N and Dracut Public Schools – BSEA # 07-0155
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
In re: N. & Dracut 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 August 7, 2006 at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals in Malden, Massachusetts before Sandra Sherwood, Hearing Officer.1 At the request of the parties, the record remained open until August 14, 2006 and was closed on that date after receipt of the parties’ written closing arguments. Those present for all or part of the proceedings were:
Parent Mother of N.
C. L. N.’s aunt
Kevin Murphy Attorney for Dracut Public Schools
Steven Stone Executive Director of Special Education, Dracut Public Schools
Amy Reese Special Education Teacher, Dracut Public Schools
Jean O’Brien Special Education Coordinator, Dracut Public Schools
Alison Sandoval Speech/Language Pathologist, Dracut Public Schools
Stacy Camposano Outside Reading Evaluator
1. Whether the Dracut Public Schools’ (Dracut) proposed June 2006 – June 2007 IEP calling for a partial inclusion program at Dracut’s Englesby Middle School is reasonably calculated to provide N. with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting; if not,
2. Whether Dracut’s self-contained language-based class is appropriate for N.; if not,
3. Whether the Carroll School, a private school for children with language-based learning disabilities, in Lexington, MA, is reasonably calculated to provide N. with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting.
N. has dyslexia and has made insufficient progress in reading while in Dracut’s programs. Dracut’s program uses grade-level reading material unavailable to N. except by having it read to him. As a result, he suffers anxiety, low self-esteem, and is picked on and bullied. He requires a specialized program such as is offered at the Carroll School, where the reading instruction is more intense and is carried out throughout the day, and where the reading would be at his level.
N. is diagnosed with dyslexia. N. has made acceptable reading progress while at Dracut’s public schools. Further, the proposed 2006 – 2007 IEP calls for more intensive services than previously provided. It offers daily language-based program for reading, writing, language arts, and spelling. Further, Dracut’s regular education social studies and science classes include the speech/language pathologist’s direct involvement twice weekly, in addition to her consultation to the staff. N.’s Parent’s (Parent) chosen Carroll School placement offers a more restrictive setting, unnecessary for N. given Dracut’s appropriate program. Further, Parent failed to provide evidence describing the Carroll School and its appropriateness for N.; as such, Dracut’s Motion for a Partial Directed Verdict against a Carroll School placement should be granted.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
1. N. is a ten-year old boy entering the fifth grade. He is a highly motivated, hard-working child who is well liked by his peers. His profile includes average intellectual abilities and a diagnosis of a dyslexic disorder as well as below-grade-level expectations on auditory working memory and word retrieval. (P21, S-2).
2. N. has attended Dracut’s schools since kindergarten. In first grade, his teacher was concerned about his slow progress in reading. TEAM evaluations were conducted, and he was found to have a specific learning disability. (S-6, 7, 8). Dracut began providing speech/language therapy twice weekly and special education reading support five days weekly. (P-21, S-2).
3. In N.’s third grade year, Parent was concerned about N.’s reading difficulties and his increased frustration and sadness. She sought an independent neuropsychological evaluation, and on January 13, 2005, Dr. Shaw evaluated N.. Dr. Shaw reported that he feels supported by his parents, enjoys interacting with peers, and is very invested in academic achievement. He is frustrated, sad, and anxious about his academic difficulties. She reported his cognitive skills to be in the average range: WISC-IV scores were verbal – 100; non-verbal – 110; and full scale 96. She noted only a marginal ten-point difference between the verbal and perceptual reasoning scores, however, she stated that this does not reflect the degree of language difficulty he exhibited. That is, this verbal comprehension test reflects reasoning and conceptual abilities rather than the basic language skills. He scored in the “borderline” range on working memory index, word retrieval difficulty, and verbal dysfluency. “Given the unsuccessful attempts at remediation of the dyslexic disorder in the current educational setting”, Dr. Shaw recommended a more intensive form of education, calling for a small, self-contained, fully integrated, language-based classroom, with age and intellectual peers. She stated that the language remediation should be in all academic content areas; direct speech/language intervention should be provided, and a phonics-based reading/writing structured program should be provided, taught by trained teachers. She noted that counseling may become necessary if his feelings of anxiety or sadness intensify. (P-18, S-9).
