Blue Valley District denies blind student payment for her braille textbooks, pays $130,000 in legal fees

In October of 2014, the Kansas City magazine “435” wrote an article about a blind Leawood student who didn’t “let visual impairment stand in her way.” She had won a US and Canada-wide award for excellence in reading comprehension of braille, and the story praised her motivation to succeed in whatever she wanted to pursue.

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Brooke Petro (right) goes boating with a friend who is also visually impaired.

That student’s name is Brooke Petro. In coming years, what would stand in her way was not that she can’t see but that the Blue Valley School District (BVSD) would stop paying for her braille textbooks.

Since Brooke is blind, she goes to a private school that can accommodate her needs. She still lives within the boundaries of the District, and Kansas law requires districts provide the same special needs services to private school students as public school students. SO, Brooke’s parents Lyn Petro and Soren Petro hashed out an individualized education program (IEP) with the District that agreed the District would pay for her braille textbooks. The Petros would cover everything else for Brooke’s education.

However, in January of 2016, the Petros said they looked at the IEP and saw the District had changed it without their consent. The IEP stated the District would no longer pay for her textbooks after Brooke’s third-grade year.

The Petros filed a lawsuit against the District. At first, the hearing officer sided with the Petros, but then the District appealed and a new hearing officer sided with the BVSD. The Petros will take this decision to state or federal court.

In total, the BVSD has paid $130,000 in legal fees. The Petros said they’ve spent $24,000 in paying for Brooke’s materials and the attorney.

The biggest issue is whether or not the BVSD can change the IEP without parents’ consent. Kansas law does say IEPs can be changed without consent as long as only 25 percent of their services are changed, but the Petros claim the District did not follow the proper procedures. The District argues it determines what special needs services it provides, and private school braille textbooks are not a part of those.

BVSD communications director Kristi McNerlin said in an issued statement the law does not require the District to braille private school materials.

“The School District does provide the District’s materials in braille format for students enrolled in the District who are visually impaired,” the statement read.

“Because the District’s materials can be used in future years by the District’s visually impaired students, there is long-term value in brailling these materials. The District also provides the District’s materials in braille format for visually impaired students who reside within the District’s boundaries but elect to attend private schools.”

There has been backlash against the BVSD for fighting this legal battle, with Kansas state board member Steven Roberts standing up for the Petros and condemning the BVSD’s actions. Additionally, the president of Kansas Policy Institute Dave Trabert told The Sentinel this legal battle is ridiculous.

“Do the math on this,” Trabert said. “The books cost $23,000 per year. The district spent six years’ worth of books on legal fees.”

This story is still developing.