David and West Springfield Public Schools – BSEA #04-0927



<br /> David and West Springfield Public Schools – BSEA #04-0927<br />

COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS

In re: David1 and West Springfield Public Schools BSEA #04-0927

DECISION

This decision is rendered pursuant to M.G.L. Chapters 15, 30A and 71B; 20 U.S.C.§1400 et seq.; 29 U.S.C.§794; and all of the regulations promulgated under each of these statutes.

A hearing in the above-entitled matter was held on May 12 and June 30, 2004 at Catuogno Court Reporting in Springfield, MA. The record was left open for receipt of written final arguments until August 3, 2004. A written ORDER specifying the results of this DECISION was issued to the parties on August 30, 2004.

Those in attendance were:

Grandfather/Legal Guardian

Aunt

Karen Blum Psychologist

Elizabeth Shea Psychologist

Carole Cleveland Educational Consultant

Marilyn Schmidt Attorney for Parents

Frances Popko Director of Special Education, West Springfield Public Schools (WSPS)

James Boone Evaluation Team Leader, WSPS

Linda Rammler Autism/Inclusion Consultant, WSPS

Thomas Kemp Special Education Teacher, WSPS

Virginia Koontz Special Education Teacher, WSPS

Barbara Rouillard Special Education Teacher, WSPS

Regina Tate Attorney, West Springfield Public Schools

Raymond Oliver Hearing Officer, Bureau of Special Education

Appeals

The evidence consisted of Parent’s Exhibits labeled P-1 through P-11; West Springfield Public Schools’ Exhibits labeled S-1 through S-80; and approximately 8 ½ hours of oral testimony.

HISTORY/STATEMENT OF THE CASE

David is a 17 ½ year old young man who has lived in West Springfield with his grandfather/legal guardian (Parent) since his mother’s suicide when David was 3 years old. David has spent his entire educational career within the West Springfield Public Schools (WSPS) where he has received special education services since at least the 2 nd grade. David recently completed his 10 th grade year at West Springfield High School. (See testimony, Shea; P-1, 5; S-1 through S-10; S-58, 70.) While accepting the services, Parent has essentially rejected David’s current Individual Education Plan (IEP) and David’s placement at West Springfield High School pursuant to that IEP (S-70).

On October 24, 2003, Parent’s attorney requested a hearing before the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) and an automatic hearing date was scheduled for November 14, 2003. Various postponements were requested by Parent’s and WSPS’ attorneys. Several pre-hearing conference calls were held as the parties attempted to reach informal resolution of this matter but settlement proved elusive. Hearing dates were then scheduled for April 26-27, 2004 but numerous scheduling problems of the parties and/or their witnesses, both prior to and during the course of the hearing, resulted in the hearing actually taking place on May 12 and June 30, 2004.

ISSUES IN DISPUTE

1. Does WSPS’ current IEP for David at West Springfield High School (WSHS) appropriately address his special education needs so as to provide him with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive educational environment?

2. If not, would placement of David at the School-To-Farm Program located at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA appropriately address his special education needs so as to provide him with FAPE in the least restrictive educational environment?

STATEMENT OF POSITIONS

Parent’s position is that WSPS’ current IEP for David at WSHS is inappropriate to address David’s special education needs so as to provide him with FAPE in the least restrictive educational environment. Parent contends that David requires an out-of-district private day school placement at the School-To-Farm Program located at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA in order to receive FAPE in the least restrictive educational environment.

WSPS’ position is that its current IEP for David at WSHS is appropriate to address David’s special education needs so as to provide him with FAPE in the least restrictive educational environment. WSPS contends that David does not require the restrictiveness of an out-of-district private day school placement in order to provide him with FAPE. WSPS further contends that the School-To-Farm Program at Hampshire College is inappropriate to address David’s special education needs and would not provide him with FAPE.