4. On June 17, 2005 of N.’s third grade year, the TEAM developed a 4/16/05 – 4/16/06 IEP calling for N.’s fourth grade special education services in the daily regular education language arts class, pull-out special education services for reading/spelling 45 minutes daily and for speech/language therapy thirty minutes twice weekly. (P-4a, S-27). This proposed IEP was not accepted, rendering his previous year’s IEP as the operative one. That IEP called for similar special education services, but only three of the sessions (for writing) were provided in the regular education setting, and the remaining in the resource room. (S-29). Thus, in his fourth grade, he received the pull-out speech/language therapies twice weekly focusing on auditory comprehension and word retrieval, and the pull-out Wilson Reading Program daily. (P-20, 21, S-2, 4).
The parties dispute N.’s fourth grade academic performance. By all accounts, he was a hard working student. However, the content level reading materials were frequently read to him, for he was unable to read it, and at home, he required significant help from his mother, including her reading the materials to him, for he was unable to read them. (Reese, Mother). Further, though a hard working student, during the second semester, he became very concerned regarding his grandfather’s health. (Reese).
In March and April of that fourth grade year, N. participated in the MCAS preparation work and received several F’s. Apparently, he did this without the accommodation of being read to. (P-12).
According to his special education teacher’s May 2006 statements to the speech/language evaluator, N. made solid improvement in dictation and spelling (sight words) and successfully applied decoding strategies, but he found encoding more challenging. His oral fluency had improved, though slower than the average fourth grader. She reported that his comprehension was grade appropriate. (P-21, S-2).
N.’s mid-year progress report reflected steady progress in his reading decoding skills; he applied the reading strategies in the classroom; his fluency at the word level was improving; his fluency at the sentence level was increasing. His DRA level was tested at 20 independently, and 24 for instruction (2 nd grade level). By June, according to the progress report, his progress had continued in decoding, fluency, sight words, and carrying over his skills in to the classroom. His DRA level was tested to be 34 independently and 38 with instruction (3 rd grade level). (Reese). He was also reported to achieve a B- in spelling, able to write a 6 – 8 sentence paragraph, and improving in his speech/language skills, though moderate assistance was still required. (Parent’s memo questions these reports, stating that the evaluators at the June 30, 2006 meeting as well as two independent evaluation reports each stated that his skills were not age appropriate.) (P-29A, S-14). Ms. Reese testified that N. was engaged in his mainstreamed classes – that he participated in group discussions, had thoughts he wanted to share, and worked well with his peers on science projects. She stated that he comprehended the science and social studies material. (Reese)
N.’s fourth grade report card evidences a decline in that the first semester grades were in the A- to B- range, yet in the second semester, he received a C- in language arts, C+ in math, and C- in social studies. (P-29B, S-22). Ms. Reese opined that this drop may have been due to his preoccupation with his grandfather’s illness, or to the fact that the second semester curriculum was more demanding. She did not observe him to be depressed, anxious, or teased, as stated by Mother. (Reese).
5. During this fourth grade year, N. underwent several evaluations, as follows:
In February of 2006, Parent obtained an independent speech/language evaluation, conducted by Ms. Block from the Lahey Clinic. Ms. Block stated that though N’s receptive language skills are “adequate for general conversational information, vulnerabilities with auditory working memory make recall of specific and complex language structures more difficult, making it harder to follow complex instructions, make inferences and identify hidden meanings.” Likewise, she reported “average abilities in expressive language” for simple language constructs, but the more complex language is problematic. She reported his phonological awareness and phonological memory were judged to be below average. She reported his phonologic processing showed that both awareness/manipulation of sounds in words is difficult for him, as is rapid retrieval of sound sequences. She recommended a self-contained integrated language-based program emphasizing use of phonics, consistent carryover of strategies throughout the curriculum, and speech/language intervention two times weekly. She recommended a highly structured program such as Story Grammar Marker and graphic organizers. (P-19).
