Van Sher says he started fighting for his grandson, Tony, 16, in 2007, shortly after he began eighth grade at Upper Moreland Middle School and started exhibiting, what he believed, were signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Now, three year’s later Sher, of Upper Moreland, says he is still fighting to get his grandson’s discipline record, showing 20 suspensions in two-and-a-half years, expunged to give the teenager a better chance at getting into college.
According to Sher, the school district has found that approximately 17 of 20 of Tony’s suspensions can be attributed to the disability but states that the rest cannot.
Because of those three suspensions, Sher and the school district have been in hearings for the past couple months, but it seems without a settlement in sight, that he and the district are headed to civil court.
“This is an absolute joke,” Sher said Monday. “It’s a total waste of time and money.”
He and his wife, Carol, adopted Tony and are his legal guardians.
With the hearings concluded, both parties must submit written closing arguments by mid-December and a decision will be rendered by the beginning of next year.
Sher filed a due process complaint in May claiming that the school district failed to adequately evaluate and identify Tony as an individual with a disability entitled to special education.
The complaint went on to state that, “the district denied Tony access to free and appropriate public education, a federal law, by failing to provide him with an appropriate program and placement adequate to address each of his disability-related needs from the date of his enrollment in the district to the date the complaint was filed.”
Had the school district agreed to expunge Tony’s suspensions, they could have, according to Sher, saved thousands of dollars and numerous hours of litigation.
“I wasn’t asking for any money,” he said. “This could have been done with no harm, no foul, no money. Tony’s not even in the school system anymore, but the school district didn’t want to settle.”
The school district’s attorney, Karl Romberger, said the district would not be commenting but released a statement saying that, “As a school district we do not feel it is in a child’s best interest to publicly discuss details of a very personal case even if the parents differ in their opinion. As such the school district offers no comment.”
According to Sher, he has asked to settle eight times, the last one a week ago in a letter to the school board. As of Monday, he had not received a response.
“If we don’t have a settlement and I commit to a civil attorney, I then will be looking for compensation, which we have not done,” Sher said in his recent letter to the board. “We will also move forward for a criminal complaint for child abuse from the school for disciplinary actions by unqualified personnel affecting the entire life of a child who now needs and has been getting psychological help weekly.”
The letter went on to ask the school district about the financial soundness of the decision.
“Is it prudent to spend $30,000 to $40,000 of taxpayer money, before results of a civil suit when 16 or 17 questionable calls by the school district are on record and in writing,” he asked.
Even if the hearing officer rules in Sher’s favor, he will still have to go to civil court because the hearing officer does not have the authority to force the school district to expunge Tony’s record.
“It’s a lose-lose for everyone involved,” he said.
Issues began shortly after Tony started eighth grade at Upper Moreland Middle School. He began, according to the due process complaint, to display impulsive and inattentive behaviors which led to a number of disciplinary actions.
A school counselor recommended that Tony be privately evaluated that fall. Following the evaluation Tony was diagnosed with ADHD, the notice continued, adding that Sher contacted the school regarding accommodations for Tony’s disability.
The principal recommended a 504 program, but the school district conducted a screening process that determined that Tony did not warrant a diagnosis of ADHD. A 504 program is recommended for students with learning disabilities.
Tony’s difficult behavior followed him to high school where, during his ninth- and 10th-grade years, he was suspended three times.
“Due to the continuing behavioral issues Tony was evaluated again during the summer of 2009 by a certified school psychologist who determined that Tony met the criteria for ADHD and also exhibited indications of depression and mood regulation difficulties,” the due process complaint stated.
Sher shared the information with the school district that agreed to draft a 504 plan for students with disabilities.
The plan, according to the complaint states that, “Tony had been evaluated and identified as meeting the criteria for an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was in need of accommodations and modifications to his school setting.”
Although the 504 plan was drafted, Howard Cohen, a school psychologist for the district, said certain aspects of the 504 plan were not instituted because, after speaking with the doctor, it was determined that Tony was doing well and there was no need for aspects of the plan.
During a portion of the second of three hearings, Cohen also said that, during the time of transition from the middle school to the high school the district did not have all of Tony’s information.
The district, Cohen said, did not know that Tony had been asked to leave Germantown Academy after his seventh-grade year due to his behavioral issues.
Because his discipline record shows few aggressive acts, Cohen also said it may not have indicated a problem because the majority of the disciplines were verbal warnings and minor misconducts.
“Had we had full disclosure things could have been different,” Cohen said.
Tony left Upper Moreland High School during his 10th-grade year and is currently enrolled in a cyber school.