Special Education Appeals BSEA #00-1620
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
IN RE Marblehead Public Schools BSEA# 00-1620
DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS PARENTS’ APPEAL
This decision is rendered pursuant to M.G.L. Chapters 15, 30A, and 71B; 20 U.S.C.§1400 et seq .; 29 U.S.C. §794; and all of the regulations promulgated under each of these statutes.
A hearing in the above-entitled matter was held on May 3, 2001 at the Massachusetts Department of Education in Malden, MA. The record remained open for receipt of written final arguments until May 23, 2001.
Those in attendance were:
Madeline Berube Advocate for Parents
Michael Cutler Attorney for Parents
Robert Bellucci Director of Special Education, Marblehead Public Schools
Richard Sullivan Attorney for Marblehead Public Schools
Catherine Lyons Attorney Sullivan’s Office
Raymond Oliver Hearing Officer, Bureau of Special Education Appeals
The evidence consisted of Marblehead Public Schools’ Exhibits labeled S-1 through S-19; A Joint Set of Exhibits labeled J-1 through J-9; Parties’ Joint Stipulation of Facts (SOF) labeled SOF-1 through SOF-15; and approximately 2 ½ hours of oral testimony.
STATEMENT/HISTORY OF THE CASE
Student is a 6 year old child currently residing with his family in Ipswich, MA. Prior to September 15, 1998, Student and his family resided in Marblehead, MA. Student turned 3 years old in late December, 1997. (See SOF-1). Prior to his 3 rd birthday Student had been receiving early intervention services via the Family Support Early Intervention Center (EIS) since April, 1997. (See SOF-2; J-1D).
Three months prior to Student’s 3 rd birthday, Marblehead Public Schools (MPS) wrote to Parents for permission to do an initial evaluation of Student and on October 9, 1997 Parents signed consent for MPS to perform the following evaluations of Student: 1) Psychological/educational; 2) Speech-language; 3) Occupational therapy; 4) Physical therapy; and 5) Teacher assessment. (See S-1; J-1; SOF-2). Because Parents refused to have MPS’ psychologist conduct the cognitive/psychological evaluation, on November 17, 1997 MPS offered to utilize Dr. Karen Levine, Parents’ choice, to do the cognitive/psychological evaluation of Student if Parents would waive their right to an independent psychological evaluation. A tentative appointment with Dr. Levine was set for December 17, 1997. Also in its November 17, 1997 letter to Parents, MPS named the professionals designated to perform the speech-language and occupational therapy evaluations, detailing their degrees and state certifications/licensures as well as their national board certifications (i.e., Certificate of Clinical Competency from the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association for the speech-language pathologist and the American Occupational Therapy Certification for the occupational therapist). (See S-2).
On November 25, 1997 MPS Special Education Director Bellucci reiterated MPS’ willingness to have Dr. Levine conduct the cognitive/psychological evaluation, which Parents had requested, in exchange for Parents’ waiver of an independent psychological evaluation based upon Dr. Levine’s testing (J-1B). Parents never accepted MPS’ offer of the cognitive/psychological evaluation to be performed by Dr. Levine. (See testimony, Mother). On November 26, 1997 Parents withdrew their permission for MPS to perform any evaluations of Student. (See SOF-2; S-3, 7). During December 1997 EIS furnished MPS with its child summary and child developmental profile of Student (SOF-2; J-1D).
During January 1998 MPS sent Parents a series of letters: 1) Attempting to schedule a team meeting for Student; 2) While maintaining its right to evaluate Student indicated that MPS would use the available reports from EIS (speech/language and occupational therapy) as a basis for an initial IEP; 3) Requested copies of any evaluations, known or unknown to MPS, that Parents may have had performed on Student. No cognitive/psychological evaluation was presented to MPS by Parents, nor were any evaluations sent to MPS other than those reports provided by EIS. (See SOF-3; S-3,5,6,7; J-2A, 2B, 2C, & 2D). On January 20, 1998 Mr. Bellucci offered interim services for Student in speech-language therapy and occupational therapy from North Shore Children’s Hospital (NSCH) during the period an IEP was being developed for Student (S-4: J-2E). These were the types of services Student had been receiving via EIS (J-1E, 1F). Parents did not accept MPS’ offer of interim speech-language and occupational therapy services via NSCH. (See testimony, Mother).
