In the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a school district is suing a mother. The Bethlehem Area School District has filed suit against Diana Zhou. The school district alleges that the woman “deliberately abused special education laws” in an effort to encourage the school to send her child to a private school. The school states that the child was a “gifted” student.
The lawsuit is rare and was filed under a very specialized portion of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.). This federal law allows for school districts to try and recoup costs lost when legal actions had an “improper purpose.” The school district is able to try and collect the costs of attorney fees from lawyers and from parents who push these improper claims. In this particular case, the school district has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees on the claims made by the woman.
The lawsuit stems around a series of incidents in which Ms. Zhou requested meetings to develop plans to be used to educate her two children. Each time, she refused the services that the school district offered to her. More than 20 hearings were held over a period of eight years. The hearings were designed to determine if the two children were getting appropriate services. In each of the hearings, the district won.
Under federal law, the school must provide specialized educational resources for children who are gifted, which both of Ms. Zhou’s children tested as. The federal laws also provide that parents have the right to special hearings if they cannot agree on what the best plan for the child is. The lawsuit further states that the conflict worsened in the 2008 to 2009 school year. During that time, the lawsuit alleges Ms. Zhou told a mediator that she did not want to come to an agreement with the district regarding one of the child’s education plans.