A Delaware County student with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder who seriously beat a fellow student in the lunchroom did not commit the assault because his condition made him do it, a federal judge has ruled.
In finding that the assault was not a manifestation of J.H.’s disability, U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld a hearing officer’s ruling dismissing lawsuit brought by J.H.’s parents against Rose Tree Media School District under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and state law.
According to Schiller’s opinion, in 2017, then 15-year-old J.H. approached the victim while he was eating his lunch and offered him a box of raisins. Then, without provocation, J.H. slammed the student’s head into his lunch tray and subsequently “wound up like a softball pitcher” and punched the student in the eye.
The victim suffered a broken nose and eye socket, a collapsed nasal cavity, an air pocket behind the left ear, as well as a concussion. One of J.H.’s friends filmed the incident and posted the video online.
After the incident, school district officials convened a “Manifestation Determination Review,” or MDR, to determine whether J.H.’s actions were spurred by his ADHD. They concluded it did not. J.H.’s parents sued on the basis that Rose Tree Media violated IDEA and state law, and failed to conduct an adequate MDR hearing.
They alleged that the district had deleted some of the video material and several administrators had not viewed it. Additionally, the parents claimed the hearing officer did not consider how the disability specifically manifests in J.H.
“Here, at least two members of the MDR team reviewed video footage capturing the incident,” Schiller said. “The hearing officer also reviewed and relied on the video footage. Besides, plaintiffs did not offer a reason for believing the MDR outcome may have changed if every team member reviewed the video footage before the meeting. For example, the school psychologist, who did not review the video until the due process hearing, testified that he would not have changed his conclusion.”
Schiller continued, noting that the plaintiffs cited no holding that school districts are obligated to preserve multiple videos of student misconduct.
As for the question of manifestation, Schiller said, “It is unapparent to the court how J.H.’s disability, or its impulsive effects and associated stressors, caused or directly and substantially related to a planned assault on another student.
“This is especially true given that the victim did not bully J.H.,” Schiller continued. “The court rejects plaintiffs’ effort to separate J.H.’s smashing victim’s face into the tabletop and J.H.’s punching victim in the face.”
Michael D. Raffaele of Kershenbaum & Raffaele represents the parents and did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did the district’s lawyer, Katherine H. Meehan of Raffaele Puppio.