PROFILE OF STUDENT

David has received numerous evaluations during his educational career from WSPS, independent evaluations, and private evaluations. (See S-1 through S-10; S-12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 22, 28, 71; P-1, 4.) In 1995 Neuropsychologist Bradley Crenshaw of the Baystate Medical Center diagnosed David, then 8 ½ years old and in 2 nd grade, with an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), expressive language delays, and questioned the possibility of Asperger’s Syndrome (S-5). Also in 1995 Pediatric Neurologist Joseph Donnelly of Bayside Medical Center offered the diagnosis of Attention Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), endorsed the continued use of Ritalin, and noted learning problems not fully accounted for by ADHD and emotional concerns (S-6). Both Dr. Crenshaw (S-5) and Dr. Donnelly (S-6) noted the psychosocial stress/trauma due to the suicide of David’s mother and questioned the possibility of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In February 1999 Certified School Psychologist Dr. Denise Accordino performed a psychological evaluation of David (S-12). David was then 12 years old and attending 5 th grade.2 On the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-3 rd edition (WISC-III), David was found to be in the low average/average range of intellectual functioning with both verbal and non-verbal problem solving skills found to be adequate. Academically, David was found to be within the average range with average skills in general knowledge, spelling and oral reading and above average skills in reading comprehension. However, David demonstrated difficulty with written expression and significantly below average skills in math. David’s score on an autism screening instrument was indicative of significant concerns. (See S-12 for complete evaluation.)

In March 1999, David was re-evaluated by Neuropsychologist Crenshaw (S-14). Dr. Crenshaw found David’s performance on the battery of testing conducted in 1999 consistent with the pattern of difficulty first observed in 1995. David continued to demonstrate average intelligence;3 to have problems with his ADD and its accompanying memory difficulties; and to have inefficiencies in aspects of verbal processing, verbal expression and handwriting. Dr. Crenshaw found that the portrait of David’s social difficulties continued to assume the proportions of Asperger’s Syndrome.

During March-April 1999, David participated in an 8 week diagnostic assessment at the Center for School Crisis Intervention and Assessment (Center School) due to non-compliant behaviors in public school. While there, he was academically assessed utilizing the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT). David, then 12.3 years old and midway through 5 th grade received the following grade equivalent (GE) scores and age equivalent (AE) scores on the PIAT (See S-15):

PIAT Subject Area GE Score AE Score

Reading 7.4 12.10

Math 6.3 11.11

Spelling 5.5 11.01

In March 2002, David received a psychological assessment from Clinical Psychologist Karen Blum (P-1; S-28). On the WISC-III, David scored in the low average range of intellectual functioning in terms of verbal, performance, and full scale IQ. David, then midway through 8 th grade received the following grade equivalent (GE) scores on the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement-3 rd edition (WJ-III):

Battery Clusters GE Score

Reading 5.6

Mathematics 3.9

Written Language 4.3

Achievement Subtests

Word Identification 11.6

Reading Fluency 2.7

Passage Comprehension 8.9

Word Attack 5.1

Math Fluency 5.3

Applied Problems 3.8

Spelling 9.9

Writing Fluency 1.8

Writing Samples 4.3

In terms of social-emotional functioning, Dr. Blum found that the quality of David’s social behavior, verbal and non-verbal communications, and restricted range of interests, were consistent with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. Dr. Blum made numerous recommendations, instructional suggestions, accommodations and interventions. (See P-1; S-28 for Dr. Blum’s complete evaluation and recommendations.)

In September 2003, the beginning of David’s 10 th year, David received a vocational assessment from the Career and Technical Evaluation Center of the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative. (See P-4; S-71 for David’s vocational assessment and areas of interest.)

PARENT’S PROPOSED PROGRAM

Parent proposes that David be educated at the School-To-Farm Program located at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA (STFP). According to literature from the STFP (P-9):

The Farm Apprenticeship Program for [students ages 14-21] is an alternative learning program offering students with exceptional needs the opportunity to learn practical and social skills through active participation in a farm setting. Each student’s program is tailor-made to best address individual needs.

