Framingham Public Schools v. the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Natick Public Schools – BSEA # 10-4765



<br /> Framingham Public Schools v. the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Natick Public Schools – BSEA # 10-4765<br />

COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS

Framingham Public Schools v. the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education & Natick Public Schools

BSEA #10-4756

DECISION

This decision is issued pursuant to M.G.L. c. 71B and 30A, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the regulations promulgated under said statutes.

A hearing was held on April 6, 2010 at Framingham High School before Catherine M. Putney-Yaceshyn, Hearing Officer.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 2, 2010, Framingham Public Schools (or “Framingham”) filed a request for hearing appealing an Amended Assignment Decision issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (or “DESE”) dated February 2, 2010. The hearing was scheduled to occur on March 9, 2010. On February 8, 2010, Natick Public Schools (or “Natick”) requested a postponement of the hearing which was granted on February 22, 2010. The hearing was rescheduled for April 6, 2010. On April 2, 2010, the case was administratively reassigned to Hearing Officer Catherine Putney-Yaceshyn. The hearing was held on April 6, 2010 at Framingham High School. At the close of the hearing, the parties requested a postponement to allow for the submission of written closing briefs. The hearing officer set a deadline of April 30, 2010 for the submission of closing arguments. Natick and Framingham submitted their closing arguments on April 30, 2010. On May 3, 2010, DESE submitted its closing argument along with its “Motion for Additional Time to File Closing Argument”. Neither school district objected and the record closed on that date.

Those present for all or part of the Hearing were:

Pamela Kaufman Director of Special Education, Framingham Public Schools

Judy Dagg Office Manager, Special Education Department, Framingham Public Schools

Brendon Savage Attendance Supervisor, Framingham Public Schools

Philip Benjamin Attorney for Framingham Public Schools

Lauren Gilbert Director of Pupil Services, Natick Public Schools

Jeanne Andersen Out of District Coordinator, Natick Public Schools

Karen LeDuc Assistant Superintendent, Natick Public Schools

Alisia St. Florian Attorney for Natick Public Schools

Debra Comfort Attorney for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Catherine Putney-Yaceshyn Hearing Officer

The official record of this hearing consists of Natick’s exhibits marked N-1 through N-16, Framingham’s exhibits marked F-1 through F-6, and approximately 3 hours of recorded oral testimony.

ISSUES

1. Whether the DESE’s determination that Parent moved to Natick on April 1, 2009 as indicated in its February 2, 2010 Amended Assignment was correct.

2. Whether the DESE’s determination that Framingham Public Schools is fiscally responsible for Student through June 30, 2010 is correct.

SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE

1. On February 2, 2010 DESE issued an Amended Assignment of School District Responsibility1 . In its Amended Assignment it determined that Parent/Student2 resided in Framingham until April 1, 2009 and that Parent/Student moved to Natick on April 1, 2009. DESE assigned programmatic responsibility for Student to Natick and citing the “move-in law” (M.G.L. Ch. 71B, Section 5), assigned fiscal responsibility to Framingham through June 30, 2010. (N-3)

2. Judy Dagg is the Office Manager of the Special Education Department for the Framingham Public Schools. She is responsible for managing out-of-district transportation. On either March 23 or March 24, 2009, Student’s mother (hereinafter, “Mother”) spoke to Ms. Dagg. Mother informed Ms. Dagg that she would be moving to Natick and Ms. Dagg informed her she must register Student with the Natick Public Schools. Ms. Dagg asked Mother when she was moving and Mother told her she would be moving the weekend of March 28 and March 29. (Dagg) Mother later had a second conversation with Ms. Dagg during which Mother expressed concern that it would take Natick ten days to set up transportation for Student. Mother was upset because she feared that Student would not be able to get to school and she indicated that she would have to return to her Framingham address to wait for the bus if Natick did not have transportation in place.

