Andrew and South Hadley Public Schools – BSEA # 06-3954
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
Andrew & South Hadley Public Schools
This decision is rendered pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 USC 1400 et seq.), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC 794), the state special education law (MGL ch. 71B), the state Administrative Procedure Act (MGL ch. 30A) and the regulations promulgated under these statutes. A hearing on the above-named case was held on June 9 and 12, 2006 at Catuogno’s Reporting Service in Springfield, Massachusetts and Worcester, Massachusetts, respectively, before Hearing Officer Sandra Sherwood. At the request of the parties, the record remained open until July 3, 2006 for receipt of closing documents. However, in order to allow Parents’ closing argument into evidence, the record remained open until July 11, 2006.1 Further, as agreed, the school submitted its School Exhibits 56 and 572 on June 26, 2006.
Those present for all or part of the proceedings were:
Parents Parents of Andrew3
Bryan Clausen Attorney for Parents
Dora Campbell Speech/Language pathologist
Bradley Crenshaw Neuropsychologist
Linda Fontaine Curtis Blake School
Joyce Suther Director of Pupil Services, South Hadley Public Schools
Regina Tate Attorney for South Hadley Public Schools
Jennifer Hastings Third grade special education teacher, South Hadley Public School
Linda Bradley Third grade teacher, South Hadley Public Schools
Sandra Donah Second grade special education teacher, South Hadley Public Schools
Chris Abrahamson School Psychologist, South Hadley Public Schools
Rebecca Lavelle Speech/language Pathologist, South Hadley Public Schools
David Gallagher Assistant Principal
1. Whether South Hadley Public School’s (South Hadley) October 2005 – October 2006 IEP calling for an inclusion program at the Mosier Elementary School was reasonably calculated to provide Andrew with an appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting; if not,
2. Whether South Hadley’s language-based program is reasonably calculated to provide Andrew with an appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting; if not,
3. Whether the Curtis Blake Day School (Curtis Blake), a private school for language-disabled students, is reasonably calculated to provide Andrew with an appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting.
STATEMENT OF THE PARTIES
Andrew’s parents (Parents) assert that Andrew has a language-based learning disability and that he requires a language-based program in order to make effective progress. They assert that his inclusion program has been unsuccessful in that he has not made academic gains, particularly, reading. Therefore, South Hadley’s TEAM decision to repeat this program was and continues to be a mistake. He requires a much more intensive program. Further, Parents object to South Hadley’s recent offer of a language-based program because South Hadley’s position had been that Andrew was not eligible for a language-based program, Parents have no confidence that even in that language-based class, the staff would address his needs. Finally, although the program is a language-based program, it is not sufficiently intensive to meet his needs. The students’ skill levels, the teacher/student ratio, and the limited involvement of the speech/language therapist, render the program inappropriate for Andrew. Rather, Andrew should attend Curtis Blake, for it offers the language-based program, the more intensive curriculum, and the smaller class sizes.
According to South Hadley staff, its TEAM’s decision to place Andrew in its partial inclusion program at Mosier School was and continues to be appropriate for Andrew. He is a happy, socially accepted young boy who fits in with his inclusion class peers. Further, he is very comfortable participating with his peers in academic discussions. With the accommodations, special education inclusion services, and pull-out services, Andrew is making effective progress. Accordingly, its proposed inclusion program offers Andrew the least restrictive appropriate placement. In the interest of working with Parents, South Hadley also offered its language-based class at the Mosier School as an alternative placement for Andrew, even though Andrew’s profile does not fit the description of students for this program. That is, his cognitive delays are much more global than those of these students who have the more limited language delays. Despite this, South Hadley asserts that Andrew would indeed benefit from the program. In fact, it provides all of the intensive language-based services recommended by the family’s independent evaluators. Accordingly, Parents’ private school placement is overly restrictive, and therefore, not appropriate for Andrew.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
Andrew is a nine-year old boy who is completing his third grade at South Hadley’s Mosier Elementary, having received partial inclusion special education services since kindergarten. Andrew’s strengths lie in his ability to relate well with peers, to work cooperatively and responsibly, and in his athletic abilities. He is diagnosed with cognitive delays that are global4 and include delays in language processing, memory, consolidation of information, retrieval of information, reading, writing, and spelling, and severe receptive and moderate expressive oral and written language delays. Further, his learning is significantly compromised by an attention deficit disorder. The parties differ as to whether Andrew has a language-based learning disability. His reading skills are at the end of first grade level. (Hastings, Crenshaw, Campbell, Lavelle, P-9, 11, S-7, 17).