Under the instruction of the School-To-Farm Program Coordinator and teaching assistants, students and staff work as a team in carrying out daily responsibilities such as milking the goats, feeding the lambs, caring for the piglets and poultry, and working with the soil and plants. Academic work is supplemented with agricultural crafts activities, including basketry, candlemaking, carpentry and weaving…

In accordance with students’ IEP requirements, remedial and academic supports are provided for each student as needed through small group and individual tutoring…(See P-9).

There are 4-5 students who attend the STFP, ages 17-20. There is a morning meeting followed by farm chores and animal care used as a basis for learning, organizational, and practical skills. Social coaching, modeling, cueing, role playing and life skills are stressed throughout the school day. The STFP is run by Program Coordinator Nicki Robb, M.Ed. who addresses the social and emotional areas. College students/education majors at Hampshire College provide the academic component via 1:1 tutorials. The school day is from 7:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. and follows the Hampshire College yearly schedule/calendar. (See testimony, Blum; Shea.) The STFP is not approved by the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) as a private day school program for special education students. The STFP is currently undergoing a re-structuring as it works towards becoming a MDOE approved program; consequently, it is not admitting any new students until it achieves MDOE approval status (P-8; testimony, Blum).

SCHOOL’S PROPOSED PROGRAM

WSPS proposes that David continue to be educated under his currently proposed IEP. Under this IEP, David receives 4 out of 5 daily academic classes- English, biology, math and food services lab- in substantially separate, small group classes instructed by certified special education teachers. David is mainstreamed into a daily regular education history class since history is an area of interest and strength for him. David also receives a daily special education learning center class to specifically work on his areas of need and to receive assistance in his regular education class and special education classes with a special education teacher. David also has a 1:1 aide to monitor and implement strategies, to provide assistance when necessary, and to provide David with predictability and structure. David’s IEP provides for an extended school year program. This summer program consists of tutoring for 2 sessions per week, 2 hours per session for 6 weeks for a total of 24 hours to reinforce skills and to prevent substantial regression. Pursuant to the IEP, an Asperger’s Specialist provides consultations to David’s teachers and aide and observes David on a periodic basis, averaging 1 hour per week or 4 hours per month. David is integrated into regular physical education and school lunch.

Dr. Linda Rammler has a master’s degree in special education and a doctorate in developmental psychology.4 She has developed a working speciality in autism spectrum disorders, has worked with over 125 autistic students, and has worked with 20-25 Asperger’s students. She is a presenter at conferences and workshops on autism and the inclusion of such special education students in public schools. Dr. Rammler has been working with David since late in his 8 th grade year (May-June 2002) to assist in David’s transition from middle school to high school and to help develop his program at WSHS. Over David’s 9 th and 10 th grade years (2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years), Dr. Rammler has observed David in 1-2 of his classes and met with his teachers and aide approximately every 2-3 weeks. She also has observed David/his classes/his teachers for 2 full days at the beginning of the last 2 school years. She has done staff/aide training prior to the beginning of the school year and then spends 1-6 hours per staff member per year with follow up training. She has also attended David’s IEP meetings over the last 2 years. Dr. Rammler also speaks with David for 15-20 minutes after her observations.

Virginia Koontz, David’s special education biology teacher, is certified in moderate special needs and has taught for 35 years, the majority of time at West Springfield High School. Including David, there are 4 students in her biology class. Barbara Rouillard, David’s special education English teacher, is certified in moderate special needs and has taught special education at West Springfield High School for 21 years. Including David, there are 7 students in her English class.5 The curriculum in both of these English and biology classes is consistent with the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks. Thomas Kemp, David’s current food services leader and last year David’s math teacher, has a masters degree in special education, is certified in moderate special needs, and has taught for 16 years. Including David, there are 8 students in his food services class/lab. (See P-6; S-70; testimony Rammler; Rouillard; Koontz; Kemp.)

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

It is undisputed by the parties and confirmed by the evidence presented that David is a young man with special education needs as defined under state and federal statutes and regulations. The parties are also in substantial agreement regarding the nature and manifestations of David’s special education needs. The fundamental issues in dispute are listed under ISSUES IN DISPUTE , above.

