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Deal v. Hamilton County Dept. of Education

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Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education
28 October 2012

Due Process and Parental Rights: Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education In 2004 the case of Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education was coming to a close after reaching the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ohio. Within this essay, detailed examination of this case, along with issues that developed the case, disagreement points, parties involved, and final outcome will be explored. This case was initiated in 1999 and reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2004. The Individuals with Disabilities Act has given parents and caregivers to student’s unparalleled rights regarding their student’s education. This case clearly outlines the difference in the interpretation of these laws and regulations between schools, parents, and even the various levels of courts. The primary issues that brought this case to court were the need for clear interpretation of a Free and Appropriate Education, as well as the school meeting the regulations that were outlined in IDEA (Osborne & Russo, 2007). The final outcome of this case gave more than a decision; in this case not only were the student and parents affected but the school as well. T

his case identifies the judicial process as well as individual interpretation of the laws regarding educating students with special needs. In this court case, the Plaintiffs or Appellants were identified as Maureen Deal; Phillip Deal, Parents, on behalf of Zachary Deal. The Hamilton County Board of Education was listed as the Defendant or Appellee. Although these two parties were the only two listed parties specifically in the court case, there were over twenty witnesses and experts called to testify in this court case as well as over thousands of pages of documents, and hours of taped videos were entered as exhibits (Find Law, 2012). In 1997, Zachary Deal was three years old and embarking on his first individual education program (IEP) with the Ooltewah Elementary School so that he could be enrolled into a comprehensive development class.

Zachary’s parents, Maureen and Phillip Deal are primary characters within this court case as well as advocates, caregivers, and advocates for Zachary’s education. Zachary Deal, a young student, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or autism, was introduced into the Hamilton County school system at the age of three years old. The autism spectrum disorder is defined as “a developmental disability, which significantly affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, general evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance, among other characteristics such as repetitive activities, stereotyped movements, and resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines “ according to Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (2012).

In addition to that general definition, court case files described Zachary as also having severe deficits in communication and social interaction. During his first academic year, Zachary’s parents identified an additional program that they felt would be helpful for his disability and began implementing it outside of school hours. This additional program was developed by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, and relies heavily on extremely structured education plans and behavioral analysis along with data collection and analysis (Mayerson, G. 2012).

In 1998 an IEP meeting was held to consider an extended school year service program for Zachary based on the progress that was made the previous year by the combination of parents and the school. The school system refused to fund the extended school year program as well as the collected data on Zachary’s educational and behavioral improvement. Again, in 1999, Zachary’s parents requested an extended school year program but again the school declined based on the lack of educational progress identified by the school. Later, in 1999, Zachary’s IEP was developed to include the attendance of a regular kindergarten classroom in small and regulated increments that would be increased based on his ability to tolerate the increased stimulus. In September, Zachary’s parents removed Zachary from the public school and enrolled him into a private school while also notifying the school that they were officially requesting a due process hearing. This case was brought forth to the court system under of the laws that were determined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as an appeal to the decision of the district court was well as the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

The parents of Zachary Deal believed that the school system failed to provide their son with a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) as well as not placing Zachary in the least restrictive environment (LRE) as outlined as a requirement within the IDEA Act as well as in an IEP. Further, the Deal’s were requesting financial reimbursement for Zachary’s private school tuition as well as any other education related services that were provided and funded by the parents outside of the school. While the ALJ found the school liable for part of the reimbursement, they also found that the school was in violation of IDEA because of substantive violations during the process of identifying assistance for Zachary Deal. Both the Hamilton County Board of Education and the Deal family appealed the ALJ’s findings which escalated the court case to a district court. The district court found that there were no violations of IDEA by the school, as well as reversing the ALJ’s order for partial reimbursement to the Deal’s.

This case was further escalated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in an attempt to reverse the district courts findings and hold the school financially liable for Zachary’s education needs (Wrights Law, 2012). The primary points of disagreement between the two parties were the definition of Free and Appropriate Education, as well as the implementation of Zachary’s IEP, and the goals and settings of his IEP. The Deal’s believed that since Zachary had shown marked improvement by the use of an outside educational party during non-school hours that the school should be financially liable for implementing that style of an education program. The school did not follow the educational guidelines set forth by this independent educational program and instead developed an individualized education plan that the school felt identified educational and social goals that were identified in previous IEPs.

The school developed an individual education program for Zachary, but this educational plan outlined that Zachary would spend only fifteen minutes three days a week in the general education kindergarten environment. Zachary’s parents did not agree with this educational placement and wanted Zachary to be more included in the general education atmosphere. In response to the school’s plan, Zachary’s parents enrolled Zachary into a private education system and then requested a due process hearing. By moving Zachary to another location before notifying the school of the need for a due process hearing, the Deal family violated the provisional IDEA laws and regulations, which could have kept them from receiving any reimbursement for Zachary’s education. In 2004, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit identified and disclosed its judgment on the case of Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education. The Sixth Circuit court found that the school system “deprived the Deals of a meaningful opportunity to participate, the predetermined amounts to denial of a FAPE for Zachary” therefore reversed the district court’s decision on this section (Wrights Law, 2012).

In addition, the Sixth Circuit Court found that that because a general education teacher was not present during the 1999 IEP meeting, the parents and other IEP team members were not given the unique perspective of a general education teacher for his grade level; this caused the court to also reverse the district court’s decision on the IDEA procedural violation leaving the school at fault for not meeting the IDEA regulations. During this case the school was also charged with accusations of substantive violations of the IDEA Act; while the ALJ found the school had committed substantive violations the court of appeals reversed the ALJ’s decision based on the need for determining whether the school actually could have provided Zachary with a meaningful education (Wrights Law, 2012).

Finally, the court of appeals also reversed the district court’s reimbursement decision which released the school from any financial liability to the Deals’. In this case there were no clear “winners” or “losers”; more likely, there were two individual units that learned from this case the need for clear interpretation of a law. As parent’s the Deal’s carried a heavy burden of caring for a young son that had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Providing the best education possible could mean the difference between a life of dependency and a life of independence for their son which gives a unique and scary motivator for parents with disabled students. As for the school, their responsibility was to ensure that this student received a free and appropriate education and to adhere by the laws outlined in IDEA which was not completely followed. The U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals was the least favorable to either one side of this case, and thoroughly examined the laws, requirements, data, and testimony to obtain a balanced ruling that adhered to the laws. In this case both parties were treated fairly for both appropriate and inappropriate actions regarding the IDEA laws and

Find Law. (2012). Deal v. Hamilton County BD. Of Educ. 03-5396. Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/summary/opinion/us-6th-circuit/2004/12/16/127294.html Mayerson, G. (2012). Analysis of Zachary Deal v. Hamilton County Department of Education . Retrieved from http://www.wrightslaw.com/advoc/articles/autism.deal.mayerson.analysis.htm Osborne, A. G., & Russo, C. J. (2007). Special Education and The Law: A Guide for Practitioners (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center. (2012). What is the definition of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved from Wrights Law. (2012). United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circut. Retrieved from http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/04/6th.deal.hamilton.tn.htm

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