The student is on grade level. So say all of the teachers….

Today’s case is yet another example of the power of testimony from classroom teachers who are knowledgeable about a student’s performance.

The student repeated kindergarten while in a private school. She enrolled in public school for second grade, at the recommendation of the private school. In the fall of 2017 the district evaluated the student for special education and determined that she was not eligible as she was progressing “at an average level overall.” The parents obtained an independent evaluation from Dr. Schmidt that concluded that the student had a learning disability. Based on that the school considered 504 eligibility but again determined the student was not eligible.

The parents sought a due process hearing. The hearing officer ruled in favor of the school district, largely on the basis of the comparison of the school’s evaluation vs. the independent one by Dr. Schmidt. The parents appealed to the federal district court, which affirmed the ruling in favor of the district. The parents appealed to the Circuit Court. Same result.

The primary challenge from the parents was about how the hearing officer discounted the testimony of Dr. Schmidt in favor of the testimony from school personnel. The court cited several reasons why the independent report carried less weight:

*Dr. Schmidt failed to consider the student’s grades and results of progress monitoring.
*Dr. Schmidt’s report was not comprehensive and thorough—it had scant information about the student’s performance in school.
*Dr. Schmidt focused exclusively on the student’s weaknesses, as opposed to the whole child.
*Dr. Schmidt used age norms rather than grade norms, which was a mistake because the student had repeated kindergarten while in a private school. So she was a year older than her classmates.

The court also noted that “All of her teachers testified that G.S. performed at grade level.”

It’s very likely that Dr. Schmidt had a more impressive resume than the classroom teachers. That didn’t matter. What mattered was the time spent with the student in the classroom and the direct knowledge of the student’s performance in the school.

It’s G.S. v. West Chester Area School District, decided by the 3rd Circuit on June 22, 2022. It’s in Special Educator at 81 IDELR 63.


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Tomorrow: AG Opinions….