Gateway Regional School District – BSEA #01-1004
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
In re: Gateway Regional School District
This decision is rendered pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, 20 U.S.C. §1401 et seq; Chapter 766 of the Acts of 1972, M.G.L. c. 71B; the Massachusetts Administrative Procedures, M.G.L. c. 30A; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 20 U.S.C. §794; and the regulations promulgated pursuant to such statutes.
A hearing on the above-numbered case was held on December 6, 8, and 11, 2000 at Catuogno’s Reporting Services in Worcester, MA, and completed via telephone testimony on December 15, 2000. At the request of the parties, the record remained open until December 26, 2000 for receipt of closing arguments.
Persons present at all or part of the hearing were:
Ms. B. Mother of Student
Marilyn Schmidt Attorney for Student and his mother
Robert Kemper Psycholinguist
Mark Caron Psychologist, ADD Center of Western Massachusetts
Michael Holland Executive Director, Linden Hill School (by telephone)
Patricia Seneski Academic Dean, Linden Hill School (by telephone)
Margery Gerard Director of Pupil Services, Gateway Regional School District
Claire Thompson Attorney for Gateway Regional School Committee
Susan Fino Educational Consultant to Gateway Regional School District
Judith Souweine Neuropsychological Consultant to Gateway Regional School District
John Zmud Special Education Teacher, Gateway Regional School District
Marilyn Pike Language Arts Teacher, Gateway Regional School District
Patricia Richmond School Counselor, Gateway Regional School District
1. Whether Gateway Regional School District’s (hereafter, GRSD) 2000 – 2001 IEP for Student, calling for 502.2 prototype services at the Gateway Middle School, is reasonably calculated to maximize Student’s educational development in the least restrictive setting; if not,
2. Whether the Linden Hill School (hereafter, Linden Hill), a residential school in Northfield, MA, offers a program reasonably calculated to maximize Student’s educational development in the least restrictive setting.
Student has a severe language-based learning disability, evidencing severe problems with reading, writing, and spelling, but also with oral language processing. He has struggled for several years in inclusion settings, and has not made the expected progress. He now requires a setting with highly structured, small group classes, peers of similar cognitive and language abilities, and a 1:1 language arts tutorial, in order to maximize his learning. GRSD cannot offer such. Its classes of 23 students are too large, function at levels far above Student’s abilities, and are taught predominantly by regular education staff who are not equipped to provide the language-based programming necessary at this time. Linden Hill provides the small group, language-based program with students of similar profiles, necessary for Student to maximize his educational development.
Student is a well adjusted, well rounded, capable student, who, with the necessary modifications and supports, can maximize his educational development in the least restrictive setting at GRSD. He is an active participant in the class discussions, he benefits from the stimulation offered in the larger class settings, and he is learning to his potential. To place him in a school with small classes will deny him the opportunity for intellectual growth available at GRSD. Further, the teachers at Linden Hill are, for the most part, not certified, never mind special education certified. Finally, Student has interests in vocational skills, and Linden Hill cannot address that.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
1. Student is a 14 year old boy who has average cognitive abilities and has excellent social skills; he is comfortable with his regular education peers, has friends in his classes as well as in the higher level classes, and is well liked by his peers and by the staff. (Zmud, Pike) He is diagnosed with dyslexia, but the levels of his reading and language arts skills are in dispute. Mother asserts that he is decoding at the 2 nd – 3 rd grade level, that he is comprehending his reading a little higher, depending on the material (Kemper), and that his language processing skills are severely compromised. (Kemper, P-26, P-18) GRSD asserts that his decoding skills are at the 4 th – 5 th grade level, that his comprehension skills are at the 5 th – 8 th grade level, depending on the material, and that his receptive and expressive language skills are in the average range (P-2, Souweine, Zmud). Both parties agree that he has inattentive type attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (hereafter, inattentive type ADHD), and that he has significant deficits in his organizational skills and his executive functioning skills. (Mother, Caron, Kemper, Zmud, P-28)