Andrew’s first grade school reports note that his inability to focus and attend impeded his academic progress; he required adult support and intervention to keep him focused. (P-14). On January 23, 2004 of Andrew’s first grade, South Hadley convened a TEAM and thereafter developed an IEP calling for inclusion services of a 1:3 paraprofessional 27.5 hours weekly as well as occupational therapy. Further, it called for pull-out services for speech/language therapy, language arts, math, and occupational therapy, each .5 hour twice weekly (totaling 4 hours weekly). (S-12).
In December of 2003 and January of 2004, due to concerns regarding Andrew’s attentional skills, his reading progress, and questions regarding a possible learning disability, South Hadley conducted a psychological (and presumably educational, home, and medical5 ) assessment of Andrew. The psychologist was unable to reach a conclusion as to whether Andrew had a learning disability. He concluded that Andrew’s reading difficulties may just require some direct intervention and repeated practice with phonological activities. His WISC scores were 84 (full scale), 83 (verbal comprehension), 90 (perceptual reasoning), 94 (working memory), and 83 (processing speed). (S-55).
In June of 2004 of Andrew’s first grade year, Dr. Bradley Crenshaw, an independent neuropsychologist, conducted an evaluation. Parents reported that Andrew was failing to make effective progress in math and reading and were concerned about his attention span. Dr. Crenshaw reported that Andrew’s learning is compromised by his significant attention deficit disorder causing him to fade in and out of mental clarity. Further, his learning is compromised by his memory deficits, the decline in his consolidation and retrieval, and his emphasis on rote memory. He noted that “his ingestion of new material is made with little organization, and as a result, his retrieval is notably haphazard… At his best, his performance attains the 2 nd percentile when confronting information that has been pre-organized to assist his initial ingestion. At his worst, his memory proficiency declines into the 1 st percentile.” Dr. Crenshaw reported a significant reading disability, with compromises in Andrew’s phonological processing and rapid retrieval of information. Finally, he reported inefficiencies in Andrew’s fine motor performance influencing handwriting. He recommended a reading program such as Wilson or a combination of Lindamood-Bell and Fast ForWord program. He also recommended interventions to bolster Andrew’s executive management of his knowledge base, multi-sensory methods, provision of teacher outlines, cognitive maps, additional time to complete tasks, modified testing and evaluation procedures, use of strategies to maximize his attentional skills, an OT evaluation, and finally, consideration as to whether Andrew requires a more specialized educational setting.
In his report, Dr. Crenshaw was silent as to whether his recommended services and accommodations could be provided by a regular education teacher or an aide. (P-9). In his testimony, he stated that he recognized the validity of studies supporting the efficacy of modifications being provided by regular education rather than special education staff. However, he emphatically stated that the staff must be unified in their philosophy of instruction, the curriculum must have a sequence so as to build upon concepts, and the tutor working with Andrew must have a good understanding of Andrew’s learning style and know when he is having difficulties in attending, comprehending, etc. He stated that these needs assessed at the end of first grade would continue to be needs as a fourth grader. (Crenshaw).
On August 17, 2004, Heather Hackett of Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital conducted a speech and language evaluation. Parents had requested this, due to concerns regarding Andrew’s ability to process language, follow directions, and comprehend what he reads. Ms. Hackett reported that Andrew presents with a severe receptive and moderate expressive language delay, as well as delays in phonological awareness skills and pre-reading skills. She recommended speech/language therapy at least twice a week, in 1:1 and small group settings. Finally, she recommended further testing in the areas of auditory processing and educational testing in language learning and reading. (P-11, S17).