Based upon 2 full days of oral testimony, the extensive written documentation introduced into evidence, and a review of the applicable law, I conclude that:

1. WSPS’ proposed IEP for David at WSHS is appropriate to address David’s special education needs so as to provide him with FAPE in the least restrictive educational environment with several modifications/amplifications delineated below.

2. Parent has failed to prove the necessity for a private day school placement to address David’s special education needs at this time or that the STIF program could provide a FAPE to David.

My analysis follows.

Based upon the evidence presented, I find that WSPS’ currently proposed IEP essentially addresses David’s special education needs so as to provide him FAPE and does so in the least restrictive educational environment as mandated by state and federal special education law. A review of the IEP itself (P-6; S-70) reveals a thoughtful, comprehensive and flexible IEP which provides David with the individualized special education instruction he requires in a structural, predictable educational environment. David receives small group special education classes in most of his academic areas with special education certified, highly experienced teachers, while being mainstreamed in an area of academic strength (history) as well as physical education, which promotes integration with regular education students and grade level peers. David has a 1:1 aide who allows David to function independently as much as possible but is there to provide structure and assistance whenever necessary. Included among David’s accomodations are use of an alphasmart on a daily basis to take notes and write vocabulary down; use of a calculator in math; and use of a computer. (See SCHOOL’S PROPOSED PROGRAM , above; P-6; S-70; testimony, Rammler.)

I find that WSPS carefully planned for David’s transition into high school. Dr. Rammler was retained by WSPS as a autism/integration consultant. She brainstormed with David’s family/observed David; created a person center planning process; and developed a modified MAPS/PATH (McGill Action Planning System-Planning Alternative Tomorrow’s With Hope) for David (testimony, Rammler; S-30). Dr. Rammler has created numerous scripts, schedules and social stories for David over the last 2 years including “Finding My Way Around WSHS” which explained and delineated directions to every classroom for every period of David’s school day (S-37); “David’s Bell Schedule” (S-38); “Things That Will Stay The Same and Things That Will Change During the School Year” (S-41); “Feeling Overwhelmed In School” (S-44), “Social Story For Participating In Cooperative Learning Groups In School” (S-46); and “It’s OK If

Different People Do Different Things” (S-62). Dr. Rammler also completed various checklists/strategies/recommendations to be utilized by David’s leaders. (See S-36, 64, 65.)

Based upon the evidence presented, I find that David has made progress academically, socially, and emotionally over his last 2 years at WSHS, especially over the last school year. Indeed, I note a communication from Parent’s attorney to WSPS Team Leader Boone (S-78) concerning a December 2003 observation by Dr. Blum of David at WSHS. On March 5, 2004, Parent’s attorney reported to Mr. Boone in pertinent part (S-78):

Essentially, Dr. Blum felt that the high school was meeting [David’s] academic
needs , but was not even addressing his emotional and social needs. Emphasis added.

I also note S-75 which provides written comments from David’s teachers written midway through the 2003-2004 school year (February 2004) articulating both academic and social growth. Several examples are quoted below:

[David] has really come out of his shell this year. Generally he is happy on a daily basis in my class. [David] has told jokes on occasion, and has initiated conversation with other students countless times…(Mr. Boudreau-Geometry).

… A real area of growth with [David] this year, and I’ve known him for almost two years, has been his ability to have genuine, and age-appropriate banter with the other students-something with which I do not interfere. Additionally, other students, with no prompting from me, choose to sit with him in my classroom…(Ms. Rouillard-English).

… [David’s] growth these past few months have extended beyond academics and he has begun developing personal relationships with his fellow classmates and teachers…through our numerous discussions, many of which are not part of the class lesson, [David’s] personality has truly begun to show. The more time [David] is in class, the more we learn about his likes, dislikes, and the more comfortable he feels expressing himself…Unlike many high school students [David] is not afraid to demonstrate and share his knowledge…every day [David] continues to become more involved both academically and socially here at WSHS…(Mr. Gilmarten-World History).