2. Student has attended GRSD as a regular education student until his fifth grade year, when Mother requested that her son be evaluated because of her concerns regarding academic performance, specifically reading. Reports from such evaluations were issued in December of 1997 and January of 1998. The speech/language evaluator found receptive and expressive language skills within the normal limits, found no need for speech and language services, but did note weak auditory memory skills. (P-2) The psychologist, Ms. Burns, stated that his WISC-III scores reflected average performance, with strengths in his long term accumulation of information, verbal abstract reasoning, knowledge of conventional standards of behavior, and analysis and synthesis of concrete parts into meaningful wholes. Weaknesses were found in his visual sequencing ability, short-term auditory memory and mental mathematics. She recommended classroom modifications to address the needs of children with attention deficits; small group instruction for reading; dividing large chunks of material into smaller parts; presenting information sequentially; presenting verbal information with visual cues to aide with retention; encouraging him to “actively think about new facts, talk about them and relate them consciously to what he has already stored in his long term memory”; encouraging the use of a tape recorder; providing assistance for organizational and study skills; and addressing self-confidence needs. (S-21, P-3) Student’s academic skills were tested (during this fifth grade year) to be at the 2.6 and 3.6 grade levels for decoding and reading comprehension, respectively; mid 3 rd grade for writing; 5 th – 6 th grade for math; and 5 th – 7 th grade for general knowledge. His teacher noted that the science and social studies reading materials were much too difficult for Student. (P-4, P-5)
3. In January of 1998, GRSD convened a TEAM to address these various evaluation reports, and offered a 2/1998 to 2/1999 IEP (for Student’s fifth and sixth grade), calling for 90 minutes/day of integrated language services, to be co-taught by regular and special education staff. Mother rejected this IEP. (P-6) Accordingly, in May of 1998, the TEAM reconvened. At this meeting, the teacher noted that he was reading a third grade book independently, that he was moved to the lower reading group using the Wilson phonics program, and 1:1 services in the phonographix program were added. She also noted that Student was not invested in the work. The TEAM developed an IEP amendment, adding organizational skills 15 minutes/day. The addition of inclusion special education services is unclear, for in the first page of this IEP, it is stated that in sixth grade, he will receive special education services throughout the day, however, the service delivery grid calls for the 90 minutes/day of inclusion services. The TEAM added additional word attack instruction from the regular education reading teachers “until his word attack skills have reached grade level.” This IEP also notes the importance of Student’s attending the after-school homework sessions. Mother rejected this IEP in part. (P-8) Student’s 5 th grade academic grades for the first semester were D’s and F’s, and with the extra supports, were brought up to B’s and C’s for the second semester. (P-9)
4. During Student’s sixth grade year, several other tests were administered. That is, the Steiglitz Informal Survey administered in January of 1999 reflected his instructional reading level to be at the 5 th grade level. The Woodcock test administered in February of 1999 reflected 6 th grade word attack skills and 4 th grade word identification skills. Finally, the Gates-MacGuinite test administered in May of 1999 reflected 4 th grade vocabulary, 3 rd grade comprehension, and 4 th grade comprehension with untimed testing. (S-22)
5. In March of 1999, the TEAM reconvened to review Student’s 6 th grade progress and 7 th grade needs. Mother noted no progress and lots of frustration. The reading specialist reported that he was reading at the 4th grade level independently and 5 th grade level for instructional purposes, that there was little carryover to his spontaneous reading, but that his good progress called for a continuation of the phonographix program. His language arts teacher reported that he was participating in the Wilson remedial program (2 x week), but that he had difficulty applying the rules in spontaneous reading. She also reported that his poor organizational skills and lack of effort accounted for his D- grade. His math, science, and social studies teachers reported a declining effort and output. (P-10) His grades by March included many F’s for tests and quizzes, A’s for class participation, and homework grades which started with a variety of grades, but by November, deteriorated to many F’s. (S-23) His final grades were mostly C’s. (P-16)
6. In May of 1999, Dr. Bruce Ecker, an independent psychologist sought by Mother, conducted an evaluation. He concluded that Student’s reading, spelling, and language arts skills were at the beginning third grade level, and that they were lower than those found in the 1/99 school-based assessment. He found moderate to severe learning disabilities, “primarily in the ability to remember, categorize, and sequence aural information. This results in a form of dyslexia. While his phonological awareness is adequate (this is the weak area for most reading disabled children), Student simply cannot sufficiently remember information he hears, from the individual sound to the word level, to attach those sounds to visual symbols in a way that is organized and ‘sticks’ in memory for him”. Although not recommending a specific setting, he recommended intensive instruction in reading and language arts for a large part of each school day. He also recommended that the teacher have a “sophisticated knowledge of specialized reading curricula”. He recommended that other content area classes be modified to accommodate his reading and language arts skills, including “memory aids to help compensate for weaknesses in auditory memory and sequencing.” (P-11) Finally, in a follow-up assessment, he determined that Student had features of the Inattentive Type of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, but that they were not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of ADHD. (P-13)