On August 12, 2004, Ann Goodale conducted an occupational therapy evaluation. Among her many recommendations for his mainstreamed setting, she recommended that Andrew be in a smaller class of 15 – 20 students, that he take frequent breaks as well as activity breaks which would help him to focus when he returns to his desk work, and that he be encouraged to participate in sports, as it is a major area of interest and talent. (S-16).
On October 7, 2004 of Andrews’ second grade, the TEAM convened and considered the various evaluation reports. The TEAM developed an IEP calling for significantly more services than provided in his 1 st grade school year. That is, its inclusion services included a 1:3 paraprofessional 9.16 hours/week; special education services in writing .5 hour 2 x week, reading .75 hours 4 x week (using the Wilson reading program), and math .5 hours 1 x week; and occupational therapy .5 hours 1 x week. The IEP called for accommodations including small group or individual instruction with cueing, a reading program using a systematic, multi-sensory approach such as the Wilson program, extra time on work, decreased demands with written output, and frequent activity breaks. The IEP called for pullout services with the speech/language pathologist .5 hours 2 x week, and with the occupational therapist .5 hours 1 x week. Finally, the IEP called for consultations from the special education teacher as well as the occupational and speech/language therapists. (P-8, 9, 10, S-23). Because Parents did not accept this IEP until December 24, 2004, South Hadley continued providing the less intensive IEP services until January of 2005. Further, in January, South Hadley added a tutor to Andrew’s program, who provided him math as well as other academic tutoring up to 7 hours weekly. (S-23, 24).
Documentation of Andrew’s second grade progress is as follows: In January of 2005, Ms. Donah reported that Andrew was reading DRA level 13 books with good comprehension skills, but was not yet using decoding strategies independently. (S-25). According to his June 9, 2005 progress reports, he made slow progress in reading, in that he was very slow in learning new sight words which impacted his ability to improve his reading skills; his fluency was fairly smooth (although he would stick in any word whether or not it made sense, thus affecting his comprehension); and, his phonological awareness skills were slowly improving but not yet consistent in any one area. It was unclear whether he would achieve his IEP’s goal. (S-27). (The 2004 – 2005 IEP called for a one-year’s growth from his DRA “present level” 9 to level 18.6 ). He in fact progressed from a DRA independent level 2 to 8. (S-57). In math, he could add to 20, and was working on subtraction; he was having difficulty achieving his goal regarding telling time and reasoning skills. His handwriting progress was “sufficient”. He made steady progress in his communication goals and objectives, and should meet his annual goal. In writing, he made slow, steady progress; he was still working on writing a complete sentence independently, and it was unclear whether he would achieve his annual goal. (His IEP objective called for independently writing an 8-sentence story.) (S-27).
On September 16, 2005 of Andrew’s third grade, Dora Campbell, an independent speech/language pathologist, conducted a speech/language evaluation. Parents requested this due to their concerns regarding his academic work, particularly language/reading comprehension. Ms. Campbell reported that Andrew presented with severe oral and written language deficits. The Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities (ITPA-3) testing scores reflected a 12-point difference between his spoken language and written language scores, indicating explicit decoding/encoding issues. “[His] phonological awareness and naming-speed deficits are at the root of his decoding/encoding disability.” He also presented with below average to poor scores on naming-speed skills (RAN/RAS test). Finally, he presented with poor oral narrative skills. She recommended that he be placed in a structured language-based program within a substantially separate program with a small student/teacher ratio and with daily individual reading/language sessions. She recommended that this intensive reading/language intervention 1) teach phonological awareness skills, 2) develop his ability to recognize written letter patterns and syllable patterns, 3) improve his speed and fluency, 4) provide instruction in narrative story structure, and 5) provide speech/language articulation therapy. Finally, she recommended that these skills be taught in isolated lessons and carried over in to the classroom activities. (P-12).
