East Longmeadow Public Schools – BSEA #01-3582
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
In re: East Longmeadow Public Schools
This decision is issued pursuant to M.G.L. c. 71B and 30A, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. , U.S.C. 794, and the regulations promulgated under these statutes. A hearing was held in the above-entitled matter on July 9, July 10, September 20, 21, November 13 and 20,2001 and January 11, 24, 25 and 28, 2002, at the offices of Catuogno Reporting Services in Springfield, MA. Those present for all parts of the proceeding were:
Mr. & Mrs. Parents
Barry Sarvet Psychiatrist, Bay State Medical Center
David Drake Head, White Oak School
Kathleen Hill Principal, Birchland Park Middle School
Despina Pesculis Teacher, Birchland Park Middle School
Paul Trinque Guidance Counselor, Birchland Park Middle School
Susan Mitchell Principal, Mountain View Elementary School
Donna Suchcicki Teacher, Mountain View Elementary School
Patrice Wagner Teacher, Mountain View Elementary School
Nancy Morrow Teacher, Mountain View Elementary School
Wayne Wilson Principal, Mapleshade Elementary School
Gail Levy Educational Administrator, Valley West Day School
Richard Stefanik Director, Valley West Day School
Robert Sabato Clinical Director, Valley West Day School
Steven Rheame Supervisor, Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative
Raymond Sylvain Director, Special Education, East Longmeadow Public Schools
Claire Thompson Attorney for Parents
Peter Smith Attorney for School
Lindsay Byrne Hearing Officer, BSEA
The official record of the hearing consists of: exhibits submitted by the Parents marked P-1 through P-1l and P-13 through P-44; exhibits submitted by the School marked S-1 through S-40 and approximately 50 hours of recorded oral testimony. Both parties submitted closing arguments on April 3, 2002, and the record closed on that date.
The Parents submitted an initial request for hearing on February 12, 200l, asserting that East Longmeadow failed to provide an appropriate special education program for their 14 year old son, and seeking reimbursement of expenses associated with the Student’s unilateral placement beginning in February, 2001, at Alldredge Academy, a private, unapproved wilderness program in West Virginia. On February 13, 2001, the Student died while attending Alldredge Academy. The Parents elected to continue the appeal and submitted a Request for Production of Documents to the School on March 26, 2001. The School responded on July 6, 2001, three days before the scheduled evidentiary hearing on July 9, 2001.1 On July 17, 200l, the Parents submitted an Amended Hearing Request including allegations of denial of a free, appropriate public education for grades 3 through 8. On March 1, 2002, after the hearing had concluded, the Parents withdrew the Request for Hearing as to the Student’s third grade year (1995-996) but continue to seek a determination of the appropriateness of the School’s actions and IEPs for subsequent years.
1. Whether the 1996-1997 4 th grade Individualized Education Plan developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive environment?
2. Whether 1997-1998 5 th grade Individualized Education Plan developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive environment?
3. Whether the 1998-1999 6 th grade Individualized Education Plan developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive environment?
4. Whether the 1999-2000 7 th grade Individualized Education Plan developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive environment?
5. A. Whether the 2000-2001 8 th grade Individualized Education Plan developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive environment? B. If not, are the Parents entitle to reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses associated with the unilateral placement of the Student at Alldredge Academy in February, 2001?
This is a sad case. It concerns the educational history of a Student who committed suicide shortly after his 14 th birthday during his first week attending an unapproved,
“therapeutic wilderness” program in West Virginia. The Parents allege that the School failed to identify, and/or failed to provide appropriate supports and interventions for, the Student’s significant emotional impairment. The School counters that the Student’s mild social and behavioral difficulties were well known to the Parents and to school personnel, that they were addressed by the School in regular education, and that more direct therapeutic services were repeatedly offered and turned down by the Parents. In assessing the merits of the Parties’ positions, the Hearing Officer must judge the accuracy and veracity of witness memories of meetings and conversations that took place many years ago, recognizing that subsequent events may have greatly altered perceptions. Fortunately in this matter, the contemporaneous documentary record is relatively intact and provides significant support for less objective assignments of credibility. Unfortunately, taking all the evidence presented in this matter into consideration, I find I cannot credit the testimony of the Parents. The mother’s memory of events, dates, conversations, and documents was internally inconsistent, contradicted by less interested witnesses and by documentary evidence in the record, incomplete, or absent entirely.3 The father’s testimony was equally unreliable in the legal sense.4 Given the events of the year preceding their testimony, this is understandable. Nonetheless without corroboration the Parents’ testimony provides an infirm, and ultimately unsupportable, foundation for their IDEA claims against East Longmeadow. I make the following findings of fact, therefore, with little attribution to the Parents. Other factual issues raised at the hearing but not discussed below are found either to be unsupported by credible evidence, or not pertinent or necessary to the resolution of the issues before the Bureau.
Summary of the Evidence
1. The Student attended public schools in East Longmeadow until September, 2000. He was uniformly described as bright, engaging, highly verbal, with a great fund of knowledge, particularly in history, and genuine interest and competence in all things having to do with outdoor exploration and experience. (Parents; Trinque; Pesculis; Suchcicki)
2. The Student attended a second grade “inclusion” class as a regular education student at Mapleshade School during the 1994-1995 school year . On October 6, 1994, Ms. Wood, the teacher, met with the mother to discuss the school’s concerns about the Student’s academic weaknesses, and to tell her that the Student would receive remedial reading instruction in second grade. Thereafter the mother, a psychologist, administered intellectual function and academic achievement tests to her son. Ms. Wood and the mother met again on November 3, 1994, to discuss the results of the parent administered tests, which showed some learning difficulties. On January 26, 1995, Ms. Wood referred the Student for an initial special education evaluation. The Parents refused to consent to the evaluation. The parents met with the teacher and Mr. Sylvain, the Director of Special Education, on February 16, 1995, to discuss their refusal to consent to a special education evaluation and some suggested classroom modifications. In the Spring the Student began to demonstrate behavioral difficulties in class. A behavior chart was developed and implemented successfully by the second grade teacher. In June, the Parents, Mr. Sylvain, the principal of Mountain View Elementary School Ms. Mitchell, and Ms. Wood, met to discuss which regular education third grade placement would be most appropriate for the Student. (S-33; Sylvain)
3. In September, 1995, the Student entered a regular education 3 rd grade class taught by Nancy Morrow at Mountain View Elementary School. Ms. Morrow testified she met with the Parents and the reading teacher, Ms. Taylor, shortly after the start of school to set up a reading support program for the Student. He began receiving 45 minute daily reading tutorials in September, 1995. Ms. Morrow met with the mother again on October 25, 1995, to discuss the Student’s poor self-esteem and peer difficulties. Ms Morrow suggested the Student attend counseling with Wayne Wilson, the school guidance counselor. The mother replied that she was aware of the Student’s “problems” and was taking care of them on her own. (Morrow; Wilson) Ms. Morrow testified that as part of the regular 3 rd grade program for all students in her class she used the “Second Step” social skills curriculum. This program provided the Students with techniques to foster empathy, impulse control and anger management. Ms. Morrow used structured group discussions to help children recognize feelings and develop appropriate responses. She also had a “point system” in the classroom which she found worked well for this Student. (Morrow)