On January 21, 1998 a team meeting was held with Mother, EIS personnel and MPS personnel in attendance (SOF-4). On February 10, 1998 MPS proposed an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for Student for the time period of February 10, 1998 to February 10, 1999 which provided for a 502.8 (c) prototype placement at the North Shore Educational Consortium (NSEC). Under this proposed IEP Student would receive: 1) 22 ¼ hours of educational services per week within NSEC’s pre-school classroom; 2) Speech-language therapy for ½ hour daily or 2 ½ hour per week; 3) Occupational therapy for 45 minutes 3 times per week or 2 ¼ hours per week; and 4) Services of a home trainer for 2 hours every other week or 1 hour per week; for a total of 28 hours of educational and related services per week. (See SOF-7; S-8; J-3).
Upon receipt of MPS’ proposed IEP for Student, Parents retained educational advocate Berube regarding the development and dispute of the IEP (SOF-6; testimony, Berube; Mother). On March 6, 1998 MPS wrote to Parents that the 30 day time period in which they must respond to the IEP would soon expire; that MPS could not implement any services without Parents’ consent; and that if no response was received by March 13, 1998, MPS would sent the IEP to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA). (See SOF-9; S-9; J-4A). On March 17, 1998 MPS forwarded the unsigned IEP to the BSEA with no action being requested at that time (SOF-9; S-10; J-4B). This appeal was given the case number BSEA # 98-4040.
In April 1998 MPS agreed to a meeting, requested by Parents, to discuss Student’s IEP and to seek Parents’ agreement to it as initially issued or as modified. At that April 17, 1998 meeting Parents expressed their objection to any IEP that did not continue Student’s existing supplemental service providers (i.e., Student’s specific speech-language therapy and occupational therapy service providers originally funded via EIS); and Parents’ objection to sending Student to NSEC. (See SOF-12, 13). By the end of the April 17, 1998 meeting, Parent consented to MPS evaluators’ observation of Student during a supplemental service delivery period. However, Mother specifically prohibited any evaluation by MPS personnel and further specified that any observation must be done in the presence of one of the Parents. Such observation took place in May 1998. (See SOF-14; S-18).
On May 4, 1998 MPS filed a request with the BSEA for a pre-hearing conference (SOF-15; S-11; J-7). A pre-hearing conference was initially scheduled for June 16, 1998 but Parent alleged lack of prior notice and that she would not make herself available to participate. On July 14, 1998 MPS requested a formal hearing, suggesting late August 1998 dates (S-12). The case was apparently scheduled for hearing on October 8, 1998. However, by a letter dated September 18, 1998, Parents’ then attorney notified the BSEA that Parents had moved to Ipswich and had enrolled Student in the Ipswich Public Schools ( SOF-15; S-14; J-8).1 Based upon Parents’ move to Ipswich, on September 23, 1998 MPS withdrew its request for a hearing to determine the appropriateness of MPS’ proposed IEP for Student (SOF-15; S-13; J-8B). Therefore, BSEA # 98-4040 was closed.
On October 1, 1999 Parents requested a BSEA hearing against MPS seeking reimbursement for Student’s supplemental services (speech-language therapy and occupational therapy) privately paid for by Parents in late 1997 and 1998 (SO5-15). This appeal was given the case number BSEA # 00-1620 and assigned to Hearing Officer Reece Erlichman. A pre-hearing conference and numerous pre-hearing conference calls were conducted by Hearing Officer Erlichman with the parties not yet prepared to proceed. On September 28, 2000 this case was administratively re-assigned to Hearing Officer Raymond Oliver. Hearing Officer Oliver conducted numerous pre-hearing conference calls and a pre-hearing conference on March 15, 2001. A hearing on MPS’ Motion To Dismiss Parents’ Appeal was held on May 3, 2001 with the final supplemental briefs arriving at BSEA on May 23, 2001.