7. Around the same time, GRSD’s speech/language pathologist, Ms. Harmon, evaluated student. As previously, she found receptive and expressive language skills to be within the average range. However, many of the scores were in the low end of average. Further, she noted difficulty with listening when background noise was present, and opined that this may be related to attentional issues. She recommended written and oral presentation of material, repetition and re-phrasing of auditory information, getting his attention before calling on him or presenting material, providing a quiet study area at home, and continued use of the assignment notebook. (S-19, P-12) Ms. Grady administered the Test of Written Language, and reported average scores in vocabulary, style, contextual conventions, contextual language, and story construction; and below average scores in spelling, logical sentences, and sentence combining. (S-20, P-14) The TEAM convened in June of 1999 to discuss the several evaluation reports, and developed a 1999 – 2000 IEP. It called for inclusion academic support 45 minutes/day (Ms. Piers-Gamble stated that the special education teacher would be in the language arts class); pullout special education services for small group reading 30 minutes/day, and for academic support 45 minutes/day; and many modification throughout the day. The IEP also recommended the after-school help for homework and to reinforce information introduced in class. (P-15) Mother stated her frustration at the TEAM meeting, stating that her son had not made progress over the two years, and that she would look outside of GRSD for a program. (P-15)
8. In September of 1999 (Student’s 7 th grade year), the TEAM reconvened and issued a more comprehensive IEP, proposing to add a daily special education/regular education co-taught language arts class, increasing the inclusion academic support from 1 to 3x day. (Such services amend the already offered services of pull-out special education reading 30 minutes/day, and pull-out special education academic support 45 minutes/day, and the recommended after school help to reinforce class work and to help with homework). (P-17) Student failed to attend the after-school academic support class, stating that he did not get the necessary help from the regular education teachers. (Student, Mother) However, Mother acknowledged that GRSD offered an after school tutorial with a special education teacher, yet still, Student failed to attend. (Mother) Further, because the academic support offered during the school day conflicted with the band schedule, Student was forced to choose, and he chose band. Thus, he did not receive the Student’s seventh grade academic support offered daily. (Mother, Student)
9. Student’s seventh grade performance was, by all accounts, unsatisfactory. His year-end grades for English, social studies, math, and science, were mainly D’s and F’s. (P-21, P-27) According to Mother, doing the homework at home was a real struggle. He didn’t have the paperwork, didn’t know how to start it, got frustrated. He would forget to bring the completed homework back to school. The after-school help had too many children and the teachers would just give him the answers. (Mother)
10. During this 7 th grade year, Mother obtained five independent evaluations. In November of 1999, Dr. Ecker updated his educational assessment (just three school months after the previous assessment). He reported decoding skills at 2.9 grade; reading comprehension at 4.9 grade; spelling at 3.4 grade; written expression at 2.1 grade; math reasoning at 6.0 grade; and numerical operations at 5.3 grade. (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test) His oral reading comprehension was at the 5.8 grade level. (Gray Oral Reading Test-3 rd ed). His word attack skills were at the 2.5 grade level. (Woodcock Reading Master Test) His reading rate was “exceptionally slow”. (P-18) In January of 2000, Dr. Spinelli-Nannen conducted a psycho-educational evaluation focusing on Student’s reading skills. Based on this evaluation as well as her review of the spring and fall of 1999 evaluations, and the teachers’ and parent’s reports, several conclusions and recommendations were made. She stated again the significant reading difficulties in the decoding (9 th %ile), fluency (2.8 grade level at <1 st %ile), and comprehension (5.4 grade at 25 th %ile). She recommended a linguistic approach to reading, multiple re-readings of favorite books to increase his fluency, development of sight word vocabulary, reading for detail strategies, reading comprehension strategies, pre-teaching, chunking of material, brainstorming and organizing ideas, and grade level materials for content area knowledge and information – through Talking Books, movies, oral presentations, plays, etc.. (S-15, P-20) Later in April of 2000, Ms. Grabowski, Speech/Language Pathologist from North Shore Medical Center, conducted a speech/language evaluation. The formal testing revealed a scattering from average to below average skills in receptive and expressive language, with oral language deficits, and greater reading/written language deficits. He had problems with language processing/comprehension and production. He showed impairments with phonological processing, processing and retention of linguistically complex or abstract information; word retrieval; language formulation; and sentence repetition. He performed within