Lanesborough Public Schools and Mt. Greylock Regional School District – BSEA #99-3846

<br /> Special Education Appeals BSEA #99-3846<br />

THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS

IN RE: LANESBOROUGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND MT. GREYLOCK REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

BSEA #99-3846

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 those statutes. At a prehearing conference on June 4, 1999, the parties1 agreed that the issue before the Bureau was one of law rather than one of fact. Consequently they further agreed to request a decision without a hearing pursuant to BSEA Hearing Rule 11. The parties submitted a joint statement of Stipulated Facts, agreed upon exhibits, and legal arguments on June 28, 1999. The Mt. Greylock Regional School District attached an additional affidavit, to which the Lanesborough Public Schools objected. The Hearing Officer denied the Motion of the Lanesborough Schools to Strike the Additional Affidavit and the Brief of Mt. Greylock Regional School on July 26, 1999, and the record closed on that date.

ISSUE

Whether the Lanesborough Public Schools, which has provided special education services to the Student through the sixth grade, or the Mt. Greylock Regional School District, which will provide special education services to the Student during the seventh grade, is programmatically and fiscally responsible for the Student’s special education program in the summer between the conclusion of the sixth grade academic year and the commencement of the seventh grade academic year?

FACTS

1. The Student is a fourteen year old child with special needs as defined by M.G.L. c. 71B. The Student is a resident of Lanesborough. Lanesborough Public Schools has provided special education services to the Student for approximately ten years. The Student has medical special needs which make a home-based program the least restrictive, appropriate educational setting for him. The last three Individualized Education Plans developed by Lanesborough Public Schools have included special education services during the summer. The type, level and location of the special education services the Student requires are not in dispute. (Stipulated Facts; Exhs. M-1, 2, 3.)

2. The Student’s last accepted IEP, developed by the Lanesborough Public Schools for the 1998-1999 academic year, indicates that the Student receives an ungraded home-based educational program. The parties agreed, however that the Student attended sixth grade during the 1998-1999 academic year. The IEP was written for the period June 20, 1998 through June 20, 1999. It contained a recommendation for an eight week summer program. The Mt. Greylock Regional School District did not participate in the development of the Student’s last accepted IEP. (Stipulated Facts; Exh. M-1)

3. Lanesborough Public Schools serves residents of Lanesborough in grades kindergarten through six. It is a member municipality of the Mt. Greylock Regional School District. The Lanesborough Public Schools has determined that the Student completed the sixth grade on June 20, 1999. (Stipulated Facts)

4. Mt. Greylock Regional School District is a regional school created by Agreement between the Towns of Lanesborough and Williamstown in 1958.

It serves residents of Lanesborough and Williamstown in grades 7 through 12.

The Regional Agreement, at Section XI, provides:

The regional district school shall accept all children who reside in the District and who have completed sixth grade.

The Regional Agreement does not list the criteria used to determine whether a student has “completed” sixth grade. (Stipulated Facts; Exh. M-5)

5. Mr. Greylock Regional School District enrolls students, including students with special needs entitling them to educational services pursuant to M.G.L. c.71B and the IDEA, by commencing provision of services on the first day of school each September. Mr. Greylock Regional School District does not preview or preteach any 7th grade student by offering a summer program or providing instructional services in the summer prior to a student’s commencement of classes at the start of the regular academic year. Mt. Greylock Regional School District does, however, provide extended school year services for those students who may substantially regress between the 7th and 8th grades, and between all grade levels thereafter. (Stipulated Facts)

6. The Student is to attend Mr. Greylock Regional School District in the 7th grade during the 1999-2000 school year. (Stipulated Facts)

DISCUSSION

Neither the federal nor the state special education laws address the situation presented here. My research uncovered no judicial or administrative decisions directly on point. To resolve the issue of which school district, Lanesborough, the sending K-6 system, or Mt. Greylock, the receiving, 7-12 system, is responsible for the Student’s summer services during his transfer between educational authorities, I must look to the nature of the services, the intent of the drafters of the special education regulatory framework, and common sense.

Lanesborough contends that it is the prerogative of each local educational authority to determine when a student has “completed” a course of study equivalent to a “grade”. It argues that the Regional Agreement acknowledges and incorporates this local prerogative in the language at Section XI which requires the Regional School to “accept” all students “who have completed sixth grade.” Lanesborough asserts that once it has determined that a Student has “completed” sixth grade, the Student is, by operation of the Regional Agreement, “accepted” in the Regional School and is no longer the responsibility of the Lanesborough Public Schools. Therefore, its argument goes, Lanesborough’s obligation to provide special education services to the Student here ceased on the date Lanesborough selected. Once Lanesborough determined that the Student “completed” sixth grade, the Student was not entitled to special education services through Lanesborough.

On the other hand, Mr. Greylock takes the position that it does not “accept” a student, or begin to provide any educational services to a student, until the first day of the student’s seventh grade academic year. Until that day, Mt. Greylock asserts, a student has not “completed” the 6th grade school year. For students receiving summer services, whether special education or regular education, summer instruction is designed to maintain, support, and enhance the student’s sixth grade knowledge to ensure adequate preparation for Mt. Greylock’s 7th grade. Since those students are still learning or reinforcing 6th grade curriculum or educational concepts, they have not “completed” 6th grade.