In addition to the exhibits, joint stipulations of facts and oral testimony referenced above, MPS filed a written brief and two supplemental briefs in support of its Motion To Dismiss Parents’ Appeal; similarly Parents filed a written memorandum and two supplemental memoranda in Opposition to MPS’ Motion To Dismiss Parents’ Appeal. All briefs/memoranda are hereby incorporated into this Decision by reference.
ISSUE IN DISPUTE
Should MPS’ Motion To Dismiss Parents’ Appeal be granted or denied?
STATEMENT OF POSITIONS
1) MPS’ position is that Parents’ Appeal should be dismissed for several reasons. First, MPS argues that Parents refused their consent for MPS to perform an initial evaluation of Student and never allowed MPS to perform any initial evaluation of Student. Second, MPS argues that at no time relevant to the IEP at issue did Parents ever exercise any of the options provided to them by law including wholly or partially accepting the IEP in writing, wholly or partially rejecting the IEP in writing, or postponing a decision in writing until an independent evaluation was completed. Parents never signed the IEP in any way. Finally, MPS argues that Parents, after never permitting MPS to perform an initial evaluation and after never giving MPS any written notice of their rejection of the IEP, waited to request a hearing against MPS for 12 months after moving away from Marblehead which was also 8 months after the expiration of the IEP at issue. Therefore, MPS argues that Parents’ actions were untimely and prejudicial.
2) Parents oppose MPS’ Motion To Dismiss for several reasons. First, regarding Parents refusal
to consent to an initial evaluation, Parents argue that Student’s eligibility for special education services has never been in dispute given Student’s receipt of EIS services. Further, Parents argue that MPS was provided several clinical assessments of Student and had a sufficient basis for reasonably assessing Student’s special education needs. Regarding the refusal of Parents to sign the proposed IEP in any way, as well as the refusal of Parents to permit MPS to perform an initial evaluation of Student, Parents argue that as a matter of statutory interpretation and public policy the special education laws should be read liberally for the benefit of students and their families. Finally, regarding all of MPS’ arguments, Parents argue that equitable considerations, not regulatory procedural rules, determine the time in which Parents’ reimbursement claim may be presented to the BSEA; that Parents’ claim was presented within the 3 year time period permitted by the borrowed statute of limitations (3 years borrowed from the Massachusetts civil rights statute of limitations, M.G.L. c, 260 s. 5B); and that MPS’ position has not been prejudiced by Parents delay.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
Based upon the written exhibits and written stipulations of facts introduced into evidence; the oral testimony presented; and the extensive written briefs/memoranda of law submitted; I conclude that MPS’ Motion To Dismiss Parents’ Appeal should be GRANTED .
My analysis and rationale follow.
I. PARENTS’ REFUSAL TO CONSENT TO OR TO PERMIT THE INITIAL EVALUATION OF STUDENT BY MPS.
20 U.S.C. §1414 (a)(1)(A) – Initial evaluation – provides that:
A State educational agency, other State agency, or local educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation , in accordance with this paragraph and subsection(b), before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under this part . Emphasis added
20 U.S.C. §1414 (a)(1)(C)(ii) – Refusal of initial evaluation – provides that:
If the parents of such child refuse consent for the [initial] evaluation, the agency may continue to pursue an evaluation by utilizing the mediation and due process procedures under Sec. 1415, except to the extent inconsistent with State law relating to parental consent . Emphasis added
603 CMR 28.402.1 (1996) – the Massachusetts special education regulations as they existed
during the time period at issue in this dispute – provides:
A school committee may not request a hearing on a parent’s failure to consent to initial
evaluation or initial placement of a child in a special education program . Emphasis added
See also In re: Sharon Public Schools 4 MSER 91 (1998) and In re: Ipswich Public Schools 6 MSER 77 (2000).
