Franklin and Greenfield Public Schools BSEA # 10-4003
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
In Re: Franklin1 & Greenfield Public Schools
This Decision is issued pursuant to M.G.L.c.71B and 30A, 20 U.S.C.§794, and the regulations promulgated under those statutes. A hearing was held in the above-entitled matter on March 22 and 24, 2010 at the Offices of Catuogno Reporting Services in Springfield, MA. Those present for all or part of the proceeding were:
Ms. F. Student’s Parent
Mr. F. Family Friend
Grant Bialek Therapist
Michael Bird Therapist
Scott Rice School Psychologist – Greenfield Public Schools
Hillary Cronin School Social Worker- Poet Seat School
Brian Winslow Teacher – Poet Seat
Clara McCoy Teacher – Poet Seat
Elaine Mount Alternative Educator – Greenfield Public Schools
Christie Fontaine Special Education Coordinator – Greenfield Public Schools
Kathleen Titus Director of Student Services – Greenfield Public Schools
Benjamin Barnes Attorney for the Parent
Peter Smith Attorney for the School
Lindsay Byrne Hearing Officer
The official record of the hearing consists of exhibits submitted by the Parent marked P-1 through P-4, exhibits submitted by the School marked S-1 through S-17, and approximately 9 hours of recorded oral testimony. Both parties made oral closing arguments immediately after completing presentation of evidence. The record closed on March 24, 2010.
1) Whether the 2009-2010 Individualized Education Plan developed in June 2009
by the Greenfield Public Schools was reasonably calculated to provide a free, appropriate public education to Franklin?
2) Whether the 2009-2010 Individualized Education Plan developed by the Greenfield Public Schools in December 2009 is reasonably calculated to provide a free, appropriate public education to Franklin?
3) If not, whether the Parent’s proposed placement at the Hampshire Educational Collaborative Academy (hereinafter “HEC Academy”) would provide Franklin with a free, appropriate public education?
SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE
The pertinent facts are not in dispute and may be briefly summarized:
1. Franklin is a 16 year 10th grade student who is eligible for special education services as a result of an emotional disability. Academic and psychological testing demonstrates that Franklin has a least average cognitive potential and has commensurate academic skills and competencies in the average range. (S-8, S- 10; McCoy). Franklin initially received special education services during his 8th grade year, 2007-2008, when he became unable to attend school due to severe anxiety. He received tutoring at home for most of the 2007-2008 school year and the first part of the 2008-2009 school year. Franklin has been diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders and a mood disorder which interfere with his ability to attend school and to function effectively in the community. (Bialek; Bird; Rice; S-9; S-5; S-3; S-1; S-11; S-13; P-3; P-4; P-2)
2. Franklin’s clinical needs currently outweigh his educational needs. Franklin requires a specialized educational setting which permits him to receive grade- level academic instruction, individually or in a small group, in a self contained environment. He needs a fully therapeutic program which provides continual emotional support as well as direct individual and group therapy. He needs minimal exposure to “emotional triggers”. For him these are: large groups of people, peers, and loud noise. (Bialek; Bird; Rice; Cronin)
3. Franklin began the 2008-2009 school year receiving 6 hours of tutoring per week at home. Greenfield proposed a placement at the Poet Seat School and a “systematic desensitization plan” to move Franklin gradually from full time at home to full time at Poet Seat. (S-1; S-3; Rice; Cronin; Titus). The plan moved the tutor from home to the school, then faded the tutor as Franklin began to integrate into existing classes at Poet Seat. The desensitization plan worked rapidly and well. Within a few weeks of attempting the plan in January 2009 Franklin was independently attending full school days at Poet Seat. (Bialek; Cronin; Rice)
4. During the 2008-2009 school year Poet Seat was an approved special education day school designed for adolescents with emotional disabilities. At that time Poet Seat was housed in a free standing school building. In November 2009, the Greenfield Public Schools absorbed the Poet Seat Program and relocated it to a new modular building on the campus of Greenfield High School. Other than the location and administrative structure, the Poet Seat programs in each school year are substantially similar. The program accommodates up to 12 middle and high school age students. It provides intensive therapeutic support through a comprehensive social/emotional curriculum, the use of behavioral level system for all students, group and individual therapies, small group success-oriented academics aligned with the state curriculum frameworks, and opportunities for supported and independent integration into mainstream classes and activities at the High School. The Poet Seat program has 4 teachers all of whom are certified in their subject area and at least two of whom have additional certifications in special education. There is at least one paraprofessional to assist the teachers. The program has a full time clinical social worker who provides direct individual therapy, conducts therapeutic groups, handles as needed and emergency counseling, and oversees the social/emotional/behavioral support system. The school psychologist at Greenfield High School provides consultation, supervision and additional support to the program as needed (S-16; Cronin; Titus)
5. Hillary Cronin has been the full time social worker at Poet Seat for 3 years. She testified that during the 2008-2009 school year she conducted one school-wide (up to 12 students) therapeutic group per week, one group per week of same grade students, one art therapy group per week with the art teacher, and one-to-one therapy with most students. She noted that Franklin participated well in all scheduled groups, that he had a ten minute individual “check-in” session with her every morning and sometimes during lunch, and that he requested and received additional one-to-one counseling. Ms. Cronin also communicated with Franklin’s individual therapist, Mr. Bialek, on occasion. Ms. Cronin testified that Franklin had good social communication skills, good relationships with peers and teachers, participated appropriately in school-based therapeutic groups and academic activities, made progress in therapy, improved his confidence and sense of humor over time, demonstrated positive leadership qualities and was a role model for other students. She stated that he could use his coping skills when confronted with anxiety triggers such as peer conflict or loud voices.