4. On September 29, 2005, the TEAM convened . Parents expressed their concern regarding Andrew’s anxiety around class work and hoped that he gain more interest in school. The staff noted that he has difficulty focusing in small and large group situations, that his anxiety impacts his performance. (P-6, S-21). The TEAM developed an IEP offering the same services as provided in the second grade. However, in the additional information section, the IEP notes South Hadley’s intent to provide a tutor to prevent loss of learned skills up to 5 hours weekly as well as a 5 week summer program 3 hours daily. (P-6, S-21). The IEP’s inclusion services7 called for Andrew’s paraprofessional (para) in a 1:3 ratio 9.16 hours weekly; his special education teacher for writing .5 hour 2 x weekly, reading .75 hour 4 x weekly (using the Wilson reading and spelling, Lindamood Bell, and Story Grammer Marker programs), and math .5 hour weekly (supporting the tutor’s teaching); and the occupational therapist .5 hours weekly. In addition to these inclusion services, the speech/language therapist consults with the teachers and also provided pull-out services twice weekly. Though the IEP called for 5 hours weekly, the 1:1 tutor (not listed as a special education service) apparently taught Andrew’s math and provided support in other areas, working with Andrew up to 7 hours weekly8 . The regular education teacher taught Andrew’s social studies and science classes with no special education services, but with a para assigned to work specifically with Andrew. Finally, in addition to the special education reading and writing classes9 , his regular education teacher also taught him language arts, approximately 7.5 hours weekly. (Bradley, Hastings, P-6, S-21).
Because Parents did not accept this IEP, South Hadley staff continued working off the second grade IEP with similar services, but some different goals/objectives. (Hastings). On the other hand, his regular education teacher stated that she moved beyond the current objectives when he was ready for that. For instance, Andrew worked on many of the same third-grade level academics including math, but modified. (Bradley).
Ms. Bradley testified as to Andrew’s third grade educational performance. He participated frequently in class activities, whether it be the whole group listening to her read a third grade level book, working on hands-on science projects, or writing a report and reading it to the class and responding to peers’ questions. He became more confident and less anxious over the course of his third grade. He volunteered during group discussions several times weekly. He was well-liked by his peers and respected, particularly for his athletic abilities. (Bradley). In her opinion, Andrew’s attentional difficulties were a major impediment to his learning, retaining, and recalling. She opined that it was not the group size that made the difference, but rather, the subject matter and his level of interest. In fact, he may be working 1:1 with the tutor and still have attentional difficulties. Frequent breaks and redirecting him facilitated better attention. On average, he attended maybe 50% of the time. (Bradley).
On December 21, 2005, Dora Campbell observed Andrew in the integrated special education program. In a setting with two other students, Andrew worked on phonological awareness tasks and was an engaged and active participant. In his small group reading class, Andrew was not distracted by the larger silent-reading group or by students’ quiet talking. In a large class activity, the para coached Andrew to complete his worksheet. During recess, Andrew appeared to have a friendly relationship with his peers. (P-13, S-36). In her testimony, Ms. Campbell noted that even with the para’s individual attention in math worksheet, she observed that Andrew was not understanding the concepts, for he was getting so many of the answers wrong. In her opinion, this was an example showing Andrew’s need for a class where the teaching is generally at his level, i.e., where his peers have similar skill levels, so as to allow for the intensive work, repetition, scaffolding, etc. Further, the class modifications in his third grade regular education class failed to provide the same intensity as in a class directed to his skill levels. (Campbell).
By the end of Andrew’s third grade year, test scores reflected Andrew’s independent reading skills had progressed from DNR level 6 to level 16, which approximated a year’s growth – substantial, it would seem. On the other hand, his teacher assessed his reading progress as slow but steady. He was able to write several sentences if given word banks, graphic organizers, etc., and was starting to produce them independently. He could generate simple, compound and complex sentence structures (with support). He was adding and subtracting two and three digit numbers independently, could tell time to the half and quarter hour, could skip count by 2’s, 5’s, and 100’s, was learning his multiplication facts, and had a basic understanding of fractions as part of a whole. (S-50B, 56, 57, Bradley, Hastings).
Ms. Lavelle, South Hadley’s speech/language pathologist, furthered an understanding of Andrew. She testified in detail as to Andrew’s auditory and language processing deficits as well as the recommended strategies for helping him increase his skills in these areas. That is, he requires a multimodal teaching approach, a lot of repetition of information as well as reminders of strategies such as visualizing, making associations, categorizing, or chunking information. In her opinion, Andrew made progress in these areas, however, he was not able to routinely utilize the strategies without significant help. She opined that these strategies should be carried out throughout the day in order for Andrew to benefit from them. (Lavelle).