4. In January, 1996, Ms. Morrow, Ms. Taylor, and the Parents met again to discuss the Student. Ms. Morrow testified that she requested the Parent’s consent to a special education evaluation because she believed the Student to be “quite bright” but “frustrated” with reading, writing and math and showing consequent social difficulties. At first the Parents agreed to the evaluation, but later revoked their consent and told Ms. Morrow to stop any testing. The Parents requested that the School fund an outside evaluation in lieu of any school staff administered testing. The School agreed. (S-34) Ms. Mitchell, the principal of Mountain View School, also met with the Parents in her office to discuss Ms. Morrow’s concerns about the Student’s self-esteem. Ms. Mitchell testified that she asked the Parents to consent to school based counseling. The mother replied that the Student was receiving outside counseling and that if his academic difficulties were addressed, his behavior and confidence would improve. (Mitchell)
5. The parents selected Thomas Garbett, a clinical psychologist, to conduct the evaluation. After testing the Student in April, 1996, Dr. Garbett found academic and attentional weaknesses, though he made no diagnosis of learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder. Dr. Garbett also noted that the Student had some mild school adjustment issues, but an overall positive sense of self. He recommended a variety of academic remediation techniques and also stated that the Student “might enjoy” group activities outside school. (P-19; S-6) At a meeting on May 20, 1996, the Team, including Dr. Garbett, adopted Dr. Garbett’s recommendations. The Team developed an IEP providing for special education services in reading, written language and math to be delivered in the Student’s regular fourth grade classroom. The IEP was accepted by the mother in July, 1996. (P-20) In addition, at the Parents’ request, the Student received after school tutoring three afternoons per week with a tutor from American International College. This service was funded by the School, though it does not appear on the IEP. (Sylvain; Wagner)
6. For the 1996-1997 school year the Student attended an “inclusion” fourth grade taught by Patricia Wagner, Cynthia Fournier and Corrine Niznick. Ms. Wagner testified that the Student did not have any behavioral or mood difficulties in the classroom beyond those typical for 4 th graders. He took advantage of the special support and made good academic progress throughout the year. The Student continued to have difficulty with, and avoid if possible, written language work. Ms. Wagner spoke to the mother throughout the year and testified that the mother reported that the Student’s learning issues and academic deficiencies were the cause of the Student’s self-esteem and frustration issues. The mother reported to Ms. Wagner that she was very pleased with the inclusion model of providing services and declined an offer of guidance services because that would pull the Student out of the classroom. (Wagner) Ms. Wagner used the Second Step program with all students in her classroom to teach social, behavioral and community skills such as anger management, conflict resolution and self-esteem. The 4 th grade Second Step curriculum taught the Students specific skills to handle typical elementary school issues such as: bullying, teasing, name calling, being left out, etc.. The goals and techniques were carried over into the health and physical education social curricula. Ms. Wagner testified that the Student participated actively in the Second Step program, and did not express any particularly worrying complaints. (Wagner)
7. At the conclusion of the 4 th grade Ms. Wagner and Ms. Fournier recommended that the Student continue to receive special education services through an “inclusion” model in 5 th grade. (Wagner) At the Team meeting on May 21, 1997, the Parents stated that they preferred the Student to attend a regular education class with a particular teacher they knew and liked, Donna Suchcicki. The Student’s teachers felt strongly that inclusion was a better educational model for the Student, and that if he attended a regular 5 th grade he would need intensive written language support. (Wagner; see also Mitchell). Ms. Wagner testified that she reluctantly developed a “pull-out” IEP because the Parents are members of the Team too, and they have to support the IEP. The proposed 5 th grade IEP provided for a regular 5 th grade class with daily written language support by a special educator in a resource room setting. The IEP noted that after school tutoring would continue. There is no parental response to the 1997-1998 IEP in the record. (P-21; Wagner)
8. As requested by the Parents, the Student was placed in Donna Suchcicki’s 5 th grade class in September, 1997. Ms. Suchcicki tutored the Student two mornings a week throughout the summer preceding the 5 th grade. She continued to tutor him after school on Mondays throughout the school year. Ms. Fournier, the Student’s special educator from the previous 4 th grade year, was scheduled to provide the daily written language support listed on the IEP. The Student resisted leaving the classroom, however. The Team reconvened in September, 1997, and at the mother’s request for full inclusion, deleted the resource room component of the Student’s program. Ms. Suchcicki explained that social integration was deemed to be more important that written language remediation. She provided additional accommodations and strategies to assist the Student in the classroom, including: qualified reinforcement, bibliotherapy, cooperative grouping; reduced written assignments; a scribe; and one-to-one assistance in starting all written assignments. Ms. Suchcicki also communicated with the Student’s after school tutor. (Suchcicki). Ms. Suchcicki testified that the Student had good working peer relations and no significant disciplinary problems. She never saw depression or heard self-denigrating remarks. She saw some frustration with academic demands but did not find it out of the ordinary or even surprising as he was receiving no special education services during the year. She was aware that the Student received counseling outside of school, but had no contact with the provider. Ms. Suchcicki testified that she never observed any behavior, nor received any reports of the Student’s behavior in other settings, that suggested a referral to a psychologist, a behaviorist, or the principal, was warranted. (Suchcicki) Ms. Suchcicki testified that she used regular education techniques for all students in the classroom to foster cooperation and collegiality. The DARE program also provided instruction in drug and crime resistance, social and friendship skills, conflict resolution, character building and self-esteem. The Student participated meaningfully in the classroom and, at the Parents’ request, did not receive any special or pull-out social skills intervention. (Suchcicki)
9. Susan Mitchell, Principal of Mountain View Elementary School testified that fostering the social and emotional growth of each 3 rd , 4 th , and 5 th grade student was a school wide goal. School staff conducted a whole school assembly at the beginning of each year that focused on respect. Each classroom teacher implemented the Second Step program which provides age appropriate training in violence prevention by teaching students techniques to reduce frustration and gain control of their bodies, to problem solve in constructive ways and to develop empathy. Each classroom also participated in the DARE program. At the time the Student attended Mountain View the staff included a guidance counselor, Wayne Wilson, a school adjustment counselor, Mary Reese, and a school psychologist, Bruce Jackson, who were available to all students and staff. Each of them provided individual and group counseling to students, conducted social skills groups and offered consultative and evaluation services. (Mitchell) The School PTO sent a monthly newsletter to all student households describing school staff and programs. The health office sent a newsletter to all student households four times a year. It described the health curriculum, guidance services, the Second Step program, parent training and physical education programs. (Mitchell) Dr. Mitchell testified that she was familiar with the Student and spoke to his parents regularly. She stated that the Student did not stand out from the norm behaviorally, social/emotionally or academically. She was at meetings when teachers recommended that the Student receive counseling, and reiterated those recommendations directly to the Parents on more than one occasion during 3 rd , 4 th , and 5 th grade. Dr. Mitchell did not mention any particular provider by name, position, or qualifications. The Parents’ consistent response to the recommendations for counseling was that the Student’s difficulties arose from weaknesses in writing and spelling, that the parents would be responsible for any psychological counseling, and that no school based counseling was permitted. Dr. Mitchell requested information and coordination with the Student’s outside therapist but the mother refused. (Mitchell)