Based upon the above statutory and regulatory provisions it is clear that federal special education law requires the public school or agency responsible for a child’s education (in Massachusetts the Local Education Authority or LEA) to conduct a full, individual initial evaluation before the provision of special education and related services to a child with disabilities. It is also clear that federal special education law contemplates that if the parents refuse consent for an initial evaluation, the LEA may pursue a due process hearing if not inconsistent with state law. However,
Massachusetts special education law specified that an LEA may not request a hearing on a parent’s failure to consent to an initial evaluation or initial special education placement pursuant to an IEP. The purpose of both state and federal special education law is to provide special education and related services to special education students. I conclude that for this Massachusetts special education regulation (603 CMR 28.402.1) to make any sense, the prohibition upon a school committee to request a hearing due to a parent’s failure to consent to an initial evaluation or initial placement of a child in a special education program was in deference and respect to parents’ right to refuse to allow their child to be either found in need of special education or to refuse to receive any special education or related services. Therefore, in the instant case, I conclude that Parents may not: 1) Refuse to permit MPS to perform an initial evaluation and refuse to allow MPS to provide any special education or related services to Student; 2) Then later pursue a hearing against MPS for failure to provide special education services or for offering inappropriate services; 3) Seek an order that MPS provide retroactive reimbursement for services privately provided to Student by Parents; 4) All for the very same time period Parents were refusing to consent to an initial evaluation and refusing to allow any provision of special education services to Student by MPS.
In addition to the statutory and regulatory provisions cited above, I derive substantial support for my conclusion from four United States Court of Appeals cases in three different circuits. These cases are best summarized by the following passages from Andress v. Cleveland Independent School District 64 F. 3 rd 176 (5 th Cir. 1995) also cited at 22 IDELR 1134 at 1135 – 1136:
In order to receive the special education mandated by IDEA, a child must first be identified as “handicapped” or “disabled”. Once a child has been identified as handicapped, he must be reevaluated at least every three years, to determine his continuing eligibility for special education. 34 C.F.R. § 300.534.
If a student’s parents want him to receive special education under IDEA, they must allow the school itself to reevaluate the student and they cannot force the school to rely solely on an independent evaluation. Gregory K. v. Longview School Dist., 811 F.2d 1307, 1315 (9 th Cir. 1987) (“If the parents want [the student] to receive special education under the Act, they are obliged to permit such testing.”); DuBois v. Conn. State Bd. Of Ed ., 727 F.2d 44, 48 (2d Cir. 1984) (“[T] he school system may insist on evaluation by qualified professionals who are satisfactory to the school officials.”); Vander Malle v. Ambach , 673 F.2d 49, 53 (2d Cir. 1983) (School officials are “entitled to have [the student] examined by a qualified psychiatrist of their choosing.”). A parent who disagrees with the school’s evaluation has the right to have the child evaluated by an independent evaluator, possibly at public expense, and the evaluation must be considered by the school district. 34 C.F.R. § 300. 503.
It would be incongruous under the statute to recognize that the parents have a reciprocal right to an independent evaluation, but the school does not .
Therefore, we hold that there is no exception to the rule that a school district has a right to test a student itself in order to evaluate or reevaluate the student’s eligibility under IDEA .
A handicapped student must be reevaluated every three years to determine his continuing eligibility for special education under IDEA. A parent who desired for her child to receive special education must allow the school district to reevaluate the child using its own personnel; there is no exception to this rule. Wesley’s parents refused to allow the school district to reevaluate him. Therefore, Wesley was not eligible for special education after March 1988, when his reevaluation was due.
Because Wesley was not eligible for special education after March 1988, the school district does not owe Wesley or his parents any money to reimburse them for the cost of providing Wesley with special education.
