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August 15, 2003

Court sides with school in appeal

From: Baton Rouge Advocate, LA - Aug 15, 2003

New Orleans bureau

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal appeals court has sided with the Ascension Parish school system in a dispute over where a hearing-impaired student should attend classes.

Dylan White is assigned to Gonzales Primary, one of three "centralized" school sites in Ascension where certain services are provided. A cued speech transliterator, provided by the school system, assists him in class.

Dylan's parents, Doug and Gail White, want him and his transliterator moved to Dutchtown Primary, his neighborhood school. Gonzales Primary is 5 miles farther from Dylan's home than Dutchtown Primary.

His parents say that transferring him to his neighborhood school would enhance his social development by letting him go to school with neighborhood children.

The school system rejected the transfer request -- made in May 2000 when Dylan was in the second grade -- based on its policy of centralizing the cued speech program and because it said Dylan was being provided an appropriate education at Gonzales Primary.

U.S. District Judge James Brady ruled in favor of the Whites in March 2002 and ordered the Ascension school system to assign Dylan and his transliterator to his neighborhood school.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Brady on Wednesday, saying the school system did not violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"While the IDEA requires the school to provide services to allow the child the requisite basic floor of opportunity, it does not require the school to make special accommodations at the parent's request (no matter how well-intentioned), particularly where the request is not related to helping the child achieve academic potential," Circuit Judge Rhesa Barksdale wrote for the panel.

"It is undisputed that Dylan was succeeding academically at the centralized school. It is also undisputed that the parents' request that Dylan attend his neighborhood school was primarily social -- they wanted him to be able to attend school with other neighborhood children," Barksdale said. "This concern is beyond the scope of the 'educational benefit' inquiry courts make under the IDEA."

Circuit Judges E. Grady Jolly and Jacques Wiener agreed with Barksdale.

Dylan uses a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other to receive sound input, the appellate court panel said.

A cued speech transliterator does not translate from spoken language to a sign language, but supplements lip-reading and residual or assisted hearing by hand and finger motions to distinguish between elements of speech that otherwise would appear identical, the panel said.

For hearing-impaired students who need cued speech transliterators, the Ascension school system provides those services at its three centralized schools. The schools are regular education campuses, and hearing-impaired students are educated in regular classrooms, the judges said.

Deaf students who use American sign language attend neighborhood schools rather than centralized schools, the panel said.

The 5th Circuit judges sent the case back to Brady, saying other claims are pending in his court.

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