normal limits in receptive/expressive vocabulary, comprehension of written sentences and short paragraphs, execution of multi-step directions, and inferencing. Based on her testing and her review of school assessments and Dr. Ecker’s assessments, she characterized Student as having a significant Language-Based Learning Disability/Dyslexia. She opined that he is at profound risk for problems as he advances through the grades and the demands increase. She recommended an intensive language-based program with small, language-based classes for all academics; peers with similar skills and diagnosis; highly structured, organized, multi-sensory teaching; constant monitoring of his comprehension; 1:1 or small group reading daily with Orton/Gillingham or Wilson methodology; and speech/language therapy 1 – 2 / week. (P-26) In June of 2000, Mother sought an independent evaluation from the ADD Center of Western Massachusetts. Such addressed his cognitive and emotional functions, as well as his attentional abilities. The evaluators concurred with Dr. Ecker that Student has Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder – predominately inattentive type, as well as cognitive, reading, and writing deficits. They recommended stimulant medication to address the ADHD, hands-on experiential learning and classroom discussions; visual and verbal presentation of information; previewing; active practice or discussion; as much 1:1 and small group instruction as possible; small classrooms with preferably twelve students; preferential seating; academic support for organizational assistance; specific instruction in reading and writing; and cueing for his attention. (S-14, P-28) These recommendations are based on Dr. Caron’s understanding of the current research. (Caron) Finally, Mother obtained consultation from Dr. Kemper who reviewed all of the testing and conducted a few supplementary tests for reading and spelling skills. He reported 2 nd – 3 rd grade reading skills, and high 3 rd grade spelling skills. (P-30) Based on his testing and review of the evaluation reports, he agreed with Dr. Ecker’s and Ms. Grabowski’s conclusions. In his opinion, Student’s language processing difficulties show up more severely in the higher level language processing areas, such as inferences, ambiguities, etc. This, Dr. Kemper asserts, becomes more problematic after the 6 th grade, and definitely by the eighth grade where such skills are expected. He concurs with the recommendations for a language-based program with systematic teaching, with peers of similar skill levels and diagnosis; a 1:1 daily tutorial with a certified specialist for reading, writing, and spelling; and small group classes where the tutorial techniques are reinforced throughout the day. (Kemper)
11. Throughout this seventh grade year, GRSD also conducted several evaluations. In November of 1999, its educational testing revealed 3.8 grade score in the WIAT basic reading; 4.1 and 6.9 grade scores in the WJ-R decoding and comprehension, respectively; and 5.4, 6.2, and 11.2 grade scores in the TOWL-3 contextual conventions, contextual language, and story construction, respectively. (P-19, S-18) In March of 2000, GRSD assessed Student’s reading levels to be at the 6 th grade for instructional purposes and 1st grade for independent reading. (S-17) Finally, in May of 2000, GRSD conducted a career interest inventory in which Student expressed his interests in shop, art/music, farming and science. His aptitudes were highest in perceptual speed & accuracy, and mechanical reasoning. (S-16)
12. GRSD developed Student’s eighth grade 2000 – 2001 IEP in April of 2000. After Mother rejected it, obtained the additional evaluations, and requested a hearing before the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, the TEAM amended the IEP on October 10, 2000. (S-1, S-2, S-3, S-11, P-29) Such calls again for language-based techniques in a combined inclusion and pullout special education program. That is, it calls for multi-sensory approaches to learning, chunking of material, consistency and structure, small group reading instruction, and language-based approaches allowing for his reading and writing skill development in the content area instruction. Further, it calls for an increase in the special education services provided the previous year. That is, it adds academic consult 15 minutes daily, language consult ½ hour per cycle, and language-based LD Consult ½ hour per cycle, and it expands the daily co-teaching to occur not only in language arts (as needed per preplanning), but also in science, social studies, and math classes. Further, it increases by 20 minutes daily, the special education reading services to 50 minutes/day, and it adds counseling 30 minutes/cycle. The same services are offered for pullout academic support (45 minutes/day), and after school organizational help (which this IEP specifies one hour every other day). Finally, it calls for speech/language therapy once every three days. (S-1, S-2) This year’s special needs teacher, Mr. Zmud, is new to Student, but comes with a lengthy career at GRSD as well as other educational settings. He has extensive experience with inclusion programs and with teaching learning disabled students in resource rooms. (Zmud) Further, he is Student’s special needs teacher during the school day, but he also provides Student’s after-school tutorial three times per week in a 2:1 setting where he works on graphic organizers, pre-teaching of vocabulary, homework, Wilson techniques, etc. This is clearly a positive change for Student.