On May 8, 2006, Dracut obtained a reading evaluation of N. by an outside educator, Stacy Camposano. She reported: “he is struggling with several major components of the reading process. Although he has a grade-appropriate foundation in phonemic awareness and a solid vocabulary, the rules and patterns for decoding the English language are not yet consistent or automatic for N.. For this reason, he is not able to read with fluency and his ability to read and comprehend grade appropriate text is compromised”. According to the Woodcock Johnson Diagnostic Reading Battery, his scores ranged from 99 (reading vocabulary) to 79 (letter-word identification). His total reading performance fell below the average range, with a standard score of 81 and a percentile rank of 11. He showed weakness in letter-word identification and word attack. The evaluator recommended ongoing instruction in phonology, either through continued Wilson program or another rules based phonics program. She also recommended that until N.’s decoding skills become more accurate, his access to content area curriculum should be orally provided. She also recommended “scooping “ techniques for reading fluency. (P-21, S-2).
On May 12, 18, & 22, 2006, Dracut’s speech/language pathologist, Ms. Sandoval, conducted a speech/language evaluation. She used the Woodcock-Johnson III Diagnostic Reading Battery and reported a total reading score of 81 (11 th percentile). She assessed N.’s language skills to cluster in the average range, with the exception of auditory processing skills in the below-average range and written language in the weakness range. His relative strengths were in his receptive vocabulary and his ability to explain himself. He had difficulties with word-finding, attending to and processing incoming auditory material and written language. She opined that his written language disability is not based on a language disability, for he could generate language orally. Rather, it is based on his reading disability. He “was just able to achieve passing scores” on phonemic awareness skills. She concluded that he presents with a mild disability in auditory processing, compounded by a mild word-finding disability. Thus, in a busy classroom environment, he could easily struggle with processing material at the pace of other students. Thus, she recommended speech/language therapy within the regular education setting to help him within that setting to use appropriate strategies to compensate for his auditory processing disability. Finally, she recommended specialized instruction in writing, and accommodations and modifications for word-finding and for auditory processing. (P-20, S-4).
On May 19, 2006, Dracut’s educator, Cassidy Byers, conducted an educational evaluation. N.’s WIAT II scores reflect skills in the “extremely low to high average” range as follows:
Reading – Standard Score – Percentile – Grade Equivalency
Word Reading 74 4 2.5
Reading Comprehension 92 30 3.5
Pseudoword Decoding 67 1 PreK
Numerical Operations 108 70 5.6
Math Reasoning 95 37 4.6
Spelling 78 7 2.3
Written Expression 94 34 3.7
Listening Comprehension 97 42 4.5
Oral Expression 112 79 12.4
Ms. Byers recommended a structured, rule-based instruction in phonics, decoding, and fluency. She also recommended that the staff highlight his strengths, provide him opportunities to demonstrate skills and knowledge orally, allow oral and scribing test accommodations, integrate spelling skills into all areas of language arts, allow extra time, provide multi-sensory learning opportunities, read high-interest material to promote an interest in reading, and practice repeated readings for fluency. (P-22, S-3).
On June 14, 2006, Dracut’s school psychologist, Ms. Catherine Stavrakas, conducted a psycho-educational evaluation. The Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning test results were: General Memory Index Score 86 (18 th percentile); Visual Memory 86; Verbal Memory Index Score 66 (1 st percentile). It was the tester’s opinion that this 20-point difference was significant, suggesting “N. is less comfortable when attending to oral language, storing the information and reproducing it as when viewing visual material, storing it, and reproducing it.” (P-23, S-1).
