Therapy for Private School Students

Disabled Pennsylvania school children can qualify for occupational therapy even if they choose to attend private school.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently addressed this entitlement in a lawsuit brought by the parents of a kindergarten student who suffers from muscular and visual impairments. The local public school district evaluated the child and decided that he was “handicapped” and was therefore entitled to certain federally mandated services, which included “occupational therapy.” The therapy would have included one 30-minute session each week, with additional “teacher consultations and related accommodations.”

The child’ s parents then enrolled the child in a private school, in part due to the fact that the private school offered full-day kindergarten and the public school district did not. But in order to qualify for the occupational therapy, the parents opted for a “dual enrollment,” enrolling the child in both the private school and the public school, with the intention that the child would actually attend the private school only. The public school then denied the occupational therapy services, claiming that they were only available to children “attending” the school.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the disabled child, ruling that enrollment is enough to qualify a student for certain federally mandated services for disabled students— and that the disabled student need not actually attend the school to qualify. In fact, as the court emphasized, the federal mandates actually require that public schools undertake actively to seek out and identify qualified handicapped students who are not enrolled and inform them and their parents of all of the services that are available to them.

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