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Former Pittsburgh Public Schools student sues district, says she was not provided adequate education

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Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.
 

An Allderdice High School student and her parents claim in a federal lawsuit that she couldn't graduate with classmates in 2010 because Pittsburgh school officials didn't provide her with adequate home schooling while she was ill.

The teen, identified as K.K., took advanced classes and participated in science and math competitions in 2009, until a stomach virus caused a chronic medical condition that left her homebound the rest of her junior year.

During that time, the district provided 2.5 hours of instruction weekly from an instructor who wasn't certified to teach the classes she took, the suit claims. Her parents say the district refused their request for more instruction time and better-qualified teachers.

Their lawsuit challenges a state hearing officer's Aug. 7 ruling in favor of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Attorney Jeffrey Ruder, who represents the family, declined comment.

Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh declined comment except to verify that a hearing officer ruled in the district's favor.

Pamela Berger, a Pittsburgh attorney who specializes in education disability discrimination cases, said she isn't familiar with the case but finds it “very odd” the district would limit instruction to 2.5 hours per week.

“The minimum is five hours a week, which is completely inadequate,” she said.

The family is suing under a section of the Rehabilitation Act, which bans agencies that get federal money from discriminating against disabled students.

The district drew up an inadequate plan to cover K.K.'s education and did not follow a second plan designed to allow her to catch up with classmates when she returned to school, the family claims. The lawsuit seeks to recover the cost of tutoring, legal costs and experts' fees.

School board member Regina Holley, a retired Pittsburgh school principal, said she's not familiar with the case but thought that homebound students got more schooling.

“I was under the impression that they had more than 2.5 hours,” Holley said. She said the district should consider providing homebound students with online courses.

Two other board members declined comment and others couldn't be reached.

The family claims the district has a fixed practice of providing 2.5 hours per week, regardless of a student's needs. Such a blanket policy would violate federal law, said Shari Mamas, a lawyer in the Pittsburgh office of the nonprofit Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, who wasn't familiar with the case.

The district could be in legal jeopardy if it failed to follow a plan, which becomes a binding contract, she said.

“If it was in her plan, and it wasn't being followed by her teachers, then it would be a legal violation,” Mamas said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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