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Porter v. The Illinois State Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

February 10, 2014

KECIA PORTER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, STACEY STUTZMAN, as Hearing Officer for the Illinois State Board of Education, and and BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, as Superintendent for City of Chicago School District 299, Defendants-Appellees

Page 425

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 CH 36463. Honorable Peter Flynn, Judge Presiding.

Confirmed.

SYLLABUS

In an action challenging the decision of the Illinois State Board of Education with regard to the special education accommodations made for the learning disabilities suffered by plaintiff's daughter, including the rejection of plaintiff's request for private placement in a therapeutic day school at public expense, was confirmed by the appellate court, since the decision was not clearly erroneous.

Kecia Porter, Plaintiff-Appellant, Pro se, Chicago, Illinois.

For Defendants-Appellees: James L. Bebley, Lee Ann Lowder, Board of Education of City of Chicago School District 299, Chicago, Illinois.

PRESIDING JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Cunningham and Delort concur in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

CONNORS, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

Page 426

[¶1] Plaintiff sought administrative review of an adverse decision of the Illinois

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State Board of Education regarding accommodations made for her daughter's learning disability. On appeal, she argues that the circuit court applied the wrong law in determining whether her daughter received an appropriate education, that it abused its discretion in finding that plaintiff's due process rights were not violated, and that the court made prejudicial comments about her during the proceedings. She also contends that the underlying administrative decision was arbitrary. For the following reasons, we confirm the administrative decision.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Plaintiff Kecia Porter challenges the special education accommodations provided to her daughter, K.P., who is an elementary school student in Chicago Public School District 299 (District). In 2008, K.P. was initially evaluated by the District and deemed eligible for an individualized education plan (IEP) at her school to accommodate her learning disabilities. In May of 2010, Porter commissioned a private psychological evaluation from a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) because she believed that the District terminated services it was providing K.P. without properly assessing whether those services were still warranted. Pursuant to that evaluation, K.P. received a diagnosis of " Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder--Combined Type" (ADHD) in addition to reading, math, and verbal learning disabilities. Among other things, the examiner recommended one-on-one tutoring, the use of assistive technology, and the provision of extra time to take tests.

[¶4] Porter filed a request for an impartial due process hearing with the Illinois State Board of Education (Board) pursuant to section 14-8.02a of the Illinois School Code (Code) (105 ILCS 5/14-8.02a (West 2010)) seeking to include the UIC examiner's recommendations in K.P.'s existing IEP. The District issued a modified IEP in February of 2011. Porter and District representatives then met to review that IEP. According to the District, Porter and the District discussed each of Porter's concerns. However, Porter ultimately rejected all of the proposed changes on the IEP and stated that she intended to have K.P. placed in a private therapeutic day school at public expense. In the meantime, K.P. was transferred to a different school within the District. She also began private tutoring using the Wilson Reading System, a multisensory reading instruction system.

[¶5] On April 7, 2011, Porter again sought an impartial due process hearing, which is the subject of this appeal. In this application, she alleged more than a dozen reasons for challenging the IEP, including that it: failed to provide assistive technology services, failed to provide appropriate modifications and accommodations, failed to identify strategies that will be used to achieve goals, failed to identify all of K.P.'s disabilities, failed to state whether K.P. was eligible for services beyond the District's normal school year, and failed to provide private speech and tutoring services. She sought a revision of K.P.'s IEP and placement in a private school at public cost. Defendant Stacey Stutzman was assigned as the Board's hearing officer.

[¶6] About a month later, the District then issued another modified IEP. It included recommendations for K.P.'s use of assistive technology and extended school year services over the summer. The report also indicated that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq . (2006)), K.P. should be educated in the same classroom as her nondisabled peers unless there is some reason to justify receiving

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services in a separate setting. The IEP team considered several alternative placements for K.P. with varying degrees of interaction with nondisabled students. It considered whether K.P. could attend regular classes full time with supplementary aides and services, but that was deemed insufficient to meet her academic needs. It also considered whether K.P. could spend less than 20% of her school week in a separate class to receive special services, but as a result of a previous due process hearing, that option was deemed inappropriate. It ultimately concluded that K.P. would be best served by attending regular classes and spending 25% of her time, or 430 minutes per week, receiving services in a separate class.

[¶7] Porter did not seek to add multisensory instruction to K.P.'s IEP at this time. She sought more one-on-one instruction and expressed her belief that K.P. would benefit from placement in a therapeutic day school, the most restrictive type of learning environment aside from a residential placement.

[¶8] Porter and the District then participated in a prehearing conference related to her due process hearing request. Stutzman prepared a prehearing conference report identifying the sole issue in dispute as " Whether [the] District has failed to place [K.P.] in the least restrictive environment in which she can receive a satisfactory education, which [Porter] contends is a separate school offering multisensory instruction for students with learning disabilities." Stutzman's report specifically noted that " [Porter] assured [Stutzman] and District counsel that this is the only issue she wishes heard" and that private placement was the only remedy sought. The District responded ...


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