In her testimony, Ms. Campbell recommended that Andrew attend a substantially separate school where he would receive intensive instruction in phonological awareness and narrative development, and carryover skills throughout the curriculum. The teachers should be special educators knowledgeable in intervention strategies for students with language disorders. (P-13, S-36, Campbell). Although several team meetings were scheduled, no further TEAM meetings occurred. (S-37, 38).
South Hadley’s fourth grade language-based class at the Mosier School is comprised of approximately 20 students, 50% who are regular education students and 50% who are language-based learning disabled students. The structure of this language-based class was built upon the Curtis Blake model: it is staffed by a dually certified teacher who had trained for a year at Curtis Blake, a full time paraprofessional, a special education teacher for reading and written language (as needed, but probably less than 1 ¾ hour / day); and a speech/language pathologist 2 hours weekly for 1:1, small group, and full group work. (If Andrew were in this class, he would also have a tutor specifically for him 7 hours weekly.). The speech/language therapist helps with narrative development and consults with the teachers and para one hour weekly on the curriculum, accommodations, assistive technology, graphic organizers, etc. Further she spends 1 ½ hours / month meeting with all of the staff, discussing updates on research, program effectiveness, etc. The only academic classes where neither the tutor, special needs teacher, nor speech/language therapist would be present, would be the social studies and science classes. (Lavelle, Abrahamson).
Ms. Campbell observed this language-based class and noted that the students’ reading levels were significantly higher than Andrew’s. Also, Ms. Campbell observed that the speech therapist’s role appeared to be limited to ensuring the implementation of accommodations and assisting with assistive technology. She did not see narrative structures and consistent methodologies being used and did not observe the speech/language therapist to be involved throughout the curriculum. Finally, she noted that the speech/language therapist is not in the social studies and science classes. She asserts that Andrew requires an educational setting where language-based teaching techniques are applied consistently and more intensely throughout the curriculum, rendering this language-based class inappropriate. (Campbell).
Curtis Blake, located in Springfield, Massachusetts, educates students with language-based learning disabilities, using research-based methodologies such as Lindamood Bell, Benchmark, and Story Grammar Marker Program (for narrative level). Its philosophy is that language is the basis for reading and literacy, and thus, the teachers must be very conscious of their language and the language skills of the students. Further, the strategies taught to the students are reinforced throughout the day, and are learned along with the content. The classes are taught by two special needs teacher and the speech/language pathologist, with the exception of the seatwork period where the aides work with the students. All staff members receive twenty-four hours of training per year. Curtis Blake staff reviewed Andrew’s record and determined that their program would benefit Andrew. That is, he has impairments in phonology, semantics, syntax, discourse, and pragmatics, – all areas addressed at Curtis Blake. Further, given Andrew’s IQ scores, it is Ms. Fontaine’s opinion that he requires the intensive programming such as is available at Curtis Blake. Andrew’s class would have six fourth-grade students, some with high comprehension and low decoding skills, others with low comprehension and good decoding skills. The students’ daily class schedules would approximate: language and literature, 1:1 reading, Benchmark, Lindamood Bell, seatwork, lunch/recess, math, science, and reading aloud. There is a speech/language pathologist as well as two special educators. Occupational therapy is available if needed, though the public schools provide for this. (Fontaine).
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
I find that South Hadley’s October 2005 – October 2006 IEP calling for inclusion special education services was not reasonably calculated to provide Andrew with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Further, I find that South Hadley’s recent offer of a placement in its language-based program better addresses his educational needs, and with certain modifications, is reasonably calculated to provide Andrew with FAPE in the least restrictive setting. Finally, I find that because the Curtis Blake School is a private placement for special needs students, it does not offer the mainstreamed opportunities, and is therefore not the least restrictive appropriate setting available to Andrew. My reasoning follows.
Technically, this case is an appeal of South Hadley’s October 2005 TEAM’s decision that South Hadley’s third grade inclusion program would provide Andrew FAPE. However, the parties are now concerned about Andrew’s fourth grade placement, the first two months of which are covered by this October 2005 – October 2006 IEP. Thus, I address the TEAM’s October 2005 decision as well as Andrew’s more current situation informed by his third grade performance.