6. In June 2006, Dracut convened a TEAM to develop N.’s fifth grade IEP. The meeting participants included N.’s third grade special education teacher, a special education teacher who is not Wilson certified, the school psychologist, the reading specialist, and the speech/language pathologist. Participants included staff from the proposed Englesby Middle School program, but due to their unavailability, none of N.’s fourth grade service providers was present at this meeting. (P-17, 30, Mother, Stone). There was no draft IEP and no discussion of goals or objectives at this meeting. (Mother). Dracut thereafter issued a June 30, 2006 – June 29, 2007 IEP for N.’s fifth grade, calling for a partial inclusion program at its Englesby Middle School, including more intensive services than previously provided. That is, it increased the daily special education classes from one to three3 – classes in reading fluency, encoding/decoding, and written language. Further, the speech/language therapy is changed from a pull-out service to being provided in the regular education social studies and science classes, thus helping N. integrate learned skills into the regular education setting. It is offered twice weekly (approximately once weekly in each class (Sandoval)). Further, the IEP calls for weekly fifteen-minute staff consultations by the speech/language pathologist and special education teacher. Finally, though not specified on the service delivery grid, this IEP calls for “in class support” in the social studies and science classes, when he needs content area text read to him. It does not clarify who would provide this support. (P-34, S-26).
Parent rejected this IEP, asserting that it is isolating, that the pull-outs mean that N. misses much of the curriculum, leaving him “with no idea what’s going on”, and he is quite embarrassed having material read to him. (P-34, S-26).
At the hearing, Mr. Stone and Ms. Sandoval elaborated on the proposed partial inclusion program. Mr. Stone stated that the three daily special needs classes in reading, language arts, and writing, would take place in a self-contained language-based special education classroom. The Englesby Middle School’s vice-principal is special education licensed and experienced, the special education teacher and the speech/language therapist work closely together, and the paraprofessionals have all received a two-day training in the Wilson Reading Program. Four of the students remain in this language-based class for all academics, and five others join in the class as called for in their IEPs. All of these students (fifth and sixth graders) have average cognitive skills, need the more intensive language-based services, and have no diagnoses of behavioral disabilities. Dracut would continue to use the Wilson Reading Program. Further, Mr. Stone pointed out that the same speech/language therapist working in this classroom would also provide N.’s inclusion speech/language therapy in his regular education social studies and science class, (once weekly per subject) and also would provide staff consultation, thus strengthening the carryover of strategies not only throughout the special education classes but also throughout these regular education classes. The regular education classes have approximately 25 students, including a few special needs students, and are taught by a certified teacher and paraprofessional in each class. (Stone). Ms. Sandoval described her work in the social studies and science classes, detailing how she helps the special needs students use learned strategies to process and participate in class discussions. She sometimes works with one student, sometimes several, and sometimes co-teaches the class. (Sandoval).
7. On July 5, 2006, Parent wrote Dracut, expressing her concern that after five years, N. is reading at the 1 st grade level. Parent wants N. to be able to read content area materials independently at school (without being read to), and also is concerned about his plummeting self-esteem. (P-33). At the hearing, Parent stated that the Carroll School had reviewed N.’s application, deemed him appropriate for its school, and in January of 2006, accepted him as a student for the 2006 – 2007 school year. (Parent). Parent provided a two-page description of the Carroll School written by Sanford Shapiro. This document describes the Carroll School as a day school in Lincoln, MA for approximately 240 children. The school is for children aged 6 through 13 who have dyslexia or related language learning disabilities. It focuses on Orton Gillingham principles for literacy and language development within the content classes. (P-46).
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
I find that based on a preponderance of the evidence, Dracut’s proposed fifth grade IEP, with services significantly increased from his fourth grade services, is reasonably calculated to provide N. with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive setting. Accordingly, I need not reach the question as to whether the substantially separate public school program or the Carroll School program would appropriately address N.’s educational needs. My reasoning follows.
I. Partial Inclusion Program
1. N.’s profile evidences particular educational needs in reading, in auditory processing, and potentially, as a result of these needs, in emotional areas. There is little dispute regarding the reading and auditory processing deficits; there is some dispute regarding emotional fall-out. Clearly, his reading needs are significant – neither party disputes his diagnosis of dyslexia. Both parties recognize the need for a Wilson-type reading and writing program focusing on his phonics, and further recognize that he is not able to independently read the currently-provided content area materials, requiring a reader at school and at home. (Reese, Sandoval, Camposano, P-18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, S-2, 3, 4, 9) Further, both recognize his difficulties in auditory memory, auditory processing and in word-retrieval. Though Dracut’s speech/language therapist referred to these deficits as mild, she also recognized that the combination of deficits would render the pace of regular education class discussions difficult for N.. (P-20, S-4).