I conclude that the analysis of the cases cited above becomes even more cogent when applied in the instant case where Parents refused consent to an initial evaluation of a 3 year old child who had never been evaluated by MPS nor ever been educated within MPS. In light of the above cited cases, I conclude that Parents’ arguments minimizing Parents’ refused to permit Student’s initial evaluation (cited in STATEMENT OF POSITIONS , above) to have no merit. Indeed, I find that MPS’ actions: 1) In offering to utilize Parent’s choice of psychologist (Dr. Levine) to perform the cognitive/psychological evaluation (S-2; J-1B); 2) In offering to provide interim speech-language therapy and occupational therapy at NSCH during the time period the IEP was being developed(S-4; J-2E) because they were the type of services Student had been receiving via EIS (J-IE, IF); and 3) In preparing the IEP based upon the limited information furnished to them by Parents; to have been extraordinarily understanding and keeping with the spirit and intent of federal and state special education law in what was a totally untenable situation for MPS created by Parents. Based upon the above cited cases, I conclude that Parents who refuse consent for the LEA to perform an initial evaluation and who attempt to control all aspects of the initial evaluative process and release of evaluative information do so at their peril.
Based upon the undisputed facts of this case cited above; and based upon the statute, regulation and case law cited above; I conclude that pursuant to 801 CMR 1.01(g)(3) of the Massachusetts Formal Rules of Administrative Adjudicatory Procedure and Rule 16(B)(3) of the Hearing Rules for Special Education Appeals, Parents have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Therefore, for all of the reasons cited in Section I of the FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS above, MPS’ MOTION TO DISMISS PARENTS’ APPEAL based upon Parents refusal to consent to or to permit an initial evaluation of Student is hereby GRANTED .
II. PARENT’S FAILURE TO SIGN THE INITIAL IEP IN ANY WAY.
20 U.S.C. §1415 – Procedural safeguards – established procedures :
… to ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education … 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a).
20 U.S.C. §1415 (b)(6) provides parents an opportunity to present complaints with respect to any matters relating to the identification, evaluation, educational placement or provision of free appropriate public educational services to such child. 20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(7) and (b)(7)(A) provides procedures that require the parent or the attorney representing the child to provide notice to the LEA that shall include at 20 U.S.C. §1415 (b)(7)(B):
I. the name of the child, the address of the residence of the child, and the name of the school the child is attending;
II. a description of the nature of the problem of the child relating to such proposed initiation or change, including facts relating to such problem; and
III. a proposed resolution of the problem to the extent known and available to the parents at the time … Emphasis added
603 CMR 28.325.1 (1996) – the Massachusetts special education regulations as they existed
during the time period at issue in this dispute – provides:
No later than thirty days after the school committee sends parents the IEP or the
statement that the child does not need special education and the notice required by
¶ 317.0, the parent of the child who has been evaluated2 or reevaluated shall exercise one of the following options by noting such option on one copy of the IEP or in a separate letter and returning it to the school committee . Emphasis added
The options provided are then listed at 603 CMR 28.325. 1 (a) through (e).
Based upon the above federal statutory and state regulatory provisions, I conclude that both federal and state special education law clearly requires Parents or their representative to respond to the LEA’s proposed IEP in writing.
It has been established by the documents (S-8, 9,10,11; J-4A, 4B, 7); and by the testimony of Mother and Ms. Berube; that Parents or their advocate never, in writing, signed the IEP prepared for Student by MPS in any way. Neither Parents nor their advocate wholly or partially rejected the IEP; wholly or partially accepted the IEP; or exercised any of the options provided on the IEP at any time during the life of the IEP or at any time thereafter. Nor did either Parent or their advocate provide to MPS any written letter or written notice rejecting the IEP, describing their problem with the IEP or any proposed resolution. Indeed, Mother testified that upon her receipt of MPS’ proposed IEP for Student, she engaged Ms. Berube so that Mother would not have to communicate with MPS at all. Ms. Berube testified that she never rejected the IEP in writing because she did not want the case to go to the BSEA at all. Ms. Berube’s testimony from her notes detailing contacts with MPS (Mr. Bellucci) as well as her testimony regarding her contacts with Ms. Tuttle (MPS’ team chairperson) demonstrated that Ms. Berube never even orally rejected the proposed IEP to Mr. Bellucci, Ms. Tuttle or any other MPS personnel.
The evidence is also clear that MPS made repeated efforts to obtain a written response from Parents regarding MPS’ proposed IEP for Student. (See testimony, Bellucci; Berube; S-8,9,10,11; J-3, 4A, 4B, 7).