Ms. Cronin expected Franklin to be able to extend the coping skills he acquired and displayed during the 2008-2009 school year by participating in a supervised internship during the summer 2009 and by taking on additional academic challenges during the 2009-2010 school year. (Cronin)
6. Clara McCoy was Franklin’s math and art teacher at Poet Seat in the spring, 2009. She testified that Franklin was organized and attentive and participated effectively in class. He learned new material quickly and helped other students. He had positive interactions with peers both in and outside of the classroom. Ms. McCoy stated that all the teachers gave positive reports about Franklin. Ms. McCoy continues to be the math/art teacher at the Poet Seat program in the 2009- 2010 school year. (McCoy)
7. The Team met on June 18, 2009 to develop an IEP for Franklin for the 2009-2010 school year. Kathleen Titus, Director of Student Services for Greenfield Public Schools, testified that all Team participants agreed that Poet Seat had provided the milieu, clinical support and academic instruction that Franklin needed and that he had made better and more rapid than expected educational progress at Poet Seat. (See also testimony of Bialek, McCoy, Cronin, Student) Franklin was promoted to 10th grade. The Team determined that he qualified for summer services to prevent regression to his pre-Poet Seat placement housebound state. The proposed summer program at Poet Seat continued the clinical and academic services Franklin had received during the school year and added an internship in an elementary school. (Cronin) Franklin’s parent expressed concern that the academic program was not sufficiently challenging for him. In response the Team provided for a more rigorous academic instruction and expectations for his 10th grade year at Poet Seat. The Team also offered additional coursework, including computer-related courses, an area of interest identified by Franklin, through the virtual K-12 school. That on-line school has both 1-1 tutorial classes at the student’s pace and schedule, and virtual group classes with many participants with a set time and curriculum. The Team also offered to arrange and support enrollment in courses at Greenfield Community College. In addition Franklin could attend the Poet Seat after school program. This program, run by the Hampshire Educational Collaborative, provides an additional two hours daily of individually designed academic instruction, vocational preparation and leisure activities. The Team determined that although Franklin could take courses at Greenfield High School, he was not yet ready for exposure to the high school environment. (Titus; S-3; S-15)
There were no suggestions or recommendations for any other services or programs. The IEP developed as a result of the June 2009 Team meeting proposed that Franklin continue to receive clinical and academic services at the Poet Seat School. (S-3)
8. On July 6, 2009 the Parent accepted the offer of summer services but rejected the remainder of the proposed 2009-2010 IEP. Franklin attended three days of the summer program at Poet Seat, then did not return. He did not return to Poet Seat in September when the school year began. Franklin has not attended any educational program or service for the entire 2009-2010 school year to date (Titus, Cronin, S-3)
9. The parent and school met in August, 2009 to discuss issues related to the rejected IEP. They developed a systematic desensitization plan that would gradually re-introduce Franklin to the Poet Seat program. The plan was substantially similar to the one Franklin had followed successfully when he entered the Poet Seat program in the winter, 2009. Greenfield selected a teacher new to the Poet Seat program, Brian Winslow, to act as the in-home tutor initially and to supervise Franklin’s move toward re-integration into Poet Seat. Mr. Winslow had previously worked as a paraprofessional at the HEC Academy. Mr. Winslow tutored Franklin one time and arrived at Franklin’s house ready to tutor two more times, but was refused. The family has not accepted any other offer of tutoring services. (Titus, Winslow, Rice)
10. In September 2009 Franklin’s parent withdrew consent to the systematic desensitization plan and requested that Greenfield place Franklin at HEC Academy. (Titus)
11. Greenfield conducted two additional evaluations in November, 2009. The Educational Assessment found that Franklin scored in the average range in all tested areas of academic skills consistent with his expected performance. The evaluator noted a relatively slow rate of processing speed and relatively weaker math computation skills and recommended some basic strategies for improvement such as practice and use of a calculator. (S-10)
