Alana Bader came to the Great Valley School District when she was just 9 years old. In March, she will turn 16. Yet, over those 7 years, she has spent just a handful of days in school. According to Patrice Gilbert, Alana’s mother, Great Valley is failing to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to her daughter. Alana has several special needs challenges, including Autism and PANDAS. The combination of conditions cause symptoms such as anxiety, OCD, ODD, difficulty learning, and more.
Special Needs in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Department of Education declares, “In accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Chapters 14 and 15 of the State Board Regulations, PDE provides general supervision over all public schools, school districts, and other public education agencies within the state to ensure that each student with a disability receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and that each family has the benefits of a system of procedural safeguards.” The problem for many parents of special needs children is “PDE provides general supervision” rather than direct oversight and enforcement.
“The Great Valley School District alleges they are committed to providing my child with an education. In 7 years, they’ve never done it! Their idea is to offer take-it-or-leave-it settlement agreements, placements that don’t provide my daughter with an education, or let her sit home with nothing,” states Gilbert. “My daughter does not have the same rights to a public education as all of the other children in the state of Pennsylvania. She sits home with no education and nobody cares.” “The Great Valley School District has caused harm to my child and denied her socialization with peers and an education for 7 years. The state of Pennsylvania has further complicated things and does nothing to help.”
Education Programs for Students with Disabilities
Isolation from her peers has caused Alana to become withdrawn and increased her social anxiety. Therefore, her doctors have concluded that Alana’s symptoms will no longer permit her to function in a school environment. As a result, Ms. Gilbert believes the best course of action is home-based services designed to transition her daughter back into school. Nevertheless, the ordeal has left Alana withdrawn, rarely leaving her home, and about to celebrate her 16th birthday without friends.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, “An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.” Moreover, to be deemed appropriate, “Education programs for students with disabilities must be designed to meet their individual needs to the same extent that the needs of nondisabled students are met.”
Pennsylvania Presumes Competency
The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Project MAX focuses on building the capacity of schools and intermediate units. Moreover, it leads the charge for students with complex instructional needs accessing general education instruction. The project has set a standard in which school districts are expected to presume student competency. In other words, a school should presuppose every child has the ability to learn rigorous academic knowledge and skills, regardless of challenges. Consequently, students with complex instructional needs should be taught the same academic content as their peers, with the belief that the information can be learned.
However, Ms. Gilbert asserts this is not the case at the Great Valley School District, and they utterly refuse to meet her daughter’s needs to the same extent they meet the needs of their nondisabled students. Rather, she contends the District is attempting to bully her into accepting settlement agreements that would merely warehouse her child. “Despite the fact that parental input is supposed to be part of the process, the school will only offer the same out of district placement that provides no education, over and over. The District simply refuses to provide the Free Appropriate Public Education that Alana needs, deserves, and is entitled.”
In creating this article, MyChesCo staff did reach out to Dr. Regina Speaker Palubinsky, Great Valley School District Superintendent of Schools, for an interview. After repeated attempts, a response came in the form of an email from Lawrence D. Dodds, Esquire, of Wisler Pearlstine, LLP.: “Due to privacy concerns, we will not comment on student matters without family consent and, as a practice, we do not comment on matters that are in litigation.” Mr. Dodds did not respond to our follow-up request for general and public information.
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Featured Photo: Alana Bader on her 15th Birthday, courtesy of Patrice Gilbert
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