2. Dracut’s proposed program addresses his educational needs: it offers a language-based setting for his reading and language arts classes (using the Wilson Program), a setting where the vice principal is special education trained and experienced, where the reading teacher will be level-1 Wilson trained, where the special education teacher is experienced with language-based teaching, where the teacher and the speech/language therapist collaborate in providing a language-based program, and where the paraprofessionals have received two days of training about the Wilson Program. This setting includes up to nine students all of average cognitive skills and language-based learning disabilities. It provides a language-intensive curriculum focusing on Wilson Reading and language arts and offering carry-over of skills throughout these classes. It provides peers who are similarly of average cognitive abilities with language-based learning disabilities. (Stone) Clearly this program addresses Dr. Shaw’s and Ms. Block’s call for a language-based setting, at least as for the reading, language arts, and writing classes.
Dracut’s proposed program also offers some carry-over of the language-based teaching into the regular education social studies and science classes4 . That is, the speech/language therapist from the language-based class also provides direct services once per week in each of these content-area classes, as well as consulting services by this therapist and the special education teacher. Further, the paraprofessionals working in these classes have been provided a two-day overview of the Wilson Reading Program, offering N. support as needed. (Sandoval, Stone)
3. Parent raised several concerns with this proposed program, as delineated in the IEP and described at the hearing. Her concerns were certainly legitimate in that they were based on her knowledge of her son’s fourth grade academic and emotional struggles, her limited information of the proposed fifth grade program, and the guidance from the independent evaluators. However, those concerns, when addressed in the context of the evidentiary record, do not undermine Dracut’s position that its proposed IEP as described at the hearing, can meet N.’s educational needs. Parent’s concerns are addressed, as follows.
a. Parent is unpersuasive in her assertion that N.’s past five-year reading progress has been minimal, that he is reading at a 1 st grade level, and therefore requires an out-of-district program. It may be that his progress is not as fast as she would like it to be, however, he has made some progress and the evidence supports a finding that he is reading more at a 2 nd or 3 rd grade level. (P-21, 22, S-2, 3) Parent refers to the one subtest where N. scored at the preK level for pseudo-word decoding as support for her position. However, when this one piece of information is considered with all of the other scores, N. is certainly not reading at a pre-K level. This same test resulted in a 2.5 grade equivalency for word reading, and 3.5 grade equivalency for reading comprehension. (P-22, S-3) Still, there is no dispute that N. is dyslexic and that his reading skills must be addressed in an intensive manner; Dracut’s significant increase in services is providing for this. Though questioned by Parent, Mr. Stone was clear that N.’s reading teacher will be Wilson-certified, and the learned strategies will be reinforced throughout the three language-based classes. Further, given Ms. Sandoval’s involvement and the aide’s limited Wilson training, N.’s reading skills can be reinforced to the extent appropriate, throughout the remaining classes. Whether a particular reading text should be provided with the support of the Kurzweil Reader, or modified with lower-level language, or read to N., is an issue that should be addressed jointly by the special education staff and the regular education teacher. Mr. Stone stated clearly that the staff will address such questions individually as they arise, though as an educator, he believes the grade level content material with lower readability level tends to be unsatisfactory. (Stone) Parent was unpersuasive that Dracut staff cannot or will not address this issue appropriately.
b. Parent asserts that Dracut’s language-based classes will be isolating for N., yet Parent provided no evidence supporting this. Daily, N. will be in three special education classes of 4 – 9 students, and three mainstreamed academic classes of approximately 25 students, and will be mainstreamed for his non-academic classes. (Stone). Further, N.’s teacher observes him to be popular among his peers, and during his May 2006 academic achievement evaluation, he told Ms. Byers that he has a lot of friends at school. (P-21, 22, S-2, 3). Certainly, these facts do not forecast an isolating experience for N.. It is true that he will not be with his mainstreamed peers for three classes daily, however, this need not be an isolating experience, for he will be learning with other peers. Parent also asserts that N. will be missing class work in order to receive his special education services. This is inaccurate; he will be provided a language arts curriculum at a level and learning environment appropriate for him, and he will receive his social studies, science, and math classes along side his regular education peers. Thus, he will not be isolated from his peers or from the 5 th grade curricula.
