Fayette school board takes legal action against state department of education

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comNovember 8, 2013 

In what the Fayette County School board attorney calls a "rare" action, the board this week filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky Department of Education in a special education case.

A complaint in the lawsuit, filed Nov. 4 in U.S. District Court in Lexington, points to a state exceptional children appeals board decision that says Fayette County Schools failed to provide a disabled child with an appropriate education.

The Kentucky Department of Education is named as a party in the lawsuit, along with a child and their parents, because the department oversees implementation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But the hearing officer and appeals board members who made the decisions at issue were not employees of the Kentucky department or a school district, said Grant Chenoweth, an attorney for the Fayette County School Board.

The lawsuit says the appeals board ruling "is erroneous as a matter of law and unsupported by substantial evidence" in determining that a student identified in court records only as "Z.B." was denied a free appropriate public education.

The complaint in the lawsuit, which asks that some records remain under seal, provides few details about the case. But it says that a due process hearing on Z.B.'s education was conducted by a Kentucky Department of Education hearing officer in February.

Chenoweth said the child's parents made a request for a hearing in 2012.

Court documents don't say what a hearing officer decided, but both sides appealed to a three-member panel that makes up the Exceptional Children Appeals Board.

In October, the state Exceptional Children Appeals Board ruled that Fayette County Schools had failed to provide Z.B. with a free appropriate public education in the 2011-2012 school year, the lawsuit complaint said.

The appeals board decided that Fayette County Schools had to compensate by providing the student with 540 minutes or nine hours of psychological services, according to the court record.

In the federal lawsuit the Fayette School board is asking a judge to set aside the appeals board ruling.

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Education did not immediately comment on Friday afternoon.

Chenoweth said he could not discuss additional details of the case. But Chenoweth said it is "relatively rare" for school districts to go to federal court over whether the Exceptional Children Appeals Board ruled correctly.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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