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Court Issues Strong Decision on Behalf of Tereance D. in Philadelphia Autism Case
by Pete Wright, Esq. and Pamela Wright, MA, MSW

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In February 2008, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania issued a strong decision on behalf of a child with autism and his mother.

The issues in Tereance D. v School District of Philadelphia include the failure to provide FAPE over a period of many years. The district performed inadequate evaluations, misdiagnosed the child as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed, and intentionally misled the parent about her son's rights to autism services and extended school year services. Settlement negotiations are underway about compensatory education.

Eartly Intervention: Flawed Evaluations & Failure to Provide Needed Support

During early intervention, a district psychologist reported that Tereance needed learning support to receive FAPE. The District placed him in regular kindergarten - no support.

A year later, the District suspected that Tereance had autism but conducted flawed evaluations - or no evaluations at all.

The District's policies regarding ESY services did not meet state or federal law - and were actually designed to mislead parents about their ESY rights.

Judge Refuses to Dismiss Any Counts

The Court's decision in Tereance D. v School District of Philadelphia is in reponse to the school district's motion to dismiss several counts in Tereance D's Complaint.

The judge refused to dismiss the counts and and found that:

  • the school did not properly evaluate Tereance
  • the school's evaluator was not competent to evaluate a child with autism
  • teachers of kids with autism did not receive proper training
  • the school evaluator misdiagnosed the child as MR, then as ED, before finally determining that he had an autism spectrum disorder
  • school staff "misrepresented" to the parent the availability of autism support services
  • school staff "misrepresented" to the parent the availability of ESY ("what we have wouldn't be appropriate for him")
  • even after finding the child eligible for autism support services, the district dragged their feet, causing delays for years.

Hearing Officer Grants Some Compensatory Education; Review Panel Affirms

In addition to violations of IDEA, Tereance's mother also alleged violations under Section 504.

As you read the Complaint, then read the decision, you will have a better understanding of the standards that must be met to bring legal action under Section 504.

A hearing officer found in the parent's favor and awarded limited compensatory education, holding that the statute of limitations had expired on some claims. A Special Education Appeals Panel affirmed the hearing officer's order. The case was appealed to federal court.

Parents Have Independent, Enforceable Rights

The District attempted to dismiss the mother, Wanda D. as a plaintiff, claiming that she was not the "aggrieved party." Relying on the recent Supreme Court decision in Winkelman v. Parma, the Court held that the mother had standing on her own.

You will want to read Winkelman v. Parma, the powerful pro-parent, pro-child decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Winkelman, the U. S. Supreme Court
held that parents do have a "significant role." The Court provided a comprehensive list of parental rights from IDEA, affirming parental involvement and the essential role parents play in ensuring that their child receives a free appropriate education.

Jacob Winkelman v. Parma City Schools

Analysis of Winkelman v. Parma by Pete Wright, Esq.

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Last Revised: 08/02/08


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