c. Parent asserts that Dracut’s program will not meet N.’s emotional needs in that N. feels that he doesn’t understand what is going on, that he feels humiliated when he is read to, and that he is picked on and bullied. The concern regarding his “not understanding what is going on” is addressed under paragraph (d). The record does support a finding that N. is experiencing self-esteem problems, for such is mentioned in several documents; Parent was persuasive that she had discussed this with staff many times. (Parent). Whether he is picked on and bullied is a different matter – Parent has not provided sufficient evidence to support such a finding. But regardless, certainly Dracut staff should take the necessary steps to be aware of N.’s concerns and should address them. However, the evidence does not support a finding that the emotional concerns rise to the level of requiring an out-of-district placement. Rather, they may support the need for a closer look at N.’s emotional needs as they arise. This is particularly true as the fifth grade curriculum becomes more challenging. The Englesby Middle School offers an optimal setting for supporting special needs students and staff, given the principal’s / vice-principal’s commitment to and experience with special education. Given this setting, Mr. Stone is persuasive that N.’s academic as well as emotional needs can be appropriately addressed while at this Middle School language-based program. (Stone)
d. Parent is unpersuasive in her claim that Dracut fails to offer a sufficiently intensive language-based class. As stated above, Dracut does offer sufficient language based programming to meet his needs. Apparently, the specifics of this were not discussed at the TEAM meeting, and though the IEP does call for more special education classes than previously provided, it fails to offer a full description of the proposed program. Not until the hearing did Dracut make it clear that those special education classes were to be provided in a language-based classroom where the teacher and speech/language therapist worked together closely, that this speech/language therapist and special education teacher would consult with the regular education teachers to promote coordination, and that the speech/language therapist would provide N. with inclusion services in the social studies and science classes. N.’s reading teacher will be Level-1 Wilson certified, and the paraprofessionals will have received a two-day training on the Wilson Program. (Stone) At the hearing, Ms. Sandoval and Mr. Stone were persuasive that Dracut’s proposed program addresses N.’s need for language-based environment – it offers daily, three language-enriched and language-based classes, and that its program offers some degree of continuity between these language-based classes and the regular education classes. Ms. Sandoval and the special education teacher work closely together in designing language-based curricula and language-based techniques. Further, in the regular education setting, Ms. Sandoval clearly offers her speech/language expertise in helping students manage auditory processing of information, memory, word retrieval, etc., – and these are major areas of concern for N.
One might question whether Ms. Sandoval’s limited involvement in the regular education setting and/or curriculum should be expanded in order to meet N.’s needs; this may be addressed as the year progresses, depending on the complexity of the content material and the complexity of class discussions. However, at this time, Parent failed to meet her burden that the proposed arrangement fails to meet N.’s educational needs. Parent relies on Dr. Shaw’s and Ms. Block’s recommendation for language-based programs throughout the day. There is no dispute that these evaluations were thorough. However, for several reasons, their recommendations are given less weight in assessing the appropriateness of Dracut’s proposed program. First, neither evaluator testified, so the evidentiary record lacks a more in depth understanding of their recommendations and challenges to their recommendations. For instance, a recommendation for a language-based program does not necessarily define the necessary level of intensity; it does not define the necessary class size for each activity throughout the day, the recommended extent of direct or consulting speech/language therapists’ services, the recommended extent of coordination in the curricula, etc. Nor does it define the appropriate method for conveying content area material (i.e., lower readability level material, providing a reader, use of the Kurzweil reader, etc.). Because Dr. Shaw and Ms. Block were not presented with the specific 5 th grade language-based program proposed for N., neither evaluator addressed the specifics in addressing its appropriateness for N.. Second, Dr. Shaw’s recommendations are made without the benefit of N.’s fourth grade record, wherein N. made progress in his reading skills. Due to these reasons, Dr. Shaw’s and Ms. Block’s opinions regarding recommended educational placements, are not given sufficient credit to successfully rebut the opinions of Dracut’s speech/language pathologist’s and special education teacher’s testimony regarding Dracut’s specific language based program. That is, Dracut’s speech/language therapist, Ms. Sandoval, stated that she is able to successfully facilitate students’ language processing in the fifth grade social studies and science classes, and she stated that she can do this for N.. She is a CCC-certified speech/language pathologist experienced in working in school settings, she had evaluated N., and she is aware of the Englesby Middle School classes and her work within those classes. Her opinion is credited. Further, N.’s special education teacher, Ms. Reese, stated that N. comfortably participated in the group discussions, had thoughts he wants to share, and worked well with his peers on science projects, etc., and she recommended that N. be placed in the fifth grade mainstreamed social studies, science, and math classes. (Reese) Given her indepth knowledge of N. and his fourth grade mainstreamed performance, her opinion is credited. Thus, in weighing the opinions of these four specialists, Dr. Shaw’s and Ms. Block’s opinions are credited for establishing the need for language-based programming, however Ms. Sandoval and Ms. Reese are credited for their opinions that Dracut’s specific language-based program as detailed in the proposed IEP and testified to, is reasonably calculated to provide N. with an appropriate education in the least restrictive setting.
