Family of student who is blind files federal lawsuit against Blue Valley Schools

Suit claims school unlawfully changed contract
Posted at 1:41 PM, Sep 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-25 18:40:42-04

LEAWOOD, Kan. -- The Blue Valley School District is being sued by a family who claims their daughter's education plan was changed without their permission. 

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Soren and Lyn Petro, claims the district made changes to their daughter's individualized education plan - or IEP - without their consent.

The 41 Action News Investigators began following the Petro's battle with BVSD in 2016. 

Brooke Petro, 10, is legally blind.

For the past four years, BVSD has supplied Brooke with her Braille materials, even though she attends private school.

The Petros said Blue Valley Schools could not accommodate their daughter's needs. 

As a compromise, the Petros agreed to cover the costs of Brooke's private education as long as BVSD paid for Brooke's materials - something that was agreed upon in an IEP.

The latest contract, or IEP, was signed by both the family and the school district in 2015.

Each year, an IEP can be adjusted.

However, under Kansas law, if a change of more than 25 percent is applied, the parents must consent.

According to the lawsuit, "The District did not obtain parental consent. Instead the District simply issued two Prior Written Notices (dated January 20, 2016 and February 6, 2016), and claimed the January 28, 2015 IEP was now "amended"."

The Petros filed a due process complaint and a hearing officer sided with the family in August.

The hearing officer ruled that the district violated the rules by changing the IEP.

The officer also ruled that BVSD needed to reimburse the family for the costs associated with Brooke's materials.

However, the school appealed the hearing officer's decision and won.

When a disagreement over an existing IEP arises, the school and the family are supposed to follow the last agreed upon IEP until an agreement can be reached, according to the Petros.

The lawsuit states, "When due process is filed, a rule called "stay put" freezes the last agreed upon IEP in place until the dispute is resolved. The last agreed upon IEP was the January 28, 2015 IEP."

The Petros said Blue Valley Schools has refused to cover the costs of Brooke's materials throughout the disagreement.

Last week, the 41 Action News Investigators revealed the district has spent more than $130,000 in legal fees fighting the Petros.

According to the Petros, Brooke's materials cost about $23,000 a year. 

The Petros told the 41 Action News Investigators Blue Valley Schools has offered to Braille Brooke's materials if those materials match its curriculum. 

However, according to the Petros, it was always agreed that Blue Valley would pay for Brooke's books to match the curriculum of her private school.

The Blue Valley School District sent 41 Action News the following statement about providing students with Braille materials.

"The School District does provide the District’s materials in braille format for students enrolled in the District who are visually impaired. Just as a public school is not required to purchase private school general education curriculum when parents choose a private school experience, the district is not responsible for providing brailled copies of curriculum adopted by the private school."

Brooke, according to the Petros, would not benefit from books that do not match the curriculum where she is taught. 

The family is asking to be reimbursed for the costs of their daughter's books. They're also asking that the IEP from 2015 stays in effect until an agreement is reached. 

The Blue Valley School District said in a statement: 

"We have a longstanding history of great success serving not only Blue Valley students, but private school students who attend our schools for special programs or services. One of the pillars of our work is providing our students with tools, opportunities and methods for learning. It is a responsibility that we whole-heartedly embrace."

Editor's Note: Soren Petro is a regular contributor to 41 Action News sports coverage.