Based on the information available to the October 2005 TEAM, Parents are persuasive that the TEAM failed to address sufficiently Andrew’s educational needs. South Hadley’s psychological as well as the independent neuropsychological and speech/language evaluations clearly had established severe deficits affecting Andrew’s ability to learn. He had a severe receptive and moderate expressive language delay, he had an attention deficit disorder “causing him to fade in and out of mental clarity”, and his learning was compromised by many cognitive skills involving memory, consolidation of information, and retrieval. (S-17, P-9, 11) In their evaluation reports, Ms. Hackett recommended speech/language therapy, and Dr. Crenshaw recommended specialized teaching strategies. (He did not address class size, appropriate peers, or necessary teaching expertise.) In addition to these thorough evaluation reports, the TEAM had available to it Andrew’s second grade performance where, since January of his second grade, he had received the partial inclusion special education services. The question was whether to continue these services. Parents are persuasive that, given Andrew’s profile as described by several evaluators, and given Andrew’s second grade performance, continuation of the existing services was inadequate; Andrew required more intensive special education services in his third grade. For instance, his second grade IEP goals included a year’s growth in reading from DRA level 9 to level 18, yet he in fact achieved “progress” from level 2 to 8 – a level far below expectations. His goals included independently writing an 8-sentence story, yet by June, he was only working on writing one complete sentence independently. In the June progress reports, it was “unclear” whether Andrew would achieve his goals in reading, “unclear” again in math, and “unclear” again in writing. Only in his communication goal did he make “steady progress”. (S-27). When progress this little is considered in conjunction with the earlier evaluation diagnoses and recommendations, the TEAM should have asked whether something needed to change in order to reasonably ensure better educational progress in Andrew’s third grade. South Hadley failed to address that, for the 2005- 2006 IEP called for virtually the same services wherein he made little progress. It is true that these services had not begun until mid-year, however, that was sufficient time to conclude that Andrew required more.
2. Based on Dr. Crenshaw’s and Ms. Campbell’s reports and testimony, and on Ms. Lavelle’s testimony, the necessary changes become evident. That is, an appropriate educational setting for Andrew must offer a unified approach in their philosophy of instruction; the curriculum must have a sequence so as to build upon concepts; he needs a reading program such as Wilson or a combination of Lindamood-Bell and Fast ForWord program; the tutor working with Andrew must have a good understanding of Andrew’s learning style and know when he is having difficulties in attending, comprehending, etc.; a teacher:student ratio must be provided that is sufficiently small to allow for significant direct teaching; and the class must include a sufficient number of peers with similar skills so that the direct teaching throughout the day is at Andrew’s language level. I give Dr. Crenshaw’s testimony significant weight, for he testified at length, was subjected to significant cross-examination, and throughout, offered thoughtful answers based on his indepth evaluation of Andrew, significant knowledge as a Ph.D. level neuropsychologist, and as a special educator. It is true that on cross-examination he testified that if Andrew was indeed making progress in the partial inclusion program and was comfortably participating in group discussions, the setting may be appropriate for Andrew. However, taken in the broader context of his testimony, his concern about this program was evident; he believed Andrew required a more cohesive program than was provided in the partial inclusion program. Further, he stated that his findings regarding Andrew’s learning style and needs would not have change since his June of 2004 testing. When compared to South Hadley’s language-based program, he provided an indepth reason why he clearly preferred that model. In addition to Dr. Crenshaw’s testimony, Ms. Campbell provided indepth, thoughtful reasons supporting Andrew’s need for a more cohesive program with a unified teaching philosophy than was provided in the partial inclusion program. Ms. Campbell was more specific in her opinion that the program must be a language-based program. She and Dr. Crenshaw were in essence making similar recommendations, for he also recognized Andrew’s severe language deficits and the need to address them as part of a cohesive program throughout the day. Whether Ms. Campbell is correct in her insistence on a language-based program is a moot point, for South Hadley is offering that to Andrew. Finally, Ms. Lavelle’s opinions were consistent with Dr. Crenshaw’s and Ms Campbell’s call for carry-over of skill development throughout the day. (Crenshaw, Campbell, Lavelle).