12. Scott Rice is the school psychologist for Greenfield Public Schools. He is responsible for developing, conducting and supervising programs, interventions and evaluations for high school age students. He also provides direct services to students and consultation services to teachers and other direct care staff. Dr. Rice conducted a psychological evaluation of Franklin in October 2009 which confirmed earlier findings of at least average cognitive potential and academic skills. Dr. Rice also confirmed that Franklin’s anxiety and mood disorders are the factors causing the greatest interference with his educational progress. Dr. Rice recommended the development of a systematic desensitization plan which would gradually introduce in-home academic tutoring, with a shift to individual tutoring in a school setting, followed by gradual re-integration into a therapeutic school program. Dr. Rice testified that home tutoring would only be viable as one component of a desensitization plan and required a commitment to reintegration into a school program. According to Dr. Rice home tutoring, as a stand alone service, is contraindicated for Franklin. Dr. Rice also recommended close coordination with Franklin’s clinical services providers in developing and implementing the desensitization plan. He further recommended that Franklin be separated, to the extent possible, from students with aggressive or acting out behaviors (S-9, Rice)
13. In November 2009 Dr. Rice met with Michael Bird, Franklin’s outpatient therapist and Elaine Mount, director of Greenfield’s Collaborative Programs, to discuss and visit the existing alternative education programs in Greenfield. Apart from the substantially separate Poet Seat program, Greenfield has what it calls the “step down” from Poet Seat: The Transition Program. The Transition program is a small, self-contained special education classroom in the High School which allows students to receive continued therapeutic support and individualized sheltered immersion into mainstream classes. Another program, the Collaborative Education Group, is housed in a group of classrooms within Greenfield High School. It has a separate entrance, dedicated regular and special education teachers, and intensive clinical support. Dr. Rice, the school psychologist for Greenfield High School, provides supervision and consultation for all these programs. Mr. Bird indicated that the Collaborative program would meet Franklin’s needs and that he would work with the parent and the school to develop a desensitization plan. (Rice; see also Bird; Fontaine)
14. Mr. Bird, Ms. Mount and the parent later met but did not agree on a desensitization plan. The parent asserted that Franklin would only attend HEC Academy (Rice)
15. The Team re-convened on December 7, 2009 to review the November 2009 educational and psychological evaluations and recommendations and to discuss Franklin’s then current educational status. Other than Franklin’s nonparticipation in educational services, there were no changes in Franklin’s learning profile or the recommendations of his clinical and academic service providers between June and December, 2009. (Titus; see also testimony of Bialek and Bird)
The Team discussed various placement and program options including the Alternative Education programs within Greenfield High School, the on-line “virtual school”, and Greenfield Community College coursework as well as the HEC Academy placement requested by the parent. (Titus; Rice, Fontaine)
Greenfield proposed an IEP substantially similar to the one it had developed in June 2009, calling for Franklin to attend the Poet Seat program. The IEP includes as the first goal and service the systematic desensitization plan recommended by Dr. Rice and Mr. Bialek. The Team also added new goals: a math goal to address Franklin’s deliberate pace and processing and to reduce the role anxiety plays in acquisition of math skills; a community integration goal to address the parent’s concern that Franklin should be working on generalizing newly acquired coping strategies to the community outside Poet Seat; and additional clinical support services through inclusion of the Greenfield High School Psychologist, Dr. Rice, as a consultant to Franklin’s program. (Titus, Fontaine, Rice; S-3; S-5)
16. The Parent rejected the proposed amendment to the 6/09-6/10 IEP. She continues to request a publicly funded placement at HEC Academy.