13. Implementation of Student’s eighth grade program has differed somewhat from what is written in this year’s IEP. The history, math, science, and language arts inclusion services are not being implemented as stated in the IEP, or as understood by Mother at the TEAM meeting, for the IEP is misleading. (Zmud, Mother). That is, Mr. Zmud, the special education teacher, is actively involved in consulting and coordinating with the regular education staff (2 x week with the group of teachers, and each teacher, daily), but his co-teaching is limited: he co-teaches language arts with Ms. Pike only as needed for preplanning and that has been a few times this first semester. (Student, Pike, Zmud). Mother did not understand that this is what the TEAM envisioned. Further, he co-teaches the history class, but only every other day, rather than daily as stated in the IEP; his aide co-teaches science every other day, whereas the IEP calls for his services; and he or his aide is in the math class daily, whereas the IEP calls again for his services. Finally, the speech/language therapy is provided during the reading class, so as to integrate the reading and therapy programs. (Gerard) This overlap means that there are fewer hours of services than it would appear in the IEP. Although GRSD asserts that the language arts co-teaching on a daily basis would have been inappropriate and unnecessary this first semester, GRSD will increase the co-teaching second semester as the amount of reading increases. Further, GRSD will provide the language arts co-teaching daily if ordered to do so. (Gerard) In the inclusion settings, Mr. Zmud provides for many modifications – modifying the tests in length and style of questioning, providing oral tests, modifying the texts, developing organizers, word banks, etc. Also, he carries over the Wilson skills into these classes, for, by grouping the five special needs children in this inclusion class, he works on encoding, journal writing, essay writing, etc.. He provides the after-school tutorial three times per week in a 2:1 setting where he works on such things as graphic organizers, pre-teaching of vocabulary, homework, and Wilson techniques. In a special education setting, he teaches the Wilson reading/language arts class to 5 other students (whose decoding and comprehension skills span from lower to higher levels than Student’s), and also teaches the daily academic support class with 14 students and two aides. (Zmud) This is the class, however, that conflicts with the band schedule, and Student is again, not accessing this in-school academic support class. (Zmud, Student) The language arts class (24 students) is taught by Ms. Pike, a regular education teacher who has lengthy experience teaching eighth graders, and in so doing, has worked with many special needs students. She has a particular interest and focus on the teaching of writing: she taps into the interests of each student and builds vocabulary words from that. She encourages a lot of verbal dialogue, and uses graphic organizers such as spider webs and character trees, leading up to writing projects. This helps them develop and organize their ideas. She modifies the work for students on IEPs, shortening the required writing. She carries over Wilson techniques along with other reading techniques. She uses multi-sensory techniques, although they might not be on the same day. She also does pre-/post- teaching, although again, it may not be on the same day. (Pike) Mr. Zmud and Dr. Kemper disagree as to whether such techniques need to always be done on the same day. (Zmud, Kemper, P-26) Ms. Pike also grades Student by reducing the quantity expectation. Thus, if he completes 50%, he would get a 75%. (Pike)
14. Dr. Kemper observed Student’s language arts and reading classes in November of 2000, and asserts that this eighth grade program fails to provide the necessary language-based programming. He observed the language arts class to be taught in a lecture format, with no multi-sensory techniques. Although other children volunteered, Student spoke only when called on. No explicit teaching of language occurred. Further, no carryover of the Wilson techniques was observed, and in Dr. Kemper’s opinion, it would be difficult in such a setting where most of the 24 children did not need the Wilson techniques. The reading class incorporated the Wilson program, and would have been good, however, the size of the class (6 students) limited Student’s opportunity to participate in oral reading. According to Dr. Kemper, he needs much more opportunity than exists in this class. (Kemper)
15. Dr. Souweine, a neuropsychological consultant, also observed Student’s program. Based on her observation of the language arts, reading, math, science, and social studies classes, her ½ hour discussion with Mr. Zmud, and on her review of Student’s evaluations, she asserts that the program is appropriate for Student. She noted extensive language-based and multi-sensory techniques, and she noted that Student was engaged in discussions in science, history and math, often raising his hands, able to understand the conversation and to articulate his responses. In fact, he appeared more engaged in these larger content classes than in the smaller reading class, which may be attributable to the stimulating content. Although she agrees that Student has a reading disability, she disagreed with Ms. Grawbowski’s conclusion that Student has a severe language disability. Rather, his WISC scores show no such indication, and his performance in class did not support it. (Souweine)
