Subj: The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter, May 29,
Date: 98-05-29 00:21:10 EDT
From: email@example.com (Pete+Pam Wright)
The Special Ed Advocate
The Online Newsletter About
Special Education and the Law
May 29, 1998 Vol. 1, No. 3
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The Special Ed Advocate is a free online
newsletter about special education legal issues,
cases, tactics and strategy, educational methods
that work, and Internet links.
We publish this newsletter occasionally, when time
permits. Back issues of The Special Ed Advocate
are archived at our web site -
As a subscriber to The Special Ed Advocate, you
will receive announcements and "alerts" about new
cases and other events. Contact, copyright, and
subscription information can be found at the end
of this newsletter.
Cleveland Heights-University Heights v. Sommer
Boss (United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth
On May 6, 1998, the Sixth Circuit issued the
decision in Cleveland Heights-University Heights
v. Sommer Boss. Lets look at the factual and
legal issues in this new case.
Several "red flags" went up before Sommer entered
school. On advice from the school, her parents
held her back from Kindergarten. Her Kindergarten
teacher recommended that she be evaluated for
special education services. The district evaluated
her and found that she was eligible for speech and
Although her reading skills were low, the district
did not offer special education to address these
reading problems. Instead, they placed her in
their Chapter I reading program. Over the next
three years, her reading skills and other academic
skills declined. She fell further behind her peer
Her report cards said that her progress was
In first grade, Sommers reading skills were at
the 15th percentile. By the end of third grade,
her reading skills had dropped to the 5th
(Note: to learn how to compute the percentile
ranks for your child, read our article
"Understanding Tests and Measurements" located at
our website at
When her parents urgently requested help, the
district developed an "action plan." Their "action
plan" called for the parents to secure private
tutoring during the summer. According to this
"action plan," the school would "monitor her
progress" during fourth grade. (No real "action"
by the school.)
After a disastrous third grade, Sommers parents
had private testing done. The reading tutor said
Sommer would never catch up unless she received
intensive instruction. The tutor advised the
parents to place her in The Lawrence School.
Lawrence is a private school for children with
learning disabilities that focuses on teaching
children with learning disabilities how to read,
write, spell and do arithmetic. While teaching the
acquisition of basic skills, it also teaches
course content to the children.
The parents went to the district and asked for
intensive instruction. The summer passed and the
district did nothing. After they received no help
from their school district, the parents placed
Sommer in Lawrence School. The district did not
offer to evaluate Sommer until after the new
school year began. This evaluation showed that
Sommer had a reading disability. Sommer continued
in the Lawrence School for the rest of the school
In May of that year, the parents asked the
district to provide special education. At first,
the district insisted that they were under no
obligation to help Sommer because she was no
longer one of their students.
Finally, the district agreed that they were
responsible for providing special education
services. The district developed an IEP. The
parents rejected this IEP as inadequate and
inappropriate. The parents objected to the IEP
because the goals and objectives were vague; the
IEP didnt include an objective way to measure
progress; the IEP did not explain what services
Sommer would receive while she was mainstreamed.
The district refused to make any changes to the
Sommer continued to attend The Lawrence School
during the next school year. Her parents requested
a Special Education Due Process Hearing. The
Hearing Officer concluded that the district failed
to provide Sommer with a free, appropriate
education. He ordered the district to reimburse
the parents for her tuition.
The district appealed.
The State Reviewing Officer agreed that
the district failed to provide Sommer with a free
appropriate education and ordered tuition
reimbursement. The district appealed the adverse
decision to the United States District Court.
Instead of overturning the case in favor of the
school district, the court ruled that the school
failed to provide Sommer with a free appropriate
education. The Federal Judge ordered the school
district to reimburse the parents for her tuition.
The district appealed the Judges decision to the
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth
Circuit. In their appeal, the district claimed
that: the IEP in question was only a "first
draft;" the deficiencies in the IEP were "minor
technicalities;" because the private school only
enrolled children with learning disabilities, it
failed to meet the mainstreaming requirement of
The Sixth Circuit disagreed with that argument.
The Court of Appeals awarded the school to
reimburse the parents for Sommers tuition at the
Lawrence School. Citing the U. S. Supreme Court
Burlington and Carter (Petes case) decisions, the
Sixth Circuit wrote that
. . . it is clear that the IDEA was intended to
provide BOTH a free AND an appropriate education
for disabled children and the Act should not be
read to provide one of these benefits at the
expense of the other.
This new case is reproduced at our website. The
TACTICS AND STRATEGY CORNER:
Parents must write letters to document their
dealings with the school. When you write letters,
you should assume that your letter will be read by
a Stranger. Assume that you lose your letter in
the street and a stranger finds it, picks it
up and reads it.