17. Franklin testified that he had “lost trust” in the teachers at Poet Seat as a result of two incidents involving peer conflicts. He stated that he would never return to Poet Seat and would not attend any program on the Greenfield High School campus. He maintained that he would readily attend HEC Academy because he liked what he saw during his one hour observation there in the fall, 2009. (Student) Ms. Cronin testified that she was aware of the incidents Franklin objected to, that he had used his newly developed coping skills well at the time they arose, and continued to manage his anxiety well at Poet Seat in the weeks following those incidents. She observed that Franklin benefitted from the practice handling real life conflict and moving beyond it, the very thing Poet Seat is equipped to help students learn how to do. Dr. Rice corroborated the positive aspects of Franklin’s appropriate use of coping strategies in the supportive milieu of Poet Seat. Dr. Rice doubted that with Franklin’s clinical profile he would be able to enter a school without a systematic desensitization plan, or to attend any school program without intensive clinical support within and outside of school. (Student; Cronin; Rice; also Bird; Bialek)
18. No reliable evidence concerning the HEC Academy was presented at the hearing.
There are no credible educational or clinical recommendations for Franklin’s placement at the HEC Academy.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
There is no dispute that Franklin is a student with special learning needs and is thus entitled to receive a free, appropriate public education pursuant to 20 U.S.C. 1461 and M.G. L. c71B. Furthermore the parties are in substantial agreement about the nature and extent of Franklin’s special education needs. The issue here is whether the Individualized Education Plans developed by Greenfield in June and December 2009, are appropriately tailored to meet those needs in the least restrictive setting? After careful consideration of all the evidence and of the arguments of counsel for both parties, it is my determination that they are. My reasoning follows:
The uncontroverted evidence shows that due to Franklin’s anxiety and mood disorders he requires a special educational program with the following characteristics:
a small, self-contained classroom; a consistent, supportive, therapeutically oriented approach to instruction and activities; individual and very small group grade level academic instruction with opportunities for greater challenge when ready; individual, group and as needed therapy; specialized math instruction; direct instruction and support in the development of age appropriate social skills; and assistance with generalizing coping strategies outside the school environment. The key to accessing this type of educational program is the development and implementation of a systematic desensitization plan and the support of family and outside clinical services providers. (Rice, Cronin, Bird, Bialek, McCoy, Titus; S-9; P-2; P-3) There are no educational recommendations in this record for a different type or level of special education service.
The 2009-2010 IEPs developed by Greenfield provide a program which addresses all of Franklin’s identified educational needs and meets the recommendations of all evaluators. The unrebutted evidence demonstrates that the Poet Seal program proposed by Greenfield is a small, self-contained educational environment. It provides consistent emotional/behavioral/social support and intensive therapeutic intervention. It offers individually tailored academic instruction at grade level or beyond in one to one or small group settings. The Poet Seat program can provide assistance, supervision and support in other academic settings such as Greenfield High School or Greenfield Community College, in vocational training or placements, and in the community when students are ready. Integral to the implementation of the IEPs is the plan for closely monitored systematic desensitization to the school environment to address both the anxiety currently preventing Franklin from re-engaging with school, and the anticipated occasional recurrences of debilitating anxiety. (Rice; Cronin; Titus; McCoy)
I note that as recently as the 2008-2009 school year, Greenfield has demonstrated the capacity to implement a systematic desensitization plan, and to deliver appropriate therapeutic support to Franklin to permit him to benefit from the Poet Seat environment. All witnesses, including Franklin, indicated that Franklin made behavioral, social, and academic progress while attending Poet Seat in the Spring, 2009. Other than the physical relocation of the program, this record lacks any evidence of a structural, personnel, academic, or clinical change which would lead me to conclude that Poet Seat could not be equally as effective now for Franklin as it was one year ago. Nor is there any other evidence that would lead me to conclude that Poet Seat would not be appropriate for him. Furthermore, there are no credible educational or clinical recommendations for a placement other than Poet Seat for Franklin. I therefore find that the IEPs developed by Greenfield are appropriately responsive to Franklin’s current educational needs and would provide both the special educational services and the setting tailored specifically to meet those needs. Due to this finding I do not reach consideration of the Parent’s proposed placement at HEC Academy.
The 2009-2010 Individualized Education Plans developed by the Greenfield Public Schools during Team meetings held in June 2009 and December 2009 are reasonably calculated to provide a free, appropriate public education to Franklin.
By the Hearing Officer
Dated: April 13, 2010
“Franklin” is a pseudonym chosen by the Hearing Officer to protect the privacy of the Student in documents available to the public. The names of Franklin’s family and friend are similarly shielded.