10. Wayne Wilson was the guidance counselor at Mountain View Elementary School at the time the Student attended. Mr. Wilson testified that his role was to help children with adjustment problems, particularly if they resulted in social/emotional or behavioral difficulties in school. He did one-to-one counseling, group counseling, consultation to teachers and parents, social skills groups and testing. Guidance services are a component of the regular education program. Both regular education and special education students receive guidance services. Guidance does not appear on an individualized education plan as a special education service. Mr. Wilson explained that a guidance counselor can observe, consult about, or talk to any student from time to time as necessary, but that no ongoing “counseling” can be provided without parental consent. Mr. Wilson knew the Student through conversations with his teachers and parents. He testified that Ms. Morrow, the Student’s 3 rd grade teacher, contacted him with concerns about the Student’s work-avoidance behavior, but that she was unable to obtain parental consent for counseling. He also met with the parents and the principal during the Student’s 5 th grade year after a “running away” episode. He spoke to the Parents and offered to provide guidance services at that time. The Parents stated that the Student saw a counselor outside of school and declined school based counseling. (Wilson)
11. During the Student’s 5 th grade year the Parents requested an outside psychological evaluation. They selected Marguerite Genest, a psychology fellow with a Doctorate in Education, to perform the evaluation. The School agreed. Based on her May, 1998, testing and on parental report about the Student, Dr. Genest diagnosed dysthymic disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and learning difficulties. (P-25; S-8) She recommended continuation of the academic interventions set out in Dr. Garbett’s report and carried out by the Student’s previous teachers. She also recommended direct instruction in social skills including “structured peer interactions [that] could occur in the form of a social skills group and in team sports.” She recommended continuing “outpatient counseling”. (P-25; S-8)
12. The Team met on June 10, 1998, to plan for the Student’s transition to the 6 th grade at Birchland Park Middle School. Dr. Genest attended the Team as did Ms. Suchcicki, Dr. Mitchell, Mr. Sylvain, Paul Trinque (the guidance counselor at Birchland Park), and several special educators at Birchland Park. The Team recommended that the Student receive inclusion special education services in math and written language, and tutorial support outside the classroom in reading/phonemic awareness. (Suchcicki; Sylvain) These services were included on the proposed IEP (P-22; S-1). There is no parental signature on the 1998-1999 6 th grade IEP in the record. The Team also recommended that the Student receive direct social awareness instruction with the middle school guidance counselor, Paul Trinque, as well as continuing outside counseling. As guidance counseling is a regular education service this recommendation does not appear on the proposed IEP. The parents told the Team that they would be responsible for continuing “outside” counseling. That service does not appear on the proposed IEP. Academic tutoring during the Summer, 1998, and after school during the 1998-1999 school year continued through Curtis-Blake providers at parental request and school expense. (Sylvain; Suchcicki; P-29)
13. The Student followed the 6 th grade program proposed in the 1998-1999 IEP. He also participated in a social skills group conducted by Patricia Kelly Bedard outside of school during the Fall, 1998, at school expense. He continued after school tutoring through Curtis-Blake at school expense. It is not clear whether the Student attended individual counseling at this time. (Trinque; P-25; S-36) Mr. Trinque, a Birchland Park guidance counselor, supervised the Student’s transition to middle school. He testified that the Student did not demonstrate any academic or behavioral difficulties that warranted concern or intervention. He did not receive any reports of difficulties from teachers or other students in the Fall, 1999. The Student talked to Mr. Trinque occasionally. He appeared open, comfortable, insightful. Mr. Trinque taught a nine week guidance curriculum to all 6 th grade students as part of the health course. The course focused on developing student skills in self-exploration, conflict resolution, anger management, and communication. Mr. Trinque testified that the Student participated in the course and had no notable reaction to it. (Trinque)
14. In the Spring, 1999, the School requested the Parents’ consent to a three year re-evaluation of the Student. The Parents requested that a comprehensive assessment, including a neurological examination, be conducted by non-school personnel. The School agreed. The Parents selected Dr. Jane Bernstein in Boston to conduct the assessment. The School agreed. The Parents then changed their selection to Dr. Teresa Hodel-Malinofsky in Easthampton, MA. The School approved and funded the requested evaluation. (P-30; S-9; Sylvain)
15. The Team met on May 13, 1999, to develop the IEP for the Student’s 7 th grade school year. The Parents were sufficiently pleased with his 6 th grade progress that they requested that the Student remain with the same team of teachers.5 The 6 th grade teachers reported growth in all areas, including the social/emotional sphere. Mr. Trinque noted that the Student demonstrated a need for assistance in organization and study skills. The Student had no absences and no tardies. (Hill; Trinque; S-15; S-11; S-31). The Team developed an IEP providing for special education services in English and math to be delivered in the inclusion model. The IEP deleted in-school tutorial services. The Student continued to have school-funded summer and after school tutoring services with Curtis-Blake. The IEP also noted that “counseling, behavioral/motivational intervention and social skills intervention” were important elements in the Student’s “programming” for grade 7”. (P-23; S-2) Mr. Trinque testified that he understood the reference to counseling and behavioral intervention on the Student’s IEP to refer to the regular education curriculum and checks. He understood from his participation in the Student’s Team meetings that the Parents wanted the School to focus on academic remediation and that the Parents would arrange for counseling and social/emotional support outside school. (Trinque) The Team agreed to reconvene when the parent-initiated evaluation had been completed. (Hill) There is no record of parental response to the proposed 1999-2000 IEP. (P-23; S-2)
16. Despina Pesculis, 7 th grade special education teacher at Birchland Park, and the Student’s liaison, described the Student’s program. She provided academic remediation and support in an inclusion model in all written assignments using techniques such as: highlighting, providing notes, use of a scribe. She also supervised a daily “tutorial” for both regular and special education 7 th grade students. This 18 student class, devoted to preteaching, assignment review, and assistance was co-taught with a regular education teacher and two paraprofessionals. The Student also participated in a smaller “tutorial” group of four students with Ms. Pesculis for two quarters. Health and computers filled that time slot for the other two quarters of the year. The guidance curriculum was a component of the health course. It focused on self-exploration, anger management, conflict resolution and communication. (Trinque; Pesculis) Ms. Pesculis also coordinated assignments and interventions with the Student’s after-school tutor, Susan Noble, three times a week. Ms. Pesculis described the Student as respectful, talkative, insightful and kind. He loved to read, had a great vocabulary, and a broad knowledge of history. He had good relationships with his teachers and peers. He had no difficulty in cooperative learning groups so long as there were no lengthy written assignments. She never noted any self-deprecating remarks, and never observed any demonstration of poor self-esteem or embarrassment. Ms. Pesculis had six face-to-face meetings with the parents over the course of the 7 th grade, and spoke by phone to the mother on average once weekly. (Pesculis)
17. In October, 1999, Ms. Pesculis observed the Student was unusually quiet and frequently tardy. On speaking to the mother of her concerns, Ms. Pesculis learned that the Student’s grandmother, who lived with the Student, had become quite ill. Ms. Pesculis offered to have the school psychologist talk to the Student. The mother declined, stating that the Student was already attending counseling outside school. (Pesculis; Trinque) After the Student’s grandmother died in November, 1999, Mr. Trinque met with him several times for grief counseling. (Trinque)
