you want, and knows how to give you that relief.
In your case, the Stranger may be a school superintendent, a hearing officer, or a judge. This Stranger has the power to make important life-long decisions for your child. If you write a clear, understandable, moving letter to the Director of Special Ed, a letter that sells this person into providing you with the desired relief, then you and your child will have prevailed without a war!
We call this technique "Writing
Letters to the Stranger."
NEW! "LETTER TO THE STRANGER"
Question: "Iíve heard about your "Letter to the Stranger" technique and read your draft chapter about writing letters. (see "The Art of Writing Letters") The "Letter to the Stranger" sounds interesting. But how do you write this kind of letter? Could you provide a REAL "Letter to the Stranger?" (Tom, by e-mail)
Answer: Good idea. We posted a REAL "Letter to the Stranger" at our site - hopefully that will help. If you read the letter and then read the case, you will see how the trial and ultimate decision revolved around the Brody "Letter to the Stranger."
The letter should open with direct clear facts, painting a visual picture. For example:
First, here is some background information about the child-
James has dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADD. He is very intelligent. But at age 14, his skills in reading and writing were very limited. James had never read a book. His parents wanted the district to provide him with remediation so he could learn to read and write.
The district claimed that they didnít have to remediate James. Instead of teaching him to read, the special education teachers read to him. The teachers "modified" the curriculum so he could "pass," even though he couldnít read. The district claimed that they were providing James with a "free appropriate education" by giving him "access" to the curriculum.
After the district refused to provide remediation, Jamesí parents asked the district to pay for his tuition at Landmark School. Landmark School is a private special education school in Prideís Crossing, Massachusetts. The district refused.
Jamesí parents wrote their "Letter to the Stranger" to request a special education due process hearing.
Read the parents "Letter to the Stranger" at:
After you read the Brody "Letter to the Stranger," go to The Law Library and read the Review Officerís Decision in James Brodyís case.
The Decisions is : http://www.wrightslaw.com/case_Brody_RO_decision.html
Do you see how the Reviewing Officerís
decision incorporates the parentsí Letter to the Stranger?
We receive dozens of emails and letters from strangers in crisis requesting help every day. We regret that we cannot answer specific questions. In most cases, the factual situations and legal issues are addressed in articles we have uploaded on the web site.
Sadly, many parents inadvertently damage their childís case because they believe they must DO SOMETHING! If you have a school crisis - or want to AVOID a crisis - you should read "Crisis! Emergency! Help!" as the very first step before going to a school meeting, calling the school, writing that angry letter.
The address is: http://www.wrightslaw.com/Crisis.html READ IT FIRST!
Then read "From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents Journey" at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/Emotions.html
These two articles are on our all-time Top 10 List. In one form or another they have been reproduced on many different Internet websites long before we developed wrightslaw dot com. Both articles have been reproduced in many special education newsletters.
We encourage you to print and distribute
these articles to "in crisis" parents whose emotions may be getting
the better of them. We wrote these articles for the scared, angry,
frustrated parent, who was getting ready to shoot himself or herself
in one foot, while stuffing the other foot in the mouth. <g>
MORE HOT LINKS!
LAW SEARCH TIPS
Many cases are available on the Internet. How can you find a specific case? To find case, you will probably have to use several search engines.
To do a general search (exa. all Third Circuit decisions between 1995 and 1998 relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), you should go to a site like FindLaw and search their database of cases.
LD Online is a great resource! The LD Online site contains several new articles about IEPs. Recently, Barbara Bateman was a guest at LD Online. Dr. Bateman wrote the book "Better IEPs." During her stint as an LD Online guest, Dr. Bateman answered dozens of questions about how to develop good IEPs.
To get to the "In-Depth" section of LD Online, click http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/resource-guide.html
For articles about IEPs, click http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/iep/
The information at ldonline is of
help to parents of children with all disabilities, not just learning
LETTERS TO THE WEBMASTER
We receive letters from people who disagree with our positions and opinions. Different views, tactics, strategies, beliefs, opinions, prejudices, make for interesting reading.
Law changes. Attorneys always seek fresh new ideas and perspectives on the same facts and law. If you have a new idea, position, or just want to stimulate debate, send us an email.
Do you have a fresh new perspective on a tired worn out concept?
We are establishing a new section called "Letters to the Webmaster."
Do you have a favorite tip, tactic, or strategy that youíd like to share with our readers?
Rose from New England sent a Letter to the Webmaster. Rose says itís easy to make mistakes - especially when you want to avoid conflict with the school. Rose cautions parents to "put it in writing."
To read Roseís letter, go to:- http://www.wrightslaw.com/ltr_rose_document.html
Bobbie has a different problem. Bobbie is raising an 8 year old grandson who has "severe ADHD." She asked for Peteís advice. Read Peteís letter to Bobbie at: http://www.wrightslaw.com/ltr_to_Bobbie.html
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.