3. South Hadley is not persuasive that Andrew’s third grade performance supports its position that the partial inclusion program was and is addressing his educational needs, and that Andrew should enter his fourth grade with these services. It is true that Andrew did make some good educational gains. He achieved a year’s gain in reading skills so that his skills are now at the end of first grade level. (S-57). Further, he comfortably participated in regular education group discussions, and he comfortably presented his work to the class, just as his peers have done. He was well respected for his athletic abilities and was generally liked by his peers. (Bradley). This, however, does not present a complete picture. That is, his gains are attributable in large part to the special education, not regular education services. It is noted, for instance, that Andrew made good progress in the reading skills addressed by his special educators, but not in reading fluency – a skill that should be reinforced throughout the day just by the practice of oral reading. (S-50B, Campbell)
South Hadley is not persuasive that its regular education class is appropriate for Andrew. His third grade regular education teacher testified at length as to the accommodations and modifications provided and as to Andrew’s performance. Although she cited many examples of positive educational experiences and of Andrew’s willing, participatory behavior, she was not able to disprove the validity of Dr. Crenshaw’s and Ms. Campbell’s call for a more specialized setting. That is, she was not persuasive that Andrew received a unified teaching approach, a sequential curriculum, the necessary degree of direct instruction at his level, repetition, cueing, etc., for him to be engaged and to benefit sufficiently, given his cognitive profile. (Bradley) That his ability to attend was limited to approximately 50% of the time in this setting was extremely problematic, as this supports Dr. Crenshaw’s and Ms. Campbell’s opinions that Andrew requires a setting with specialized teaching methodologies applied throughout the day, and with more direct teaching at his level for attending, learning, retaining, and recalling information. That Andrew’s para was helping him with math work that he clearly did not understand supports Ms. Campbell’s opinion that he required more direct instruction rather than just the follow-up work appropriate for a para. (Campbell) Though clearly Ms. Bradley is dedicated and may be an excellent teacher, as she stated, she is not a special education teacher, and her class is geared towards third graders. She is not able to provide sufficient direct teaching at Andrew’s level and at Andrew’s pace, using all the needed special education techniques. Further, though Andrew’s para may be vigilant, South Hadley recognizes that she is not trained to provide direct instruction, only follow-up work. To the extent that Andrew’s third grade experience was a positive and not anxiety-producing setting, the staff must be complimented, for sure. (Bradley)
4. South Hadley is persuasive that its language-based class is better able to provide those services that Dr. Crenshaw deemed necessary and many of those services that Ms. Campbell deemed necessary. Its class is smaller – approximately twenty students with half of them language-disabled students – , its regular education teacher is dually certified in special education and is Orton Gillingham certified, its paraprofessional has received training in language-based strategies and has worked in this classroom for many years, a special needs teacher teaches reading and writing, and its speech/language pathologist provides direct services in the class. The team of service providers meet weekly with the speech/language pathologist to discuss their students, and the speech/language pathologist provides monthly consultations to the staff on issues such as language-based techniques, language-based research, etc. Finally, teaching strategies are integrated throughout the day. (Donah). Given the design of this program and the expertise of the staff, and the number of children with language-disabilities, South Hadley is persuasive that this program will meet Andrew’s needs.