18. The Team reconvened on November 11, 1999, to discuss the results of the neuropsychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky in June, 1999,6 and to review the Student’s 7 th grade performance. Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky found the Student to have Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity. She ruled out other learning and affective diagnoses. The results of academic, executive functioning, memory and visual functioning tests were in the normal range. Her assessment of the Student’s emotional functioning did not cause Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky to diagnose an emotional impairment. She noted that the Student’s most significant difficulty, affecting all areas of functioning, was his inability to grasp “the whole” of any situation: text, space, social. She recommended continued placement at Birchland Park with social skills training in self-esteem and self-management in a peer group setting by a guidance counselor. She noted that the Student’s psychotherapist could reinforce self-management strategies taught by the guidance curriculum. She recommended direct work on attention, written organization, and computer skills. Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky also recommended that she work with the Student doing exercises in Cognitive Control Therapy. (S-9) The Parents requested that the School contract with Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky to provide the Cognitive Control Therapy to the Student and to consult with the School on a monthly basis. The School agreed to arrange and fund these services. (Hill; Sylvain) The School offered targeted guidance services and counseling with the school psychologist in addition to Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky’s therapy. The parents declined these services stating that the Student was already engaged in psychotherapy outside school. (Hill; Pesculis; Trinque) Ms. Pesculis told the Team that she observed the Student becoming overwhelmed by the academic demands of the 7 th grade program. His homework completion was inconsistent, he preferred to read alone rather than engage in his tutorial work, and he was becoming increasingly tardy. She suggested that foreign language and specials be removed from his schedule so that he had more time to devote to academic preparation and remediation. This was done. (Pesculis; S-3) The Parents suggested that less emphasis be placed on homework. This modification was incorporated into the proposed IEP. (S-3) The resulting 1999-2000 IEP provided for: inclusion special education support and regular education instructional modifications in written language and mathematics; tutorial services; homework modifications; and private provider psychological consultation to the School. The IEP contained all the services and modifications recommended by Team members. No services recommended by an evaluator or requested by the parent failed to appear on the IEP, or to be provided through the regular curriculum. The mother accepted the IEP on November 23, 1999. (S-3)
19. Birchland Park had a school policy that students who accumulated 13 tardies were required to serve Saturday detention. In the Fall, 1999, the Student had nearly reached the detention limit. The Parents asked Kathleen Hill, the Principal at Birchland Park, to waive the detention requirement for the Student. She determined that the Student was reacting to the death of his grandmother, and modified his attendance requirements. She gave him a blanket tardiness excuse which remained in effect for the balance of the 7 th grade. (Hill)
20. The Student continued to have significant difficulties with work avoidance in school and homework completion throughout the Winter of 2000.7 The Team met with Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky in February and again in March, 2000. At the March meeting, the Team asked Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky to discuss any of her observations that might affect the Student’s educational program. She replied that she was not at liberty to discuss the Student’s mental health issues. Also at that meeting, the Parents requested that the Student’s IEP be amended to eliminate all homework requirements. After the Parents submitted a doctor’s supporting recommendation, the IEP was amended to eliminate grading of homework. (S-4) That IEP Amendment was accepted by the mother on March 17, 2000. (Hill; Trinque; Pesculis)
21. On March 6, 2000, the Parents requested that educational testing be performed by Thomas Garbett, who had evaluated the Student in 3 rd grade. The School approved the request and funded that outside evaluation. (P-33; Sylvain)
22. The Team reconvened on April 3, 2000. Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky did not attend the April Team meeting. The Team determined that the Student needed a more intensive remedial program in a smaller, structured group setting than was available at Birchland Park. The Parents and Ms. Pesculis met with Mr. Sylavain the next day, April 4, 2000, to explain the Team’s conclusion that the Student needed an alternative placement. The meeting ended with an agreement to seek admission to the White Oak School, an approved private school geared to teaching students with significant language and reading disabilities. The Student was admitted to the White Oak School the next day, April 5, 2000, for admission to the 8 th grade in the Fall, 2000. (S-23; Pesculis; Sylvain) There is no evidence in the record that the Parents requested, or that any other teacher, provider, or evaluator recommended, educational or therapeutic services that were different from, or additional to, those available at the White Oak School.
23. The Student completed the 7 th grade at Birchland Park. The School provided tutoring during the 2000 Summer vacation through Curtis-Blake as it had done in previous summers.
24. Dr. Garbett’s April, 2000, evaluation found the Student to function in the average range for reading and math, with weaknesses in written language. Dr. Garbett recommended direct, remedial instruction in all aspects of written language. No affective observations or recommendations were made. It is not clear in the record when Dr. Garbett’s report was received by the Parents or the School. (S-10; P-3)
25. The Student entered the 8 th grade at the White Oak School. David Drake, Head of the school, described the program and the Student’s participation in it. White Oak is a small, one hundred student school serving children in grades 4 through 12 who need staff-intensive literacy remediation. Although most students have self-esteem issues related to school failure, the school is not designed to address significant social/emotional issues. It has no full-time psychologist, guidance counselor or other counselor on staff. (Drake) Mr. Drake described the Student as curious, bright, loyal and compassionate with significant difficulty in expressive written language. Although initially enthusiastic and diligent, he avoided work he perceived as difficult. Over the course of the Fall, 2000, the Student became angry and defiant, and engaged in some dangerous behaviors such as bolting from the school and being inappropriate on the bus. The Student had one significant negative incident with a particular bus driver. When the Parents called Mr. Sylvain to report their concerns, the driver was immediately replaced. Mr. Drake testified that there was a Team meeting scheduled in October, 2000, to develop the IEP.8 ((S-24, 26, 27; Drake)
26. The Team met on December 13, 2000. Mr. Drake testified that the participants acknowledged that the Student’s behavior was increasingly noncompliant and oppositional and that White Oak was no longer an appropriate placement for him. Mr. Sylvain suggested Valley West Day School as an alternate placement and described the program there. (Drake, Sylvain) Mr. Drake testified that there was no discussion at the Team of the Student’s imminent withdrawal or termination from White Oak. There was no discussion of any potential disciplinary action. The Team did not develop a termination plan. The Team decided to reconvene on January 11, 2001. (Sylvain) After the Team had concluded, and Mr. Sylvain had left, Mr. Drake talked with the Parents about the Student’s experience at White Oak. He suggested that they consider keeping the Student home to avoid a disciplinary termination. (Drake)
27. On December 15, 2000, the mother and Mr. Sylvain accepted an IEP calling for the Student’s placement at the White Oak School. The IEP period listed is August 1, 2000 to November 1, 2000. (P-6; S-5) It is the last accepted IEP in the record.
28. On December 15, 2000, the mother left a phone message for Mr. Sylvain requesting a referral to Valley West Day School. Mr. Sylvain called Richard Stefanik, Executive Director of Valley West, to inquire about the Student’s potential placement there and was told to wait until after the December holiday. (Sylvain; Stefanik) The Student did not attend White Oak School after December 15, 2000.
