ST. LOUIS — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri recently ordered the St. Louis City Public School District to reimburse the family of a minor with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for costs accrued after the district failed to provide the student with an adequate education plan and environment.
The minor’s family sued the school district because it miscalculated the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and disregarded the advice of the parents and the student’s psychologist. The district placed the 11-year-old, identified only by the initials D.L., in a school that was unable to provide the proper care and environment.
The student had suffered “unknown trauma” before being adopted. He was medically diagnosed with high-functioning autism, including “oppositional defiant symptoms and anger problems.” and PTSD.
He also received an educational diagnosis of “Other Health Impairments” (OHI), which is associated with emotionally disturbed students, but did not receive an educational diagnosis of autism by the district.
His parents requested the school evaluate the student for autism in 2014, but they found he did not meet the criteria for that diagnosis, despite having been diagnosed with the disorder by doctors in 2012.
The district conducted six IEP assessments over the course of four years, holding meetings with the family and health and education professionals to devise an adequate education plan. Ignoring recommendations of the parents and doctors, the district placed the youth in a public school for children with behavioral and emotional disturbances. It was not equipped to support students with autism, according to the case file.
The parents fought the placement, having found a private school that was better suited for autistic children. The case eventually came before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Council (AHC), which sided with the school district.
District Court Judge Rodney Sippel ruled the school district failed to provide the student with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), which it is mandated to do by the federal government.
"In reaching these conclusions, the IEP contradicted four years of previous IEPs, the recommendations of [the student’s] psychologist … and its own findings concerning [his] need for sensory supports,” Sippel wrote in his ruling. “Without a convincing explanation for this reversal, I find that [the studen’ts] IEP was not reasonably calculated to provide FAPE.”