[David] continues to have social interaction with students and peers. He has been doing very well with group projects, such as history class, and is more confident and outgoing as the year continues. On many occasions, by his own admission, he has mentioned that he feels more mature and outgoing than last year…[David] is no longer talking at someone, as is common in Asperger’s Syndrome, but is actually talking to them. He has appropriate eye-to-eye contact, more facial expressions, good body posture and an interest in carrying on a conversation. (Ms. Therrien – 1:1 aide).
(See S-78 for complete teacher comments/observations.)

I also note the testimony of David’s teachers over the 2003-2004 school year which describes both social and academic progress. Biology teacher Koontz testified that her class is language based with multi-model (auditory-visual-tactile) presentations and all class notes mimeographed; that David interacts appropriately and is a star in her class; and that David knows how to solve problems and make connections between materials. Ms. Koontz testified that while David’s cadence can be stilted, he makes appropriate conversation with peers, making eye contact and talking to peers not at them; that he initiates conversations with other students on his own, socializes and makes jokes; that he is concerned with other students in class and that the other students respect him; and that David is thriving in her class. Food services/prior math teacher Kemp testified that he does not observe David as having deficits in social skills in his class. Mr. Kemp testified that David is a very perceptive person, has a good sense of humor, interacts well with peers and the teacher in class, and that the other students in class like David. English teacher Rouillard testified that David has progressed in reading comprehension, vocabulary and spelling but that he needs to progress in writing skills which she will be stressing during her summer tutorial program with him. Ms. Rouillard testified that David is a smart guy who knows more than many of her students; that he has a great sense of humor; that he makes eye contact and initiates conversations with other kids, bantering back and forth with other students in her class; and that he reads social cues pretty well. Ms. Rouillard testified that David is happy in her class, smiles, laughs and has a good comfort level; and that other students in class like David, seek him out and sit with him every day (tables instead of individual desks are used). Ms. Rouillard testified that she has seen David “fly this school year socially”; and that in a long conversation they had in February or March 2004, David stated that he couldn’t think of a single good reason to leave WSHS.

Finally, I note the testimony of Dr. Rammler, WSPS’ autism/inclusion consultant for David. The time she has spent observing David/his teachers, meeting with/training of his teachers and aide, and the numerous scripts/social stories she has written to assist David are summarized in SCHOOL’S PROPOSED PROGRAM above, and earlier in the FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS, above. Dr. Rammler has also observed David’s great sense of humor, his social appropriateness in class, his appropriate responses/interactions with peers, his emerging initiation of peer social interactions, and WSPS’ response/scheduling changes/reduction in written output demands when David has experienced difficulties. Dr. Rammler testified that David made a beautiful transition to WSHS; that she observed mostly good things over the 2002-2003 school year; and that David had a successful 2003-2004 school year both academically and socially. Dr. Rammler testified that in a conversation she had with David in the late winter/early spring of 2004, David was positive and happy about school; and stated that he liked WSHS, things were going well, and that he wanted to stay there.6

I place substantial weight on the testimony of David’s teachers and Dr. Rammler. Ms. Rouillard, Ms. Koontz and Mr. Kemp have observed David functioning on a daily basis over the last school year and have a close-up perspective on his day to day academic and social functioning at WSHS. Similarly, over the past 2 years, Dr. Rammler has spent over 125 hours observing David in his WSHS setting. Therefore, she is in a unique position having been able to observe David’s academic and social functioning in school over an extended 2 year period of time.

Dr. Blum performed a private psychological evaluation of David in March 2002 (P-1; S-28). I find that Dr. Blum’s testimony and Dr. Rammler’s testimony clearly demonstrate that most of Dr. Blum’s recommendations have been incorporated into David’s IEP. (See testimony, Blum; Rammler; see also S-35.) One recommendation that was not followed by WSPS was to place David in a specialized school. As stated in the preceeding paragraph, I place significant weight in the testimony of those professionals who have taught and/or interacted with David on a daily basis in his educational setting; observed/interacted with him over an extended period of time; and who have testified to/documented his academic and social progress under his IEP in the WSHS setting. Dr. Blum’s evaluation was over 2 years old at the time of this hearing. The only other interactions Dr. Blum had with David was a l hour clinical interview on December 12, 2003 in which David indicated he was more comfortable in school since Dr. Blum’s March 2002 evaluation and that things were going fine; and a several hour observation of David at WSHS on December 17, 2003 (testimony, Blum). I note that both the clinical interview with David and the observation at WSHS occurred 1 ½ years after Dr. Blum’s evaluation, no further evaluations were performed by Dr. Blum, and that the appeals process had already been initiated. Under such circumstances, I find the testimony of David’s teachers and Dr. Rammler to be the more credible regarding David’s academic and social progress and his current educational functioning.