3. Brendon Savage has been the attendance officer for Framingham Public Schools since March 2008. He monitors and enforces attendance policies throughout the district and verifies addresses for people moving in and out of Framingham. He is aware of the significance of April 1 with respect to the “move in law.” Judy Dagg called him early in the week of March 23, 2009. She told him there was a student placed out-of-district who was scheduled to move over the weekend and asked him to verify the move. Mr. Savage contacted Mother on Friday and she told him she planned to move and he asked her if he could come to her apartment to verify the move on March 30. On March 30, 2009, Mr. Savage went to Mother’s Framingham address and knocked at the door. There was no answer. He knew that the apartment was part of the Framingham Housing Authority and he called the Housing Authority and asked if Mother had moved out. He also asked for a letter documenting her move3 . (See F-3)

On March 30, 2009 at around 3:30 p.m. Mr. Savage went to Mother’s Natick address and waited for her. He called her on her cell phone and she said she was running late. She met him at the apartment at 4:00. She opened the door with a key and Mr. Savage observed boxes that had not been unpacked and belongings in the apartment as well as paint cans. He did not observe whether the bedroom had been set up. Mr. Savage did not ask Mother whether she was sleeping in the Natick apartment despite his testimony that it would be necessary to establish whether a person was sleeping in an apartment to determine whether they had moved. He asked Mother to sign a letter he had written. There was a heading on the letter that said, “FIRST WARNING” in bold capital letters.4 The heading also contained the date, was addressed to Mother and contained the notation “Grade: Outplacement.” The letter said, “This letter shall certify that the following student and his/her family or legal guardian have voluntarily vacated their residency [sic] at … in the town of Framingham, MA as of March 28, 2009.” Both the address and the date were underscored. The letter continued, “The family of Student … have [sic] reported moving to the following address. … Confirmation of the above information was made in person on this 30 th day of March 2009. Mother did not ask Mr. Savage any questions before signing the document. (Savage, F-2, N-16) Mother told Jeanne Andersen, Natick Public Schools’ Out-of-District Coordinator, that she did not understand why it was necessary to show Mr. Savage her apartment. However, she stated that she did whatever anyone asked her to do to ensure continuation of services and transportation for her son. (Andersen)

4. Jeanne Andersen has been the Out-of-District Coordinator for Natick Public Schools for approximately ten years. Mother called her on March 24, 2009 and informed her she would be moving on April 1, 2009. Ms. Andersen told Mother what documents she should bring to the central office to register Student and told her she would submit a request for transportation because there was sometimes a delay of three to five business days. On March 23, 2009, Ms. Andersen submitted a request for transportation to begin on April 2, 2009. In bold type, she wrote, “FAMILY IS MOVING IN FROM FRAMINGHAM ON 4/1/09.” The transportation coordinator faxed the request to the transportation company on March 24, 2009, as indicated by her handwritten notation. (See N-7) Ms. Andersen had no further contact with Mother until the fall when she contacted Mother to set up a Team meeting. Ms. Andersen testified that Mother had told her that she had not carefully read the document that she signed for Mr. Savage. She specifically mentioned that the letter contained the word “warning” and indicted that she was concerned that it was about transportation. (Andersen)

5. Mother signed a document entitled “Affidavit of Residency Move-In Date” for the Natick Public Schools on October 14, 2009. In the affidavit she stated that she and her son first slept in the Natick apartment on April 1, 2009. She further reported that she was permitted to complete her move from Framingham to Natick over several days (March 28 through March 31, 2009) because she is a single parent with a child who has a disability. (N-13)

6. On January 25, 2010, Mother signed an affidavit stating that she moved herself from Framingham to Natick over the course of four days: March 28, March 29, March 30, and March 31, 2009. She indicated that the first night that she slept in the Natick apartment was April 1, 2009 and that on March 30, 2009 she and her son slept on the floor of her Framingham apartment. She stated that she had slept on the floor of the Framingham apartment on March 31, 2009 while her son slept at her mother’s house in Framingham. With respect to the document she had signed for Brandon Savage (See F-2, N-16) Mother reported that Mr. Savage had told her the purpose of his visit to her apartment was to verify her new address so that transportation for her son could be arranged. She indicated that although the document indicates that she had vacated her Framingham apartment, that had not been an accurate statement. She explained that although she had signed that document, she had not written it. She further explained that although her son was transported to school from the Natick address on March 30 and March 31, 2009, neither she nor her son had slept at the apartment for those two nights. Because Framingham had arranged for her son to be picked up at the Natick apartment, Mother drove Student to the Natick apartment from Framingham on both of those mornings. Finally, Mother sates that the October 14, 2009 affidavit which she signed (See N-13) is an accurate description of her move from Framingham to Natick. (N-14)

7. Mother’s lease on the Natick apartment began on April 1, 2009. (N-6)

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS:

The Massachusetts Special Education Regulations give the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education authority to resolve issues regarding residency and LEA responsibility for special education students. 603 CMR 28.10. Under 603 CMR 28.10 (9), the Regulations further grant the Bureau of Special Education Appeals authority to decide subsequent appeals of those determinations.