29. On December 20, 2000, Mr. Sylvain received a phone message from the Parents asking if a tutor should be arranged. (S-39) Mr. Sylvain testified that he was confused by this message as he believed the Student was still attending White Oak, and had received no notice from the Parents or from White Oak that the Student had been withdrawn. Winter vacation began on December 22, 2000. (Sylvain)
30. On January 3, 2001, the secretary from the White Oak School called Mr. Sylvain’s office to determine the Student’s whereabouts as he had not arrived on the bus. (Sylvain) On the same day, without prior arrangement, the father visited the Valley West Day School and spoke briefly with Mr. Stefanik and Robert Sabato, the Clinical Director. (Stefanik; S-32; Sabato) The father told Mr. Stefanik he didn’t think Valley West was appropriate for the Student, but that he would “go through the motions”. (Stefanik)
31. On January 10, 2001, the father left a message with Mr. Sylvain’s office stating that the Student was not attending school. Mr. Sylvain arranged for a formal referral visit to Valley West the next day. (Sylvain; S-39) The Parents and the Student visited Valley West on January 11, 200l. They met with Gail Levy, the Educational Administrator, and Mr. Sabato, for an intake discussion and tour of the facility. (Levy; Sabato)
32. Gail Levy described the Valley West program. It is an approved special education day school serving approximately 90 children and adolescents, 1 st grade through age 22 with affective needs, typically with diagnoses of ADHD, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some students have additional learning needs that are met through increased academic support in the regular program. The students’ affective needs are met through the high degree of structure, low student-teacher ratio, therapeutic environment, counseling staff, behavioral intervention systems, appropriate academic expectations and the emphasis on organizational skills. Typically there is a waiting list for entry into Valley West, though there is flexibility to shift program and group sizes. Ms. Levy testified that no one indicated that this Student was being referred to Valley West on an “emergency” basis. (Levy, Stefanik)
33. On the day of the referral meeting, January 11, 2001, the father arrived first. He told Ms. Levy that he didn’t believe Valley West would be appropriate for the Student as it was “too affective” rather than focused on the learning disabilities that caused the Student’s difficulties. Despite this opinion, Ms. Levy testified, the father stated that he would follow through on the procedure suggested by Mr. Sylvain. When the mother and Student arrived, the group toured the building and discussed the reasons for seeking admission to Valley West. The mother stated that the Student had “outstayed his welcome at White Oak”. The mother also stated that although the Student could stay on at White Oak, the parents had decided to pull him out, and that during the day he went to work with his mother. The mother and Student then left. The father remained to conclude the discussion. Ms. Levy explained that the Student’s referral information would be presented to an administrative team meeting on the next Wednesday. The father replied that the Student had very unique needs and that Valley West did not have a unique program. He told Ms. Levy that through an Internet search he had found an outdoor, wilderness program in West Virginia that he believed would be appropriate for the Student. The father stated that the Parents intended to place the Student in the wilderness program because it had an immediate opening. He added that the Student would begin the program a week before his January 30 th birthday. (Levy)
34. Ms. Levy testified that she presented the Student’s referral information at the Wednesday administrative meeting that occurred later that same day. She told the administrative team that the Parents did not want to send the Student to Valley West and had secured an alternate placement. Because she believed the Parents did not wish to seriously consider the Student’s placement at Valley West, Ms. Levy did not pursue securing parental releases for information or formal application materials and therefore made no formal determination of the program’s appropriateness for the Student. (Levy; Stefanik; Sabato) Ms. Levy notified the School about the conclusion of the referral meeting by letter dated January 12, 2001, which stated “[Parents] stated that they didn’t feel that Valley West is an appropriate program for [Student].” (S-29)
35. On Friday, January 12, 2001, the father left a phone message for Mr. Sylvain stating “the placement is not appropriate, will call back Monday”. (S-39; Sylvain)
36. The Parents and Mr. Sylvain met on January 18, 2001. The Parents told Mr. Sylvain that Valley West had told them that the Student was not appropriate for the program. They requested tutoring. Mr. Sylvain referred them instead to the Transitional Alternative Program (“TAP”) because he believed the Student could benefit from a full day placement and should receive credit for the first semester’s work. The Parents did not present any medical request for home tutoring. (Sylvain)
37. The Parents and Student met with Steven Rheame, the Program Supervisor at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative responsible for the TAP program, on January 23, 2001. He described the program as a small, alternative tutorial type placement in which students who are out of school, primarily for disciplinary reasons, continue their education. There are typically 5-8 high school age students at any one time, with a teacher and an assistant. There is strict security to ensure physical and psychological safety. It is not a therapeutic program, but exists primarily for academic maintenance for students who are between programs. The Parents looked at the physical location but did not ask questions. Mr. Rheame described the family reaction to TAP as one of “polite disinterest”. After the visit, Mr. Rheame called Mr. Sylvain to tell him that the family did not seem interested in TAP. (Rheame)
38. Mr. Sylvain had no contact with the parents after the January 23, 2001, visit to TAP. The next communication he received was a February 1, 2001, letter from the Parents’ lawyer alerting him that the Student was attending a wilderness program in West Virginia. (P-13; S-31)
39. There are no professional recommendations in the record for discrete counseling services to the Student that identify or limit the proposed service provider by licensure or title, with the sole exception of Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky’s June, 1999, recommendation for social skills training by a guidance counselor. (See ¶18; S-9) That service was offered and available.
40. There are no professional recommendations for a therapeutic educational placement in the record, and this type of educational approach was never discussed at any Team meeting for this Student.
41. There are no professional recommendations for a residential educational placement in the record and this type of educational approach was never discussed at any Team meeting for this Student.
42. Alldredge Academy describes itself as a therapeutic wilderness program. (P-10, 11) The Student attended Alldredge Academy for less than a week before his death. There is no indication in the record that it is approved by Massachusetts or West Virginia to provide educational services to adolescents. There is no indication in the record that Alldredge Academy is licensed by either state.
Findings and Conclusions
There is no dispute that at all relevant times the Student was entitled to receive a free, appropriate public education pursuant to 20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq. and M.G.L. 71B. The issue is whether the School failed, from 1996 through 2001, to properly address the Student’s documented special learning needs? This matter raises a number of interesting legal questions, among them: Whether a claim for compensatory special educational services survives the Student’s death?; under what circumstances can an accepted IEP, with no showing of procedural violations, form the foundation of a compensatory education claim?; whether a school is obligated to seek ratification of its offer of special education services whenever parents decline to consent?; and the calculation of statute of limitation time frames in special education appeals. I do not reach these issues however, as I find that this matter can be disposed of entirely on the facts.9 As noted in the introduction, the Parents’ claims that the School failed to appropriately address their son’s special learning needs are not supported by any expert testimony or report in the record. There is no corroborating history in the record. The claims rest solely on the Parents’ own memories, which are demonstrably unreliable, and their perspective which is necessarily colored by their experience of their son’s death. The record shows, contrary to the Parents’ assertions, the over the course of the five years at issue here, the School repeatedly offered both academic and psychological services for the Student which the Parents refused. The record also shows that every request, save one, that the Parents made for additional services or evaluations was honored by the School, no matter how unconventional or costly.10
Viewing the evidentiary record as a whole I could find no merit to the Parents’ claims of School indifference or inattention to their son. On the contrary, I found each of the teachers, counselors, and administrators to be concerned, careful, and informed about the Student, and about the individual and institutional educational response to his learning needs. Both Mr. Drake and Dr. Sarvet offered perspectives on the Student, and observations about the Student-Parent interactions, that supported the School’s version of historical events. The testimony of Mr. Rheame, Mr. Stefanik and Ms. Levy painted a portrait of the Student, and of his parents, that was consistent with the School’s experience.