Clinical Psychologist Elizabeth Shea is David’s private therapist and has been, on a periodic basis, for approximately 10 years. Dr. Shea testified that over this period she has seen David at least once a year, often once a month and, at times, twice a month or even weekly. Over the last 2 years, Dr. Shea has seen David about 20 times each year. Like Dr. Blum, Dr. Shea believes that David should attend the STFP. I accord Dr. Shea’s testimony little weight regarding David’s educational placement for several reasons. First, she has never observed David in any of his WSPS educational placements in 7 th , 8 th , 9 th or 10 th grades (i.e. neither middle school nor high school). Second, she has had no contact with David’s teachers over the last 2 years although she had permission to do so. Third, the last team meeting she attended regarding David was in June 2002 (before David began at WSHS) and she has only had two conversations with Dr. Rammler, one in April 2002 and one in either September 2002 or September 2003. Further, she has provided nothing in writing to WSPS (no updates, reports, summaries of David’s issues) regarding David’s functioning since the June 2002 team meeting. (See testimony, Shea.) Indeed, what is characterized in Parent’s Exhibits as Dr. Shea’s psychological evaluation is actually a February 24, 2004 letter from Dr. Shea to Parent’s attorney describing her history with David, making a number of educational recommendations, and advocating for the STFP. (See P-5; S-76.) There is no indication that this letter was written for evaluative purposes or for a consideration by David’s team but rather clearly appears to be a document expressly written for the purpose of this hearing. Finally, even Dr. Shea admitted that the 2003-2004 school year was a better year for David and that he experienced less stress (testimony, Shea).

While I have concluded that WSPS’ IEP for David essentially provides him FAPE, I find that it requires several modifications/amplifications to more precisely address David’s special education needs. Dr. Rammler, because of medical issues, was not always available as much as she herself wished. Dr. Rammler testified that she recommends a case manager for David at WSHS to make sure that all program pieces are/remain in place and to follow through on Dr. Rammler’s recommendations. Dr. Blum also testified that the IEP relies on many different players and settings and requires someone there to hold it together. Therefore, I find that David’s IEP requires a designated, on-site case manager to coordinate all aspects of David’s program; to insure day to day consistency and implementation of the IEP; and to serve as a WSPS liaison to assure continuity and follow through between Dr. Rammler’s periodic consultations.

Second, Dr. Rammler testified that the Circle of Friends program for David was never completely developed and was an area of weakness in his program. Dr. Rammler also testified that David needs more opportunities for social interactions, feedback regarding social skills/application of social concepts; and more peer interactions, especially participation in extra curricula activities. Dr. Blum and Dr. Shea also testified regarding David’s need for increased social development, social coaching, increasing social skills/friendships; and the need for a social skills group. Therefore, I find that David’s IEP requires a social skills/communications skills/pragmatics class, at least one period per week, to promote application and generalization of social and communicative skills. If such a class is not possible at WSHS, WSPS shall fund such a social skills/communication skills/pragmatics program outside of school (such as the type of program described by Dr. Mercatis in S-34 and in Dr. Rammler’s testimony).

Third, David’s private therapist, Dr. Shea, criticized the IEP because David had no therapist from WSHS to deal with school issues and issues of self-awareness. Dr. Rammler testified that David still needs to learn to better deal with the behaviors of others in school which bother him and to continue to develop coping strategies. Therefore, I find that David’s IEP requires individual counseling/therapy one period per week by a school psychologist, school adjustment counselor or appropriately licensed mental health professional to deal with school-related issues and issues of concern to David as they arise within the school context.