N.’s fourth grade report card does raise concern about his ability to benefit from the proposed fifth grade mainstreamed classes, for his grades declined in the second half of his fourth grade year. Further, N.’s comments to his mother, that he did not understand what was going on, also raises concern. Certainly, this concern necessitates that the fifth grade staff be particularly vigilant to ensure N.’s successful participation in the mainstreamed setting. However, his fourth grade report card and N.’s reported comment are not sufficient to undermine Ms. Sandoval’s and Ms. Reese’s opinions as to N.’s ability to succeed in the proposed mainstreamed classes. That the staff can address N.’s needs is further ensured by Mr. Stone’s statement that the Englesby Middle School expects the special needs teachers, speech/language therapists, and regular education teachers to coordinate their work so as to support students’ learning in each setting. (Stone) If N.’s difficulties in the mainstreamed setting were to surface during a more challenging fifth grade year, and the staff were unable to successfully address those difficulties, another look at whether N. requires an out-of-district placement, would be appropriate. At this time, however, Dracut is persuasive that it can successfully address N.’s educational needs.
e. Parent is not persuasive in asserting that Dracut’s language-based class fails to offer peers of similar cognitive skills. Mr. Stone testified that the students in that program have average cognitive skills; Parent offered no evidence refuting this or refuting the appropriateness of the proposed peers.
f. Parent states in her closing argument that N. needs a computer at home; this issue was not addressed in the hearing and is therefore not addressed in this decision.
II. Because Dracut’s proposed program is appropriate, there is no need to consider Dracut’s more restrictive program at this time. However, it should be noted that the evidentiary record is too sparse to render an opinion as to the appropriateness of Dracut’s substantially separate program for N..
III. Because Dracut offers an appropriate educational placement within its system, I need not consider the appropriateness of the Carroll School Program. Accordingly, there is no need to rule on Dracut’s Motion for a Directed Verdict.
Dracut shall implement its proposed 2006 – 2007 IEP calling for N.’s placement in the partial inclusion language-based program at its Englesby Middle School.
By the Hearing Officer,
Date: August 21, 2006
The evidentiary record consists of the School Exhibits 1 –37, Parent Exhibits 1 – 47, as well as five hours of recorded testimony.
Parent decided not to pursue any claim for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses for her son’s 2004 summer tutoring services that she obtained. Further, when Parent rested, Dracut moved for a partial directed verdict, asserting that Parent had provided no evidence as to the appropriateness of the Carroll School for her son, and that a directed verdict against such claim was in order. Parent objected to this Motion, but provided no explanation for this. Dracut’s motion was taken under advisement and is addressed in this decision.
The IEP’s provision for one of the special education classes to be taught by a social worker rather than a special education teacher was a typographical error; all three classes would be taught by special education teachers. (Stone).
Neither party offered evidence regarding the appropriateness of the math class or the need for an out-of-district placement due to N.’s math needs, and the math class is therefore not addressed in this decision.