Since the factual record is clear, and tragic, I need address the claims only briefly. In chronological order:
1 . 1996-1997 The Parents assert that the Student’s 4 th grade Individualized Education Plan failed to contain sufficient specialized educational services to permit the Student to obtain the maximum feasible benefit from his education. (P-20) In particular the Parents assert that the IEP failed to address the Student’s need for psychological support and social skills counseling with an appropriately qualified individual. The credible evidence in the record is to the contrary. The record shows that during the Student’s 3 rd grade year, school personnel provided in-classroom social skills instruction, requested the Parents’ consent to more individualized social and psychological counseling for the Student, and requested the Parents’ consent to a comprehensive special education evaluation. The Parents refused consent to both individualized psychological support and a school based evaluation. The Parents’ request for “outside testing” by the evaluator of their choice was honored. When the Team convened to develop the 4 th grade IEP it had information from the outside evaluator, the Student’s then current teacher, and the Parents. The evaluator, Dr. Garbett did not recommend any discrete service directed at the Student’s psychological or emotional functioning or his social skills. (P-19; S-6) The IEP reflects the recommendations of all Team participants. (P-20) The Parents requested that the School fund after-school tutoring in addition to the regular and special education services provided during the school day. The School provided after-school tutoring though it does not appear on the IEP. There is no evidence that the Parents requested the School to provide specialized psychological counseling or social skills instruction during the Student’s 4 th grade year. There is no recommendation in the record that any service provider have a particular license or title. There is no evidence that any evaluator, psychologist or counselor recommended any service to the Student during his 4 th grade year that the School either failed to or declined to provide. The IEP as developed and as accepted by the Parents, was implemented throughout the 1996-1997 school year. The documentary and credible testimonial evidence shows that it successfully addressed the Student’s identified learning needs as the Student gained skills, met his IEP goals, had no behavioral or disciplinary incidents warranting a change in the IEP or the Student’s placement, and passed to the next grade. There is no evidence in the record of any substantive flaw in the special education services contemplated for, or actually provided to, the Student during the 1996-1997 school year. (See ¶.3 and 4 supra ) Therefore I find that the 1996-1997 IEP developed by East Longmeadow was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting.
2. 1997-1998 The Parents assert that the Student’s 5 th grade Individualized Education Plan failed to contain the necessary specialized educational services to assure that the Student obtained the maximum feasible benefit from his program in the least restrictive setting. In particular, the Parents assert that the IEP failed to provide appropriate psychological and social skills services to address the Student’s evident disability in the social/emotional area. There is no factual or legal support in the record for the Parents’ assertions. At the May 21, 1997, Team meeting held to develop the Student’s 5 th grade special education program, all school personnel noted that the 4 th grade inclusion model of service delivery had been very successful for the Student and recommended that it be continued into the 5 th grade. The Parents rejected that recommendation requesting instead a regular education placement with a particular teacher, Ms. Suchcicki. Honoring the Parents’ preferences the School placed the Student in Ms. Suchcicki’s 5 th grade class, arranged for summer and after school tutoring with Ms. Suchcicki as well as additional tutoring through the Curtis-Blake Center and developed an IEP calling for daily written language assistance outside the classroom. (P-21) In September, 1997, the Parents declined even the written language assistance, opting for an entirely regular education program. There are no recommendations in the record for counseling, psychological services or social skills instruction for the Student during the 5 th grade year. There is no evidence that the Parents ever requested that the School provide such services prior to or during the Student’s 5 th grade year. (See ¶. 4, 5, 6, 7)
The proposed 5 th grade IEP was never signed by the Parents. Though the mother testified that she may have requested revisions in the IEP, there is no credible evidence, documentary or otherwise, in the record for this assertion. On the other hand, it is clear that the Parents insisted on a fully regular education program for the Student during his 5 th grade year. The School complied with the parental request. Absent a showing of dangerousness, or a judicial override of a parental refusal of special education services, a Student is entitled to enter a fully regular education program at any time. (603 CMR 28.208, 28.327) While, in hindsight, it may have been prudent for the School to seek an administrative affirmation that its proposed 1997-1998 IEP was appropriate for the Student, it was not unreasonable for school personnel to rely upon the Parents’ personal knowledge of the Student and professional expertise in the field of psychology, in determining the Student’s placement. Therefore I find that the Parents have failed to establish any procedural irregularities or substantive deficits in the development of the 1997-1998 IEP proposed by East Longmeadow, or to prove that the resulting 5 th grade program was not reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting.
3. 1998-1999 The Parents assert that the Student’s 6 th grade Individualized Education Plan failed to address the Student’s documented special education needs and to provide individualized services that were reasonably calculated to assure the maximum feasible benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting. In particular the Parents contend that the School failed to address the Student’s significant social-emotional concerns. There is no credible support in the record for the Parents’ position.
During the Spring, 1998, the Parents requested an “outside” psychological evaluation. The School agreed to fund an evaluation by a psychologist of the Parents’ choice. Dr. Genest conducted a comprehensive evaluation in May, 1998, and attended the June, 1998, Team meeting. (S-8; P-25) Her observations of the Student’s learning style and her recommendation for educational programming echo those of the previous evaluator, Dr. Garbett.
Dr. Genest made concrete recommendations for direct instruction in social skills and assistance with transitions. She observed that structured peer interactions “could” occur in social skills group or team sports or with a “study buddy”. Dr. Genest made no recommendations for a particular service provider or type of service provider in the social-emotional area. She did note that “outside counseling” should continue for the Student. (P-25; S-8; ¶. 7) The Team recommended that the School guidance counselor, Mr. Trinque, provide direct social skills instruction, transitional support and counseling when necessary. These recommendations do not appear on the IEP as they are regular education services. A comparison of Dr. Genest’s report, (P-25; S-8) Dr. Garbett’s report (S-6; P-19), and the testimony of Ms. Suchcicki with the proposed 6 th grade IEP supports the conclusion that the proposed IEP met the recommendations of the Team. There were no services that were requested or recommended that were not incorporated into the special education plan or available through regular education services.
There is no evidence in the record that at the June, 1998, Team meeting, or at any time during the 1998-1999 IEP period the Parents requested the services of a school based psychologist or licensed social worker. There were no specific recommendations for those services presented to the Team. The Parents did not request funding of “outside counseling” and did not provide any information concerning any “outside counseling” to the Team. The Parents did request continued school funding of after-school tutoring, to which the School agreed. Although the tutoring service does not appear on the IEP it is undisputed that it was regularly provided at school expense. There is no evidence that the Parents requested any revision or amendments to the 6 th grade IEP. There is no parental signature on the proposed 6 th grade IEP. Inclusion academic services were, however, provided to the Student during his 6 th grade year as that had been the last accepted special education program. (Sylvain) (See pp. 12, 13) Regular monitoring by Mr. Trinque, the guidance counselor, was also provided during the 6 th grade. By all accounts the 6 th grade was successful for the Student. There is no indication in the record that the Parents objected at any time during the Student’s 6 th grade year to any part of the educational program he was receiving, nor to the omission of any service from the Student’s 6 th grade program, therefore I find that the Parents have not proven any substantial procedural flaw or substantive deficiency in the 1998-1999 IEP.