Both side cite numerous cases in support of their position that this case should or should not be dismissed due to Parents’ failure to sign the IEP. (See Briefs/Memorandum filed by both parties incorporated by reference herein). I find the following cases cited by MPS and the following statutory provisions to be most persuasive.
While procedural protections were designed primarily for the benefit of parents and require schools to follow certain procedures, such procedural protections also place certain responsibilities upon parents which include the responsibility to sign/reject/respond to the school’s proposed IEP in writing. (See 20 U.S.C. §1415 (b)(6), (b)(7), (b)(7)(A), (b)(7)(B); 603 CMR 28.325.1 all cited above). Procedural requirements also affect parents. Burlington v. Department of Education 471 U.S. 359, at 373 (1985). When evaluating a claim for reimbursement, there must first be a rejection of the IEP and initiation of the administrative appeals process. See Burlington v. Department of Education 736 F. 2d 773, at 796 (1984) (Burlington II) and Chris A. v. Stow Public Schools 16 EHLR 1304, at 1310 (MA 1990) citing Burlington II . Parents were not awarded reimbursement due in part to Parents failure to formally challenge the student’s IEP. See Amann v. Stow School System 982 F. 2d 644, at 651 (1992) which was Parents’ appeal to the federal courts of the Chris A., v. Stow Public Schools case cited above. In Amherst – Pelham Regional School District v. Department of Education 376 Mass. 480, at 483 (1978) retroactive reimbursement was granted to parents who
provided services at their own expense. However, such retroactive reimbursement was granted from the date parents rejected the public school’s inadequate plan consistent with the statutory scheme.3
Parents also cite Amherst – Pelham v. Department of Education and state that the family here seeks only to:
“ place  the parent and child precisely where they would have been had the school  initially fulfilled its statutory obligations in evaluating the child ” 376 Mass. at 493. Emphasis added.
However, Parents never allowed MPS to initially fulfill its statutory obligation by their refusal to consent to/permit MPS to ever evaluate Student!
Based upon the above cited cases, statute and regulation, I conclude that parents have an obligation to sign the school’s proposed IEP, select one of the proposed options, and/or separately reject the IEP in writing with their reasons and a potential alternative or alternatives. Indeed, this is one of the few affirmative obligations which parents have under federal or state special education law. Signing/rejecting an IEP is not an onerous burden for parents and is done thousands of times a year by parents in Massachusetts by either signing the IEP and checking the appropriate box and/or providing several sentences of reasons or explanation either on the IEP or via separate letter. In this case, as stated above, Parents were represented by an experienced educational advocate and later by an attorney. Further, Parents had previously rejected an IEP on another child (S-19) and had gone through a full BSEA hearing and decision on that child. (See testimony, Mother). Finally, as also stated above, MPS made repeated attempts to obtain a written response regarding MPS’ proposed IEP from Parents. For whatever reasons, Parents chose not to respond to the IEP in writing in any way. I conclude that Parents who refuse to fulfill their mandated obligation to respond in writing to the IEP in any way do so at their peril.
Based upon the undisputed facts of this case cited above; based upon the testimony presented; and based upon the case law cited above; I conclude that pursuant to 801 CMR 1.01(g)(3) of the Massachusetts Formal Rules of Administrative Adjudicatory Procedure and Rule 16(B)(3) of the Hearing Rules for Special Education Appeals, Parents have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Therefore, for all of the reasons cited in Section II of the FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS above, MPS’ MOTION TO DISMISS PARENTS’ APPEAL based upon Parents failure to sign the initial IEP in any way is GRANTED .
BSEA # 00-1620 is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE .
By the Hearing Officer,
Dated: July 31, 2001
Parents’ attorney also notified MPS and BSEA via said letter that she withdrew her representation of the family.
Again, in the instant case, Student was never evaluated. This is yet another instance of the law requiring initial evaluation before the provision of an IEP or special education services to a child.
I note that all of the cases cited above are Massachusetts case.