16. Ms. Gerard observed Student’s program. She corroborated Dr. Souweine’s observations as to the language-based and multi-sensory techniques used in the language arts, science, and reading classes. She noted Student’s excellent attentiveness in the oral reading of a book in the language arts class. (Gerard)
17. Finally, GRSD’s Speech/Language Pathologist, Ms. Harmon, endorsed the current program in a December 4, 2000 letter. She emphasized her disagreement with Ms. Grabowski’s characterizing Student as having a severe language based learning disability. Further, Ms. Harmon disagreed with the call for all small group learning, stating that Student can learn in the larger class settings. She based this on his having many areas of oral language in the average range, on his being successful in the classes, and on the benefits from learning from his regular education peers. (S-32)
18. Student’s performance this eighth grade year is significantly improved over last year. Student in fact testified that this year is easier. Although he seeks more help than is currently provided. (Student) His grades at the end of first quarter, reflect B and C level test results, B and C level class performance (although grades for science class work/home work and folder/journal work were F’s, and history homework was D+), and B and C level homework, and mainly C’s for final grades. (S-28, S-34) According to Mr. Zmud, he is making progress in reading, in that his fluency has improved, and he is currently decoding and comprehending at the 5 th – 7 th grade level. Mr. Zmud expects five levels progress in the Wilson program by the end of this year. (Since September, he has reviewed the third level, and is currently at the end of the fifth level.) Because he is “catching on”, and has made such progress in being able to self-correct, Mr. Zmud expects much more rapid progress by the end of the year. Further, with the many modifications and inclusion teaching, Student currently comprehends the materials at 80% or 90 % even though the testing may not reflect this. Accordingly, Mr. Zmud disagrees with Ms. Grabowski’s assessment that Student has severe oral language processing deficits. He does recognize, however, that Student struggles with the higher level language skills such as critical reading, point of view, perspective, etc. (Zmud) According to his counselor, Student is more invested this year, the after- school assistance is helping, and he works more independently. (Richmond, S-16) Mother agrees that this year is better, but still, he cannot read the homework; he does better if it is read out loud to him. (Mother) Socially, he is doing exceedingly well, and he is comfortable. (Richmond, S-16) His language arts teacher states that he has shown good progress: he has expanded his writing into several paragraphs. However, his reading fluency is still problematic. He is learning the same vocabulary as others. His comprehension of materials is good at the concrete level, but he has difficulty with inferential material. (Pike) Dr. Souweine observed Student reading an eighth grade science text without any trouble. (Souweine)
19. Mother requests that Student attend Linden Hill, a residential school in Northfield, MA. This is the only appropriate school in the geographic area with an opening. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, but is not a Chapter 766-approved school. Its students are approximately 50 boys (although currently there are 33 students), ages 9 – 15 (approximately 16 are within the 12 – 15 year range), who have at least average cognitive abilities, and are most are diagnosed with dyslexia or related language-based learning disabilities. The students’ reading levels range from 2nd to 8 th grade, 2 – 3 years below their grades. Although state certified for teaching, most of the staff members have no special education certification, and six have no teacher certification. All staff members, however, have college degrees, and six of them have Masters level degrees. Six of the staff members have significant teaching experience at Linden Hill, one has significant teaching experience at another school for learning disabled students, and five of the staff members are in their first year of teaching. Further, they all are trained in the Orton/Gillingham language arts teaching methodologies (at the one week or the six week trainings), they attend a weeklong in-service prior to teaching at Linden Hill, and they attend ongoing in-service professional development. Thus, the techniques applied in the 2:1 Orton/Gillingham reading/language arts tutorials, are carried out throughout the academic day. In fact, the classes emphasize phonemic work, decoding, and encoding. The academics include language training, literature, math, history/science, art/woodshop, and are taught is classes of 4 – 6 students on average. If speech/language therapy services are required, they are provided through a nearby clinic. Finally, there are opportunities for exploring vocational interests in the woodshop as well as community service. The faculty members are available during the evening study hall. The faculty meet weekly to discuss their students. Eight of the students have IEPs, with five of them from Massachusetts. Linden Hill does not tailor its curriculum to the public schools’ mandated curriculum guides that are coordinated with the MCAT testing. (Holland, Seneski, P-34)