5. Parents were unpersuasive that South Hadley’s language-based class could not be appropriate for Andrew. First, when a description of this class was provided to Dr. Crenshaw, he testified that it could be appropriate for Andrew in that this class as described, would address Dr. Crenshaw’s major concerns. Second, after observing this classroom, Ms. Campbell raised legitimate concerns, but they were not sufficient to render the class inappropriate. That is, she expressed concern about the fact that half of the students are regular education students with higher skills than Andrew, and even the learning disabled students appeared to have higher reading skills; the speech/language therapist appeared to have a more limited role in the classroom than Ms. Campbell would prefer; and the class is not as intensely language-based as she would have preferred. It may be preferable if all the students had similar skill levels, however, as Dr. Crenshaw testified, given that half of the class is comprised of learning disabled students, the teacher would more naturally teach to the needs of this group. As such, South Hadley is persuasive that the staff will provide the consistent teaching methodology using language levels appropriate for Andrew, the sequential learning, repetition, cueing, etc., that Andrew and many of these students require. To the extent that Andrew’s skill levels require that he receive additional support, modifications, and accommodations, an aide or tutor will be there to assist. South Hadley is persuasive that this additional support will not be a replacement for direct teaching. Ms. Campbell also asserted that the speech/language therapist’s role is more limited than what is needed for a good language-based class. It may be that the speech/language therapist missed an opportunity to intervene in the classroom. However, given the weekly consultations with staff as well as the monthly meetings, and given the teacher’s dual certification, South Hadley is persuasive that the class is reasonably calculated to provide the needed consistent teaching approaches around language. Finally, Ms. Campbell asserted that the class was insufficiently intense throughout the day, for it lacked language-based special education services in the social studies and science classes. If this is accurate, it fails to provide the unified teaching philosophy with strategies, language, etc., carried out through the day, and is indeed problematic and must be remedied. Without this, Andrew is denied significant opportunities for strengthening his language development as well as his understanding of the social studies and science content. As such, South Hadley must ensure that the social studies and science teachers are provided consultation with the speech/language therapist and special education teacher, to ensure that the language-based methodologies are indeed carried out throughout the school day. With this modification to the language-based class, South Hadley is persuasive that there are sufficient benefits to this classroom addressing Andrew’s special educational needs, so that an IEP calling for this placement is reasonably calculated to provide him FAPE in the least restrictive setting.
6. Because South Hadley’s language-based program with the above-stated modification is appropriate for Andrew, Curtis Blake is overly restrictive. That is, Andrew is clearly a student able to benefit from the regular education setting – he is active in art, music, and gym, and is well liked by his classmates – and as long as South Hadley is able to provide an appropriate academic setting for Andrew, it is in Andrew’s interest to remain at the Mosier School and participate in some mainstreamed activities. Curtis Blake does not offer this. (S-50B, Bradley) However, if South Hadley were not able to address Andrew’s needs, the evidence is persuasive that Curtis Blake would be appropriate for Andrew. It clearly offers the consistent teaching philosophy, sequential learning, small group settings, intensive language development, etc., appropriate for Andrew’s learning environment. The staff are trained, and the teacher:student ratios are small. (Fontaine).
South Hadley shall immediately convene a TEAM to develop an IEP calling for Andrew’s placement in the language-based class, as modified by this decision.
By the Hearing Officer,
July 28, 2006
By agreement, the parties requested an extension until July 3 rd for receipt of closing arguments. South Hadley’s submission was received on July 3, 2006; Parents’ was received on July 11, 2006. South Hadley objected to the allowance of this July 11, 2006 submission, asserting that the record was to close on July 3, 2006. However, Parents’ closing argument was postmarked July 3, 2006. Given Parents’ understanding that the document was to be postmarked rather than received on that day, their closing argument is accepted into the record.
The evidentiary record consists of South Hadley Public Schools’ Exhibits S1 – 57, the Parents’ Exhibits P4 – 19, and approximately seven hours of recorded testimony.
Andrew is a pseudonym used for publicly available documents in order to protect the confidentiality of the student.
Andrew’s WISC scores obtained by Dr. Abrahamson in January of 2004 were verbal – 83; perceptual – 90; full scale – 84; and by Dr. Crenshaw in June of 2004 were verbal – 83; perceptual – 77, full scale – 73. (S-39).
Only the psychological evaluation is in evidence; and it refers to the others.
DRA levels for first grade are A-18; second grade are 18 – 28, and third grade are 30 – 38. (Bradley)
Inclusion services are provided four times weekly, with the fifth day reserved for staff meetings, trainings, consultations, etc. (Abrahamson)
Andrew is receiving the writing class four times weekly, rather than the IEP’s call for writing class twice weekly.
Ms. Hastings testified that she was with Andrew ½ hour x four days weekly, which is less than the one hour x four days weekly, called for on the IEP. This discrepancy was not clarified. (Hastings)