In Massachusetts, school age children have the right to attend public school in the town where the child resides. M.G.L. c. 76 § 5. Generally, 603 CMR 28.10(3) provides that a school district’s fiscal and or programmatic responsibility for a student is based on the residence of the parent(s) or the legal guardian. Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 71B § 5, known as the “move-in” law”

… if a child with a disability for whom a school committee currently provides or arranges for the provision of special education in an approved private day or residential school placement… or his parent or guardian moves to a different school district on or after July 1 of any fiscal year, such school committee of the former community of residence shall pay the approved budgeted costs, of such day or residential placement… of such child for the balance of such fiscal year.; provided, however, that if such move occurs between April 1 and June 30, such school committee of the former community of residence shall pay such costs for the balance of the fiscal year in which the move occurred as well as for the subsequent fiscal year.

The Parties do not dispute the validity of the move-in law or that it applies in this case. Instead, their dispute is primarily factual. Framingham disputes DESE’s finding that Mother moved to Natick from Framingham on April 1, 2009 within the context of the “move-in” law. Framingham further disputes DESE’s policy that residency is determined by where a student sleeps. Framingham argues that the date that Mother moved should be determined by other factors such as when she intended to move to the Natick apartment, when she moved her possessions to the Natick apartment, when she vacated the Framingham apartment, and when she had access and possession of the Natick apartment. Natick argues that the only relevant question is when Parent/Student established residency in Natick and that residency was established as of the first night that Parent/Student slept in the Natick apartment.

In addressing residency, the words residence and domicile have been interpreted to be synonymous when used in statutes involving residency requirements. Watson v. Town of Lexington 1993 WL 818774, 1 Mas L. Reptr. 261 (Mass. Super. 1993); See Hershkoff v. Board of Registrars of Voters of Worcester , 366 Mass. 570, 576, 321 N. E. 2d 656 (1974); Teel v. Hamilton Wenham Regional School District , 13 Mass. App. Ct. 345, 349, 433 N.E. 2d 907 (1982). A domicile has been defined as the “place where a person dwells and which is the center of [an individual’s] domestic, social and civil life”, the place where that person has his home5 . Dane v. Board of Registrars of Voters of Concord , 374 Mass. 152, 161-162, 371 N.E. 2d 1358 (1978); Hershkoff v. Board of Registrars of Voters of Worcester , 366 Mass 570 (1974). In this regard, a minor who has not been emancipated is “generally said to lack capacity to acquire such a domicile of choice.” Hershkoff, 366 Mass. at 577. When residence issues involve children, the Court in George H. and Irene L. Walker Home for Children, Inc. v. Franklin , 416 Mass. 291, 296, 621 N.E. 2d 376 (1993) clarified that a minor child’s domicile or residence generally is the same as that of the parent who possesses physical custody of the child. See also, Lydia D. et al. v. Thomas W. Payzant et al. , 17 Mass. L. Rep. 272 (2003); 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 471. In the matter of In Re: Tyngsborough Public Schools , BSEA #90-2510, the hearing officer held that “residence for school assignment purposes means actual presence in a town with an intention to remain.”

Framingham argues that Mother moved prior to April 1 because she had access to the Natick apartment, had moved some or all of her possessions to the Natick apartment, and had vacated the Framingham apartment. Framingham relies primarily on the document Mr. Savage drafted and had Mother sign, and the letter written by the Framingham housing authority stating that Mother had vacated the apartment as of March 31, 2009, to show that Mother had actually moved prior to April 1, 2009. Mr. Savage’s document is not persuasive as to the date Mother actually moved because the testimony suggested that Mother felt pressured to sign the document that had been prepared by Mr. Savage. The document contained the words “First Warning” and Mother later informed Ms. Andersen that she understood that Mr. Savage was verifying her address so that Student’s transportation to his school placement could continue. Ms. Andersen testified that Mother had told her she would do whatever anyone asked her to do because she wanted to assure continuation of services for her son. Framingham argues that Mother’s statement to Ms. Anderson impugns the credibility of the affidavits Mother signed for Natick. However, it also calls into question the veracity of the statements made in the document Mother signed for Mr. Savage. The document provided to Mr. Savage by the Framingham Housing Authority is too vague to be of assistance in determining when Mother actually moved to the Natick apartment. The letter simply states that Mother vacated the unit without defining “vacated.” It is unclear whether Mother had simply removed all of her possessions from the unit or whether she had also relinquished her key to the apartment. Mother’s affidavits indicate that she slept on the floor of the Framingham apartment on March 31. The letter from the Framingham Housing Authority neither confirms nor disproves Mother’s statement.