20. GRSD asserts that its program provides Student with a program that addresses Student’s needs. Further, it asserts that Linden Hill fails to provide an appropriate program for Student. Many of its teachers lack certification and/or experience; it fails to provide reading fluency training or a structured program for comprehension and writing such as the Project Read program; it fails to tailor its curriculum to the standards set by the MCATs; and it is overly restrictive. Further, Ms. Gerard’s observation revealed little carryover of the Orton/Gillingham techniques into the content classes. Finally, the 2 nd – 4 th grade reading materials and tasks appear to be significantly lower than Student is capable of using. In comparing the GRSD and Linden Hill programs, Ms. Gerard opines that its program is clearly more appropriate for Student. That is, Mr. Zmud’s carryover of the Wilson program, and Ms. Pike’s literature and expressive writing are, in Ms. Gerard’s opinion, far superior to what she observed at Linden Hill. The higher level curriculum is more appropriate for Student. Finally, the work on executive functioning, in her opinion, is far superior to what she observed at Linden Hill. (Gerard) Mr. Zmud and Dr. Souweine recognized the benefits of 1:1 setting for his reading, and small group settings for his academics. However, factoring in the benefits of broader academic stimulation in larger classes, both Mr. Zmud and Dr. Souweine opined that Student would maximize his development in the larger class settings at GRSD, not at Linden Hill. (Zmud, Souweine) His counselor echoed this opinion that Student benefits from being with regular education students and being involved in the many activities offered at a larger public school, for he is so well rounded. Further, she asserts that he should attend a vocational school next year; waiting until his 10 th grade would disadvantage him in his vocational education. (Richmond)
21. Contrary to such opinions, Mother asserts that Gateway is stretched to the limit and cannot provide Student with the individualized intensive services necessary, and cannot provide the necessary small group learning. Further, for self-esteem reasons, he should be with students with similar skill levels. At GRSD, Student receives the message that “it is acceptable not to read”, and this so limits his life. Mother observed Linden Hill classes and stated that she observed extensive use of language and discussion in math, reading, and language arts. The teachers did pre-/post-teaching. Science class included hands on projects. (Mother) Dr. Kemper asserts that GRSD is not able to provide the necessary language-based training, and recommends Linden Hill as the appropriate placement, for it offers the small group, highly structured, language-based classes with Orton/Gillingham techniques carried out throughout the day. (Kemper)
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
I find that GRSD’s program as it is currently being implemented, fails to provide for Student’s educational needs, but that with the modifications discussed below, its program can reasonably be calculated to maximize Student’s educational development in the least restrictive setting. Because Linden Hill is more restrictive than necessary for Student’s development, it is not appropriate. My reasoning follows.
1. Student clearly has learning difficulties. In fact, there is more common ground than there is differences regarding the characterization of Student’s’ learning profile. The parties attempted to focus on the differences of opinion regarding Student’s reading levels and his language processing deficits. As to the reading levels, however, no one disputes the fact that Student is significantly behind in his decoding skills, and to a lesser degree, is behind in his reading comprehension skills: many of GRSD’s test results reflect reading skills that are at least 2 – 3 years below grade level. To the extent that he is reading grade level materials, the level of his comprehension must be questioned. Further, no one disputes the fact that he has deficits in his auditory processing skills. Such is noted not only by Ms. Grabowski and Dr. Ecker, but also by GRSD’s own speech/language pathologist, Ms. Harmon. (She noted difficulties with listening with background noise, and difficulties with auditory memory. Further, although she finds his receptive and expressive language skills to be within the average range, the test scores reflect some skills are at the low end of average. In fact, she makes recommendations to address auditory processing and memory weakensses: she calls for written and oral presentation of material, repetition and rephrasing, and getting his attention before presenting material. (S-19, P-2, P-12)) In fact, Student’s teachers recognize such auditory processing deficits in the higher level language processing skills. (Zmud, Pike) Finally, both parties recognize Student’s attentional issues. (Caron, Zmud, Souweine)
