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Blue Valley School District spends $130k in legal battle with family

Posted at 8:45 PM, Sep 18, 2017

LEAWOOD, Kan. — The Blue Valley School District has spent thousands of dollars in a legal battle with a family in its district.

The feud between the school district and the Petros began last year when the district made changes to Brooke Petro's individualized education plan or IEP.

 "You can't just go in and change legal documents and then hide behind lawyers and get away with it and that's absolutely what's going on here." Soren Petro, Brooke's father said.

Agreement between school district and the Petros

Brooke, 10, is legally blind.

Brooke's family sends her to private school to accommodate her needs.

However, each school district in the state of Kansas receives funding for students who live in the district but attend private school.

Before Brooke began kindergarten, her parents said they entered into an agreement with BVSD, that the Petros would pay for Brooke's education as long as the district covered the costs of Brooke's braille books.

An agreement both the Petros and BVSD put in writing in an IEP.

School district opts out of agreement

Each year, the IEP is signed-off on by both the parents and the school district.

However, last year, the district told the Petros it would no longer cover the costs of Brooke's books.

The Petros filed a due process complaint arguing the school could not make changes to their daughter's IEP without their consent.

"That's [an IEP] all you have to protect your child in getting what they need to be educated," Soren Petro said. "If the school is simply allowed to change those at their whim, the parents are always going to pay the price."

Battle between hearing officers

Records show a hearing officer sided with the Petros last month.  

The report states, "The January 28, 2015 IEP shall remain in effect until properly modified hereafter, and the District shall provide compensation to the parents for any braille costs incurred for the school terms subsequent to January 2016 through the date of this order."

It was a long-awaited, but short-lived victory for the Petros.

The school district appealed the hearing officer's decision. This time, a new hearing officer sided with the district.

Kansas law states, if a school makes more than a 25 percent material change to a child's IEP, the parents must consent. 

Lyn Petro, Brooke's mother, claims the district made a 100 percent change without their permission.

"They took away all her braille," Lyn Petro said. 

While hearing officers are supposed to serve as a third party between parents and school districts, the Petros said the system is designed to rule in favor of the schools.

In Kansas, hearing officers are paid for by the school district. Something the Petros said creates a conflict of interest.

"The system is setup to beat the parents into submission, "Soren Petro said.

The school district would not discuss the matter but issued the following statement:

Blue Valley Schools is committed to fostering a learning environment that ensures equal opportunities for all students. While disputes about education will inevitably arise, the District’s commitment to each of its students remains steadfast. Because the District regards its obligation to protect the privacy of its students, we are unable to publicly comment regarding a specific student’s educational needs. We value the opportunity to serve all students and families in our community.

Long battle, big costs for taxpayers

Records obtained by the 41 Action News Investigators show BVSD has spent $130,000 dollars so far in legal fees fighting the Petros.

"They're willing to spend whatever it takes any individual case to try and scare any other family away from fighting for the rights of their child," Soren Petro said. "It's picking the kid who has the hardest time and really making it difficult on their family."

Steve Roberts, Kansas State Board of Education, said taxpayer dollars would be better spent on the children.

"It seems to me that putting the student first is a simple, basic proposition," Roberts said. "[Brooke's] a terrific young lady, who happens to be blind, we have to recognize that some students cost more to educate."

Blue Valley School District's total operating budget for the current school year is about $200 million. 

The Petros are paying to braille Brooke's books themselves. They said the books cost about $23,000 each year. 

"The school runs unopposed," Soren Petro said. "I need someone to help. I need politicians and people who govern to look at the laws and see what's going on."