After reading the letter, "The Stranger"
understands the facts of your case, the issues,
knows what you want, why you want what
you want, and knows how to give that relief.
The Stranger may be a school superintendent, a
hearing officer, or a judge. This Stranger will
have the power to make important lifelong
decisions for your child. If you write a clear,
understandable, moving letter to the Director of
Special Ed, a letter that sells this person into
providing you with the desired relief, then you
and your child have prevailed, without a war!
We call this technique "Writing Letters to the
NEW! "LETTER TO THE STRANGER"
"Ive heard about your "Letter to the Stranger"
technique and read your draft chapter about
writing letters. The "Letter to the Stranger"
sounds interesting. But how do you write this kind
of letter? Could you provide a REAL "Letter to the
Stranger?" (Tom, by e-mail)
Answer: Good idea. A "REAL" one has been posted at
our site, hopefully that will help. If you read
the letter and then read the case, you will see
how the case and ultimate decision revolved around
the Brody "Letter to the Stranger."
The letter should open with direct clear facts,
painting a visual picture. For example:
First, here is some background information about
James has dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADD. He is very
intelligent. By age 14, his skills in reading and
writing were extremely limited. He had never read
a book. His parents wanted the district to provide
him with intensive remediation so he could learn
to read and write.
The district claimed that they didnt have to
remediate. Instead of teaching James to read, the
special education teachers read to him. The
teachers "modified" the curriculum so he could
"pass," although he couldnt read. The district
claimed that they were providing James with a
"free appropriate education" by giving him
"access" to the curriculum.
After the district refused to provide remediation,
James parents asked the district to pay for his
tuition at Landmark School. Landmark School is a
private special education school in Prides
Crossing, Massachusetts. The district refused.
James parents wrote their "Letter to the
Stranger" to request a special education due
Read the parents "Letter to the Stranger" at:
After you read the Brody "Letter to the Stranger,"
go to the Law Library and read the Review
Officers Decision in James Brodys case. The
Do you see how the Reviewing Officers decision
incorporates the parents Letter to the Stranger?
We receive dozens of emails and letters from
strangers in crisis requesting help every day. We
regret that we cannot answer specific questions.
In most cases, the factual situations and legal
issues are addressed in articles we have
uploaded on the web site.
Sadly, many parents inadvertently damage
their childs case because they believe they must
DO SOMETHING! If you have a school crisis - or
want to AVOID a crisis - you should read "Crisis!
Emergency! Help!" as the very first step before
going to a school meeting, calling the school,
writing that angry letter. The address is:
http://www.wrightslaw.com/Crisis.html READ IT
Then read "From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents
These two articles are on our all-time Top 10
List. In one form or another they have been
reproduced on many different pages on the Internet
long before we developed wrightslaw dot com. They
have been reproduced in many special education
We encourage you to print and distribute these
articles to parents "in crisis" whose emotions
may be getting the best of them. We wrote these
articles for the angry frustrated parent, who was
getting ready to shoot himself in one foot, while
stuffing the other foot in the mouth.
MORE HOT LINKS!
LAW SEARCH TIPS
Many cases are available on the Internet. How can
you find a specific case? To find a case, you will
probably have to use several search engines.
To do a general search (exa. all Third Circuit
decisions between 1995 and 1998 relating to the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), you
should go to a site like FindLaw and search their
database of cases.
LD Online is a great resource! The LD Online site
contains several new articles about IEPs.
Recently, Barbara Bateman was a guest at LD
Online. Dr. Bateman wrote the book "Better IEPs."
During her stint as an LD Online guest, Dr.
Bateman answered dozens of questions about how to
develop good IEPs.
To get to the "In-Depth" section of LD Online,
For articles about IEPs, click
The information at ldonline is of help to parents
of children with all disabilities, not just
LETTERS TO THE WEBMASTER
We receive letters from people who disagree with
our positions and opinions. Different views,
tactics, strategies, beliefs, opinions,
prejudices, make for interesting reading.
Law changes Attorneys always seek fresh new ideas
and perspectives on the same facts and law.
If you have a new idea, position, or just want
to stimulate debate, send us an email.
Do you have a fresh new perspective on a tired
worn out concept?
We are establishing a new section called
"Letters to the Webmaster."
Do you have a favorite tip, tactic, or strategy
that youd like to share with our readers?
Rose from New England sent a letter for parents.
Rose says its easy to make mistakes - especially
when you want to avoid conflict with the school.
Rose cautions parents to "put it in writing."
To read Roses letter, go to:-
Bobbie has a different problem. Bobbie is raising
an 8 year old grandson who has "severe ADHD." She
asked for Petes advice. Read Petes letter to
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright 1998 Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr
All rights reserved. The resources at this site
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Peter W. D.
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The Special Ed Advocate
Pete and Pam Wright