2. Given Student’s learning strengths and weaknesses, the parties are in significant agreement as to Student’s needs. He clearly needs intensive remediation in reading, language-based learning in the content subjects, multi-sensory approaches, organizational skill development, repetition and rephrasing of language, and many modifications in the reading materials, quantity of written work, testing materials, etc. The main difference between the parties is the appropriate class size for the reading remediation and for the content level courses. Dr. Kemper was persuasive that the 1:1 or 2:1 for reading is necessary to maximize his progress, and that until he achieves grade level skills, such is needed. The larger class size denies Student sufficient opportunity for oral reading and for individual attention necessary for Student’s development. (Kemper) GRSD was not able to successfully rebut this. In fact, they responded to Dr. Kemper’s concern by stating that the class may be divided to accommodate the widening gap in the various students’ skills. Dr. Kemper was also persuasive that Student ideally would benefit from smaller classes for content areas. In such setting, the teacher can more easily address Student’s individual learning needs, monitor his comprehension of discussions, and Student would have more opportunities to actively participate. (Zmud, Souweine) GRSD was unpersuasive in its attempt to refute this opinion. Ms. Harmon’s December 4 th , 2000 letter states that his limited oral language deficits do not require small class groupings, however, her evaluations do recommend teaching modifications needed to support his oral language deficits. This, coupled with the acknowledgement from Mr. Zmud and Dr. Souweine, that small groupings may be best, undermines GRSD’s position. However, GRSD was persuasive that this benefit from small groupings must be considered in conjunction with other learning benefits. As the mainstreamed classes are currently being taught, Student is in fact engaged in the learning, actively participates in class discussions, has developed a strength in general knowledge, continues to be exposed to a stimulating learning environment, is very comfortable in this learning environment, and is well liked by his regular education/special education peers and staff. (Zmud, Pike, Souweine, Gerard) Further, Mr. Zmud’s involvement in the regular education class and in the pullout settings, brings a wealth of experience working with learning disabled students who have reading problems. He has taught them since 1973, has been an educational consultant for inclusion settings, and is trained and experienced in the Wilson program. (Zmud) Thus, to the extent that Student’s needs can be addressed while also offering mainstreamed opportunities, this is in Student’s best interest and this is where he can maximize his educational development.
3. GRSD is currently failing to maximize Student’s learning, not only in that the reading class is too large, but by virtue of the limited co-teaching with Mr. Zmud in the content area classes. Only with this co-teaching, are the opportunities maximized for smaller groupings within the class, for more monitoring of Student’s comprehension, carryover of the Wilson skills, and modifying of the teaching methods, materials, and testing. Given the recognition by both parties that the smaller grouping is best for him, GRSD must take all reasonable steps to accomplish this. The IEP came closer to meeting his needs in that it called for extensive coteaching. This must be implemented. Further, to the extent an aide is used for such, the aide must be sufficiently trained and closely supervised so that the necessary carryover of Wilson techniques, monitoring of his comprehension, small group work, etc. can be provided. In addition, the reading class must be provided in a 1:1 or 2:1 setting. Finally, GRSD was persuasive that many language-based and multisensory techniques are being implemented throughout the day. Such was observed by Dr. Souweine, Ms. Gerard, and testified to by Mr. Zmud. Given the limited observation, Dr. Kemper was not in a position to rebut such testimony except in the one language arts class. I am persuaded that with more co-teaching in that class, as stated in the IEP, more language-based and multi-sensory methods can be provided. As such, Student will be able to benefit from Ms. Pike’s experienced teaching without sacrificing the need for more intensive language-based work.
4. In order to intensify Student’s learning, the academic support is clearly needed. The after-school work with Mr. Zmud is beneficial, (Student, Zmud) however, Student is not accessing the daily academic support class because of the conflict with band. Clearly, Student is not receiving the amount of support that he could be receiving. This can be remedied in several ways. Increasing the after-school support is one way. Providing in-school academic support in a tutorial format during a time other than the band time is another way. (The currently offered class is rather large and may not provide him with the necessary support.) Finally, Student can choose to drop band. It is unclear whether Student is benefiting from the band, for on the one hand, Mother and Mr. Zmud state that band is beneficial, however, he is not practicing his instrument, a necessity for progress. Further, Student stated that he would prefer to take an additional shop course rather than band. (Student)
GRSD shall immediately implement Student’s program as modified above.
Sandra W. Sherwood
BSEA Hearing Officer
Date: January 17, 2001