It is clear from the record that both Framingham and Natick employees were aware of the move-in law and the importance of establishing the date of Student’s actual move to Natick. Ms. Dagg took the admittedly unusual step of arranging for the transportation of a Student from a Natick address. She did not inform Natick that she had done so. Additionally, she sent Mr. Savage to investigate not only the Framingham address, but also the new Natick address. Natick employees also realized the importance of establishing the date of Student’s move as evidenced by the various statements they asked Mother to sign. The most relevant and reliable evidence as to when the move occurred, however, is the lease for the Natick apartment. The lease was a document that was prepared by neither Framingham Public Schools nor Natick Public Schools. The lease clearly indicates a start date of April 1, 2009. There was no testimony that the lease had been revised to allow Mother to begin living there at an earlier date. It seems credible that the Natick Housing Authority would allow Mother to move her possessions to the apartment prior to the start date of the lease to accommodate her difficulty in moving by herself while caring for a disabled child. It is also credible that Mother would drive Student to the Natick apartment on the mornings of March 30 and March 31 because Mother had been extremely concerned that there would be an interruption in transportation services when she moved. Framingham had assured Mother that transportation would be provided from the Natick address on March 30 and March 31. Mother’s lease for the Natick apartment did not begin until April 1, 2009. Thus, she was legally precluded from sleeping at the Natick apartment until the lease term began on April 1, 2009. Therefore, it makes sense that Mother would sleep at another location and drive Student to the Natick apartment where she had been assured that Student would be transported to school. It also makes sense that Natick would not begin providing transportation until after Mother/Student had moved to Natick on April 1, 2009.

Framingham, as the moving party, has the burden of showing that Mother/Student moved prior to April 1, 2009, and it has not met its burden. Therefore, I find that DESE’s determination that Mother moved to Natick on April 1, 2009, as indicated in its February 2, 2010 Amended Assignment, was correct. I also find that DESE’s determination that Framingham Public Schools is fiscally responsible for Student through June 30, 2010 is correct.

ORDER

DESE’s Amended Assignment of School District Responsibility dated February 2, 2010 is upheld.

By the Hearing Officer,

____________________________________

Catherine M. Putney-Yaceshyn

Dated: May 28, 2010


1

DESE issued an October 28, 2009 Assignment of School District Responsibility assigning fiscal responsibility to Framingham for the balance of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009 and assigning responsibility to Natick Public Schools as of July 1, 2009. It found that Mother resided in Framingham until 3/31/09 and that Mother moved to Natick on 4/1/09. In response to additional documentation submitted by Framingham, DESE issued a January 6, 2010 Amended Assignment of School District Responsibility. DESE found that Mother resided in Framingham until 3/29/09 and Mother moved to Natick on 3/30/ 2009. DESE then determined that Framingham was fiscally responsible for Student for the balance of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. It assigned fiscal responsibility to Natick beginning on July 1, 2009.


2

Student was placed in an out-of-district placement by Framingham pursuant to the IEP written for him effective October 2008 thorough October 2009.


3

The letter from the Framingham Housing Authority dated March 31, 2009, reads, “Please be advised [Mother] has vacated the unit.” (F-3)


4

Mr. Savage used an old template he used to send truancy letters to write the letter and did not recall whether he told Mother the “first warning” portion of the letter was an error. (Savage)


5

Restatement (Second ) of Conflicts of Laws § 11 comment a (1971). George H. and Irene L. Walker Home for Children, Inc. v. Town of Franklin , 416 Mass. 291, 296, 621 N.E. 2d 376 (1993).


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