4. 1999-2000 The Parents assert that the 1999-2000 IEP and Amendment developed by East Longmeadow were not reasonably calculated to address all of the Student’s identified special education needs so as to assure his maximum feasible educational development. In the Spring, 1999, the Parents requested that a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation be conducted by an “outside” evaluator in lieu of a standard three year reevaluation of the Student, and selected Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky to complete it. The School honored the Parents’ request. As the evaluation could not be completed in time for the Team meeting on May 13, 1999, the Team developed an IEP for the Student’s 7 th grade year without new evaluations. The Team proposed continuing the inclusion model of service delivery which had been successful for the Student during the 6 th grade. (P-23; S-2) The Parents did not sign the proposed IEP. The Student continued to receive inclusion special education services pursuant to the last accepted plan. (See ¶. 16) There is no evidence in the record that the Parents requested revisions to the proposed 1999-2000 IEP, objected to any of the services delivered to the Student, requested any additional services, or sought assistance in resolving any dispute with school administrators or the Bureau of Appeals. There is no evidence that the Student was harmed in any way by continuing to receive grade appropriate inclusion special education services equivalent to those in his last accepted plan. Given school personnel’s awareness of the Parents’ active involvement in his education for many years, the Parents’ knowledge of educational and psychological resources as evidenced by their use of “outside” tutorial, therapeutic, and evaluative services, and the Parents’ own professional and personal expertise concerning their son, it was reasonable at the time, if not wise in hindsight, for the School to rely on the lack of overt objection by the Parents to providing in-school special education support to the Student.
When, as the Student’s performance began to falter in October and November, 1999, the School accepted the Parents’ explanation that the Student was upset due to his grandmother’s serious illness and the Parents’ assertion that the Student had sufficient therapeutic support outside school, it also acted reasonably. The Team reconvened on November 11, 1999, to consider the results of the neuropsychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky, and to modify the prior proposed IEP to reflect her recommendations for ongoing psychological consultation to the Student’s school Team, and the recommendation of his 7 th grade special education teacher, Ms. Pesculis, for schedule and homework modifications. In addition, the School modified its attendance and tardiness policy at the Parents’ request. These modifications show the School’s concern and flexibility in addressing the increase in the Student’s academic and emotional challenges in the Fall, 1999. The School also offered in-school psychological support which the Parents declined. There were no modifications or services requested by the Parents or recommended by their evaluator that the School declined to provide. The Parents accepted the IEP developed at the November, 1999, meeting, and it was implemented. Based on this chronology I can find no factual basis to the Parents’ assertion that the School failed to provide an appropriate special education program in the least restrictive setting during the 1999-2000 school year.
5. 2000-2001 The Parents assert that the School failed to provide an appropriate special education program to the Student during the 2000-20001 school year by placing him at the White Oak School which the School knew was not designed to properly address the Student’s social-emotional needs, and then by failing to promptly place the Student in an appropriate therapeutic residential educational program when it became apparent that the Student could not benefit from a less restrictive alternative. The evidentiary record shows that the Team met on April 3, 2000, and concluded that the Student needed a more intensive, small group, remedial academic program than was available at the Birchland Park Middle School. The special education director, Mr. Sylvain, implemented the Team’s conclusion within two days by securing the Student’s admission to the White Oak School. The Parents accepted the White Oak placement. The Parents did not provide the Team with any information or recommendations from either of the Student’s then treating therapists, Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky or Dr. Sarvet. The Parents did not request a therapeutic educational placement or any additional psychological or therapeutic services for the Student. The Team had no independent information that would have supported a recommendation for additional or alternative therapeutic services. Therefore I find that the School properly implemented the Team’s recommendation for a small, intensive, academic remediation program by arranging for the Student’s attendance at the White Oak School. (pp. 20,22)
The Parents point out the Team failed to reconvene to consider the results of Dr. Garbett’s April, 2000, psychological evaluation before the Student was placed at White Oak. While this oversight technically violates the regulations at 603 CMR 328.411 I find that its effect in this case was de minimus . First, it is not clear in the record when Dr. Garbett’s report was received by the School. Second, Dr. Garbett’s report contained only academic testing and recommendations, all of which were consistent with the School’s observations and could support the Student’s placement at White Oak. Dr. Garbett made no recommendations concerning affective, therapeutic, or social-emotional services for the Student. There is nothing in Dr. Garbett’s report that would have necessitated, or even suggested, a need to reconsider the Student’s planned placement at White Oak, or supported the provision of adjunctive therapeutic services to the student.
The Parents also argue that the School’s failure to produce a working IEP prior to the Student’s placement at White Oak is evidence of the School’s ongoing inattention to the Student’s needs. I agree that the failure to produce a timely IEP is a significant procedural violation that could result in substantive educational harm to a student. In this matter however, despite the serious lapse of procedure, there was no showing of harm to this Student. The Student attended the program selected by the Team and agreed to by the Parents, at no cost to the Parents. There were no educational services recommended by the Team, or requested by the Parents, that were not provided to the Student during the time he was without an IEP specifying his placement at White Oak. Both Mr. Sylvain and Mr. Drake testified that it was standard practice for the White Oak staff to develop a comprehensive IEP based on a student’s demonstrated skills during the first 6-8 weeks at White Oak, and that this was done for this Student. The Parents did not object at the time to the lack of an IEP document, nor did they request a change in services, placement, or planned meeting time during the Fall, 2000. While the Parents’ apparent satisfaction does not excuse the School’s procedural lapse, these facts do not show any negative effect on the Student’s actual educational programming in the Fall, 2000. Thus there is no ready remedy for the School’s transgression. At a Team meeting held on December 15, 2000, the Parent accepted the IEP document developed by the White Oak School indicating the Student’s attendance there from August 1, 2000, to November 1, 2000. ( S-5; P-6) No IEP was developed for the time period after November 1, 2000. Therefore, the August 1, 2000, IEP accepted by all necessary Parties is this Student’s last accepted IEP.
The Parents argued that they understood, as a result of the December 15, 2000, Team meeting that the Student was no longer welcome at White Oak and that they should keep him home. They take the position that, as of December 15, 2000, the Student was without an educational placement. That position is incorrect. The Student’s placement from December 15, 2000 onward was the White Oak School, under an IEP accepted by all Parties. The accepted IEP was not framed as an extended evaluation. 603 CMR 28.05 (2) (b). There was no superceding IEP. There was no disciplinary placement. 34 CFR 300.250. There was no emergency termination of enrollment. 603 CMR 28.09 (12) (b). There was no Team agreement on an alternate educational setting. 603 CMR 28.08 (7). There was no change of residence. 603 CMR 28.03 (4). There was no institutional admission. 603 CMR 28.06 (9). There was no physician documentation of the need for a home-based educational program. 603 CMR 28.03; 603 CMR 28.04 (4). There is no evidence in the record of a change of circumstance which would negate the principle of enforcing the last accepted IEP in this instance. 603 CMR 28.033 (c).
While the Parties’ actions during December, 2000 and January, 2001, are poorly documented, the record shows that the School continued to send transportation to the Student’s home, and to fund the Student’s placement at White Oak, demonstrating its belief that the Student was entitled to attend White Oak. Similarly White Oak staff called the School to inquire after the whereabouts of the Student, something unlikely to have occurred had White Oak unilaterally terminated the Student’s enrollment. Therefore I find that the White Oak School remained available to the Student after December 15, 2000, and that the Parents voluntarily withdrew the Student.
Nevertheless it is clear, that at least by the second week of January, 2001, the School was aware that the Student was no longer attending White Oak and that the Parents were seeking an alternate placement. The School responded promptly in arranging for visits to the TAP program and to Valley West, but it neglected to convene a Team meeting which could have addressed the procedural and substantive misunderstandings that seemed to have arisen during this time. The lack of a frank and comprehensive discussion of the Student’s then current learning needs and options may have contributed to the parental selection of a program for which there is no independent support in the record before me. While there is no longer any absolute regulatory directive to reconvene a Team under the circumstances presented here,12 that course of action would have been reasonable and prudent and in this Student’s best educational interests.
