Phone: 856.354.0021
Fax: 856.873.5640


We keep you up to date on the latest developments in special education and disabilities rights at the local, state, and federal level.

RCGZ clients win federal court appeal Because school district violated “Child find” duty

In Culley v. Cumberland Valley School District, decided November 6, 2017, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania  held that an administrative hearing officer wrongly dismissed the IDEA and Section 504 claims of J.C., a student with Crohn’s disease. RCG partner Judith Gran represented the J.C. and his family. The due process complaint asserted that the school district violated its duty under federal law to locate and identify all students with disabilities – known as the “child find” duty. The hearing officer found no “child find” violation under either IDEA or Section 504. He held that J.C. was not eligible under IDEA because, even though J.C. did have a disability, he did not need special education because of that disability. He also held that the school district identified J.C. as 504-eligible in a timely manner. The district court reversed both holdings.

The court held that J.C. was, in fact, eligible for special education. In reaching the opposite conclusion, the hearing officer demanded too much of the parents when he required that they prove that J.C.’s disability alone contributed to his academic struggles. The school district acknowledged that J.C. had a qualifying disability. He had declining academic performance and increasing absences over several years. This supported the independent evaluator’s conclusion that J.C. was IDEA-eligible. Further, because the school’s evaluation denying eligibility was inconsistent and incomplete, the hearing officer erred when he relied upon that document.

The court also found that the hearing officer erred when he based part of his denial of eligibility on the alleged “failures of the parents to provide sufficient information to” the school district about J.C.’s disabilities. The court stated, “this is not a duty or burden that is placed on the parents, but should have been on the school district.” The school district’s “child find” duty exists even if a student is passing grade to grade. This is especially true when the student – like J.C. – was barely passing, with a D average. In light of all the information the school district had about J.C.’s disability, it should have evaluated him. The hearing officer improperly shifted the obligation to identify J.C. as an eligible student from the school district to J.C.’s parents.

Therefore, the school district violated its “child find” under both IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Pursuant to the court’s decision, J.C. will submit, within 30 days, the family’s calculation of compensatory education due to J.C.