Both parties look to the Regional Agreement to define their respective obligations to their resident students in general and to this Student in particular. The Regional Agreement was entered into in 1958, well before the current, extensive, federal and state special education regulatory system was created, or even contemplated. The Regional Agreement does not reference special education. Nor does it address provision of educational services between academic years. Even if it did the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Special Education Appeals does not extend to construction of civil agreements between local political subdivisions. While local educational authorities retain significant authority over decisions involving the promotion, transfer, and services to regular education students, school actions with respect to students with disabilities take place within a comprehensive regulatory framework. It is to these regulations that I must look to determine which school district, Lanesborough or Mt. Greylock, is responsible for special education services to this Student during the summer of 1999.

The parties agree that the critical determinant is when this Student will have “completed” sixth grade. So long as the Student is considered to be “in” sixth grade, his special education program is the responsibility of the Lanesborough Public Schools. Mt. Greylock Regional School District is responsible for the Student’s special education services when he is “in” seventh grade. Based on the agreed upon facts, and the intent of the pertinent regulations, I find that Lanesborough Public Schools is responsible for providing special education services to this Student during the summer of 1999.

As a medically fragile Student receiving a home-based special education program, the services provided to the Student during the summers between academic years have been no different than the services provided to him during the academic years in type, frequency, location, or provider. The goals and objectives of the summer and academic year services have been the same. No separate objectives designed to “preteach” skills to be learned at a later time appear on the IEPs. While no IEP was developed by Lanesborough to address services to the Student during the summer of 1999, a review of previous IEPs illustrated the consistency of the goals and objectives over the summer and academic year periods. (Compare Exhs. M-1, M-2, M-3) Indeed, for this Student, services appeared to be seamless, disregarding what for this Student would be an artificial distinction between summer “vacations” and academic year. Lanesborough argued that its summer services, as reflected on the Student’s previous IEPs, were designed to preteach concepts needed for the next academic year. As support for this proposition Lanesborough pointed out that all the student’s IEPs ran from June of one calendar year until June of the next calendar year, making the summer services the first to be delivered under each IEP. I find this argument unpersuasive, as well as legally unsupported.

First, it is more than likely, since there is no distinction in the IEPs between summer and academic year services, that the IEP term of June to June, was selected for administrative convenience rather than educational reasons. I note that the Student’s birthday in early July would make a June to June IEP period a natural one, particularly at the outset of school services after transition from an early intervention program. Second, both federal and state regulations concerning delivery of special education during the summer use the term “extended” school year. The federal regulations provide simply:

(b) As used in this section, the term extended school year services means special education and related services that –

(1) Are provided to a child with a disability-

(i) Beyond the normal school year of the public agency;

(ii) In accordance with the child’s IEP; and

(iii) At no cost to the parents of the child;

34 CFR 300.309(b)2

The complementary Massachusetts regulation appears at 603 CMR 28.322.18:

The number of days may be extended beyond the regular school year if the TEAM determines that the child will substantially regress without an extended special education program.

Using the plain English meaning of “extended” as in “to lengthen or prolong” ( American Heritage Dictionary , 3rd Ed. 1992.) I understand the regulations to contemplate the regular school year continuing into the summer months. This understanding is supported by both sets of regulations’ use of the term “beyond” to describe the additional time dimension of the regular school year. “Beyond” follows a concrete item into the future. Neither the term “extended” nor “beyond” can easily be construed to imply advance action. Therefore I conclude that both federal and state regulations concerning the delivery of special education services during the summer contemplate that these services will attach to and expand upon the services delivered to the student during the immediately preceding academic year.

Applying this understanding of the regulations to the facts presented here it follows that the Student’s summer services are an extension of his sixth grade program. Since the Student’s sixth grade program is continuing in the summer it cannot be said that he has “completed” sixth grade. Since the Student has not “completed” sixth grade, he remains the responsibility of the K-6 school district in which he is a resident. Lanesborough may not select the last day of the academic year as this Student’s “completion” date when his sixth grade program continues “beyond” that date.

ORDER

Lanesborough Public Schools is responsible for providing special education services to the Student during the summer of 1999.

By the Hearing Officer,

__________________

Lindsay Byrne

Date: July 29, 1999


1

The issue presented for decision, identification of the responsible school district, does not directly affect the Parents’ rights nor the delivery of special education services to the Student. The dispute here is between two school districts. The Parents participated in these proceedings for informational purposes, but did not and were not required to, submit evidence or arguments.


2

I note that the Comment to this Section presumes that extended year services will be provided after the completion of the academic year.

Section 300.309(b)(1)(I) specifies that ESY services are provided to a child
with a disability “[b]eyond the normal school year of the public agency.”

For most public agencies, the normal school year is 180 school days. Typically,

ESY services would be provided during the summer months.”

Federal Register / Vol. 64 No.48 p. 12576, 3/12/99.

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