Finally, as noted above, Dr. Blum’s 2 ½ year old evaluation is the most recent, comprehensive evaluation of David. Much has transpired and David has undergone growth, progress and change since then. Therefore, I order an updated, comprehensive team evaluation of David’s psychological, learning, academic, emotional and social functioning to take place during the Fall of 2004.

Although I rarely address the appropriateness, or lack therefore of PARENT’S PROPOSED PROGRAM when I have concluded that that SCHOOL’S PROPOSED PROGRAM is/can be modified to provide FAPE, I feel compelled to make the following observations. Based upon the evidence or lack thereof presented regarding the STFP at this hearing, I would have been unable to find it appropriate for David, even if I had found the WSPS placement inappropriate. First, it is an unapproved placement with enrollment currently closed while it attempts to become approved. Second, no witness from STFP testified at this hearing nor provided any detailed written documentation regarding the STFP as it currently exists or in what ways it may or will change to attempt to gain MDOE approval. Therefore, I would have had no justifiable basis to order it as a placement for David. Based upon the limited information provided, I have serious concerns about the very small student population (4-5 students); that only one degreed professional (its director, Mr. Robb) was identified as teaching in the program; that all other “teachers” or tutors apparently are undergraduates with no degrees and/or certifications; that no information was presented regarding the specifics of the type of special education program/academic program STFP offers, nor whether it complies with MCAS; and that it operates on a college calendar which may not be sufficient to meet state mandated time standards. (See P-8, 9; testimony Blum; Shea). Finally, on his vocational assessment administered in October 2003 (P-4; S-71) David scored very low in the area of plants and animals. Indeed, Dr. Shea testified that David did not like bugs. The STFP works with soil, plants and various types of animals. (See PARENT’S PROPOSED PROGRAM , above; P-9.) Given all of the above, I am hard pressed to understand any meaningful educational benefits David would derive from such a placement.

ORDER

The IEP proposed by the WSPS for David in the above-entitled matter is appropriate to address David’s special education needs so as to provide him with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive educational environment with the following modifications/amplifications:

1. A designated, on-site case manager for David to coordinate all aspects of David’s program; to insure day to day consistency and implementation of the IEP; and to serve as a WSPS liaison to assure continuity and follow through between Dr. Rammler’s periodic consultations.

2. A social skills/communication skills/pragmatics class, at least one period per week, to promote application and generalization of social and communicative skills. If such a class is not possible at West Springfield High School, WSPS shall fund such a social skills/communication skills/pragmatics program outside of school (such as the type of program described by Dr. Mercatis in S-34 and in Dr. Rammler’s testimony).

3. Individual counseling/therapy one period per week by a school psychologist, school adjustment counselor or appropriately licensed mental health professional.

4. An updated, comprehensive team evaluation of David’s psychological, learning, academic, emotional and social functioning is to take place during the fall of 2004.

By the Hearing Officer

_____________________

Dated: September 13, 2004

Raymond Oliver


1

David is a pseudonym chosen by the Hearing Officer to protect the privacy of the Student in publicly available documents.


2

David repeated the 2 nd grade.


3

Dr. Crenshaw administered the WISC-III (S-14) approximately one month after Dr. Accordino administered the WISC-III (S-12), which may have affected David’s WISC-III scores on the Crenshaw testing, particularly in the area of Performance IQ (90 on Dr. Accordino’s WISC-III but 107 on Dr. Crenshaw’s WISC-III one month later).


4

Dr. Rammler’s doctoral dissertation dealt with the integration of special education students.


5

Ms. Rouillard will be David’s 1:1 tutor over the 2004 summer, working primarily on David’s writing skills.


6

Both Ms. Rouillard and Dr. Rammler testified, essentially, that David did not want to leave WSHS. I wish to note that David’s comments were not outcome-determinitive in this case. However, I also note that at age 17 ½, David’s actual testimony would have been helpful in this appeal.


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