Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 7, 2014

Special-education family sues Palo Alto school district

In appeal of state ruling, family seeks in-home schooling for autistic son

by Chris Kenrick

The family of a special-education student filed a lawsuit against the Palo Alto Unified School District in federal court this week, alleging that the district violated federal law when it declined to provide in-home education for their child.

The family of "S.C.," a 12-year-old boy with autism, moved to Palo Alto a year ago and sought the same type of at-home educational program for their son as he had received in his previous school district, according to the lawsuit.

Palo Alto district officials disagreed, offering the child a classroom placement and saying it was "comparable."

When the family appealed, a hearing officer from the California Office of Administrative Hearing sided with the school district in a decision issued Dec. 31, 2013.

The federal lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, is an appeal of that ruling.

The student, who the lawsuit said "lacks the ability to communicate verbally and has a history of severe allergic reactions to food," also has difficulty with fine and visual motor skills and sensory processing behavior.

The family's lawyer, Brian Sciacca, cites case law suggesting that the "stay-put" provision — meaning the same type of educational placement as before — should apply when a special-education student transfers to a new district and a dispute arises about the most appropriate educational placement in the new district.

In this case, the family is seeking "continued provision of an in-home educational program designed to meet his unique educational needs arising from his disability, including 40 hours a week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, two hours per week of individual speech and language services and two hours per week of individual occupational therapy services."

Asked to comment on the lawsuit, the district said in a statement: "Palo Alto Unified School District is committed to provide educational programs that help each student achieve their unique potential. The Special Education Division believes that the recommendations they have made and that were confirmed by the judge in this process are appropriate. We will continue to work with this family to provide an appropriate educational setting for this student."

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