6. Summary The crux of the Parents’ challenge to the appropriateness of the School’s actions concerning their son during 1996-2001 is their assertion that the Student had a serious long-standing emotional impairment which was known, or should have been known, to the School and which the School failed to address. Their view, evidently not held at the time, that the Student was a deeply troubled youngster requiring intensive psychological support and intervention in school, is not supported by any of the evidence in the record.13 There are no evaluations in the record that conclude that this Student had a serious, pervasive emotional disability that interfered with his ability to learn. The psychological evaluations to which the School had access suggested only that the Student exhibited mild social adjustment issues which could be addressed through direct instruction in social skills and participation in structured group activities such as team sports. (S-6; S-8; S-9; S-10) Direct instruction in social skills and opportunities for structured group work was provided to the Student each year by the classroom teachers and the guidance/health curriculum. (Morrow, Wagner, Wilson, Suchcicki, Mitchell, Pesculis, Trinque, Hill) There are no recommendations in the record by parentally selected evaluators for in school counseling or psychological services. The recommendations made for such services by school personnel were rebuffed by the Parents. There are no recommendations in the record for direct intervention by a licensed mental health professional of any sort. There are no recommendations for a therapeutic educational program or placement. There are no recommendations for residential educational services. There is no evidence that the Parents ever requested services of this type before they made a unilateral placement at Alldredge Academy. Instead, the record consistently shows that the Parents declined every offer, except one,14 of school provided adjustment or psychological support. There is no evidence in this record of chronic or acute disciplinary problems, absenteeism, or significant variation in academic performance that might have triggered a closer review of the Student’s emotional/psychological health.15 His teachers uniformly testified that the Student passed easily from grade to grade, making academic progress consistent with his potential and identified disabilities. Without a showing that the School knew, or should have known, of apparent psychological difficulties affecting the Student’s learning, the Parents claim must fail. While, in hindsight, the School’s reliance on the Parents’ personal and professional expertise regarding the Student, and on their assurances that his emotional/ behavioral issues were being handled outside of school, may have been unwise, that reliance was neither unreasonable nor illegal. The School consistently and appropriately offered mental health services to the Student which were declined by his parents. In addition, the School consistently honored every request made by the Parents for additional or non-standard educational services to the Student.16 There is no support in this record for the Parents’ claim that the School failed to offer or make available services recommended for the Student by any evaluator or teacher. Instead the record shows that all such services were available through either regular or special education and that the Parents declined each such offer. There is no support in the record for the Parents’ assertion that the School withheld information concerning the Student’s functioning from the Parents. Instead the record shows that all evaluative information available to the School was contained in the Student’s cumulative file, and thus equally available to the Parents, had they requested it. The record also shows that the Parents withheld information from the School that might have aided the development of appropriate educational plans.17
The evaluation of an Individualized Education Plan to determine whether it provides the maximum feasible educational benefit to a student, or a free, appropriate education, has both a substantive and a procedural component. Substantively, a Hearing Officer looks to whether the services guaranteed to the student in the IEP are recommended after an evaluation by appropriately qualified individuals, are tailored to the student’s unique learning needs, and are delivered in the least restrictive setting possible by appropriately qualified providers. This examination also relies on hindsight, that is, determining whether the services delivered actually produced the intended results, and provided a measurable benefit to the student. Procedurally, the Hearing Officer must determine whether the School followed the applicable state and Federal regulations, particularly by demonstrating timely, responsive, inclusive, and appropriate, identification, evaluation, team process, and service delivery procedures. Burlington v Department of Education , 471 U.S. 359 (1985); Pihl v Massachusetts Department of Education , 9 F. 3d. 184 (1 st Cir. 1993); Roland M. v Concord School Committee , 910 F. 2d. 983 (1 st Cir. 1990). After careful review and deliberation I have been unable to uncover any credible factual support in this record for the Parents’ claim that the School violated the Student’s IDEA and Ch. 766 procedural and substantive rights during 1996-2001. Instead I found a school system that was responsive, flexible and concerned about this youngster. That the Student died tragically in February, 2001, doesn’t change that history.
The 1996-1997, 1997-1998, 1998-1999, 1999-2000, and August, 2000-November, 2000, IEPs and Amendments developed by East Longmeadow were reasonably calculated to ensure the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting, and met all procedural requirements set out at 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. and M.G.L. ch. 71 B. The Parents’ claims for compensatory services and reimbursement for costs associated with the Student’s unilateral placement at Alldredge Academy are found to be without factual support and are hereby dismissed.
Date: Lindsay Byrne, Hearing Officer
Though clearly untimely there was nothing in the School’s response that was either unknown to the Parents or could not have been discovered by reviewing the Student’s school files.
All IEPs at issue here were developed under the “old” Massachusetts standard of “maximum feasible benefit” and are analyzed accordingly.
It is unnecessary to detail the memory lapses for publication. Please refer to the School’s Closing Argument at p. 12, 13, 81-84, 142-145, 148, for a partial list of impeached and/or unreliable testimony.
Where the father’s testimony was supported by his own handwritten notes,( see P-7) I find the notes similarly unreliable and contradicted by the testimony of Dr. Sylvain and Mr. Drake, both of whom I found to be frank and thoughtful witnesses. See also S-39.
That request could not be honored as the Student had met the criteria for promotion to 7 th grade. (Hill)
There was no challenge to the scheduling of the post-evaluation Team meeting in November, 1999.
The Student started seeing Barry Sarvet, a psychiatrist, in January, 2000. Dr. Sarvet’s reports were not shared with the School before July, 2001, and thus his observations could not have contributed to any of the School’s actions with respect to the Student’s educational program in 2000-2001. (P-1; Sarvet)
The record does not show why the October Team was not held as originally planned.
For an excellent discussion of several of these legal issues in an analogous context please see: In RE: Arlington Public Schools, BSEA # 01-4302, May 2, 2002.
The only request not met by the School was the Parents’ request for a home tutor in January, 2001. Mr. Sylvain testified that he felt the Student should be attending a full day program to complete the semester’s academic credits. I credit his testimony. There is no doctor’s note in the record supporting home tutoring, among the most restrictive of educational settings.
Regulations in effect in April, 2000, have been superceded by 603 CMR 28.04 (5) (f).
Compare e.g. prior regulations at 603 CMR 28.310 1 (d); See also 34 CFR 300.536.
The Parents point to behavior rating scales completed by the Student’s 3 rd grade teacher which indicate an array of “problem areas”. The teacher, Nancy Morrow, explained at the hearing that those results are not atypical for boys in that age group. There was no expert testimony to the contrary and I found Ms. Morrow’s testimony as a whole to be highly credible. Furthermore, the scales were completed during a school year not at issue in this hearing, and during which the Parents refused consent to further school-based evaluation. (Morrow; S-34)
The parents did accept a social skills counseling group conducted outside of school by Patricia Kelly-Bedard during the Fall, 1999. This group was apparently a success.
See e.g. : former regulations at 603 CMR 28.310.
For example: outside evaluations in lieu of school-based evaluations; after and before school tutoring as an adjunct to the special education services; selection of individual teachers, etc.
See Testimony of Trinque, Pesculis, Hill regarding the participation of Dr. Hodel-Malinofsky at Team meetings during the Winter/Spring , 2000. Also Testimony of Sarvet.