Nashoba Regional School District v. Student – BSEA #01-3447
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
Nashoba Regional School District v. Student
This decision is issued pursuant to M.G.L. c. 71B and 30A, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq ., 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the regulations promulgated under said statutes.
A hearing was held on May 22, 2001, at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) in Malden, Massachusetts, before Catherine M. Putney-Yaceshyn, Hearing Officer.
The School District requested a hearing on March 9, 2001. An automatic hearing date was scheduled for March 29, 2001. On March 12, the School District requested a postponement which was granted by the BSEA and the matter was scheduled for a Pre-Hearing Conference on April 30, 2001. On April 17, 2001, the BSEA received a letter from the Parents requesting that the Pre-Hearing Conference be postponed because “reports for educational evaluations being done will not be completed by that date.” The letter further indicated that, “information in these reports will directly affect the issue of eligibility that the Nashoba Regional School District is concerned about.” The School District filed its opposition to the Parents’ request for postponement on April 24, 2001. It argued that it had filed its request for a hearing “based, in part, on its need to complete school-based testing, which will then serve to inform the TEAM as to whether the student remains eligible for special education services.” It further argued that “postponing the pre-hearing conference would further deny the school district its opportunity to resolve the testing and services issues.” The Hearing Officer denied the Parents’ request to postpone the Pre-Hearing Conference. Both parties participated in the Pre-Hearing Conference on April 30, 2001 at Catuogno Court Reporting in Worcester, Massachusetts during which a Hearing was scheduled for May 22, 2001.
Those present for the hearing were:
D.J. Zirbel Director of Pupil Personnel Services
Linda Watskin Special Education Chairperson
Jacqueline Mooney Resource Room Teacher, Hale Middle School
Mary Ellen Sowyrda Attorney for Nashoba Regional School District
Catherine M. Putney-Yaceshyn Hearing Officer
The official record of this hearing consists of documents submitted by the school, marked 1 through 7, documents submitted by the Parent, marked 8-131 , and approximately two hours of recorded oral testimony. The School District made an oral closing argument and the Parent submitted a written closing argument on June 1, 2001 at which time the record closed.
Whether the Bureau of Special Education Appeals should override the Parents’ refusal to consent to the School District’s Request to Re-evaluate the Student.
The Parents assert that the School District has ample information regarding the Student’s learning profile to plan for his needs without requiring additional testing. They have had independent evaluations done and believe their evaluations will supply sufficient information for the School District to make an eligibility determination regarding the Student.
The School District is seeking an order from the BSEA to authorize it to conduct educational testing to determine the Student’s current needs. The School District has sought parental consent for such testing, but the Parents have not provided consent. The School District seeks to conduct testing to determine whether the Student continues to be eligible for special education services. The School District is not required to await the results of independent testing before utilizing its own testing to determine whether the Student continues to require special education services.
SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE
1. The Student is a twelve-year-old student at the Hale Middle School in Stow, Massachusetts. (Exh. 4) He was diagnosed with a specific learning disability in first grade and has received special education services, mostly centered around reading, since that time. (Exh. 4)
2. D.J. Zirbel, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services for the Nashoba Regional School District, sent letters, dated February 12, 2001 and February 21, 2001 to the Student’s parents requesting their consent to evaluate the Student. (Exh. 3, Zirbel) Ms. Zirbel testified that she had sought consent to evaluate the Student because the Team had questioned his ongoing eligibility for special education during a recent Team meeting2 . (Zirbel) The Team had determined that the Student no longer required direct speech and language services, and was uncertain whether he continued to be eligible for special education services and how he could best be served. (Zirbel) The Student’s mother responded to Ms. Zirbel’s letters in a letter dated March 2, 2001, in which she indicated that she was rejecting the School District’s proposed evaluation for the following reasons. 1) The School’s files indicated the Student had a disability; 2) the IEP signed on September 7, 2000, indicated the School’s next evaluation would be in May 2002; and 3) the Parents were having independent evaluations done and found it unnecessary for the School District to also evaluate the Student. (Exh. 8) The School District requested a due process hearing on March 8, 2001, in order to obtain authorization to evaluate the Student. (Exh. 1)
3. Linda Watskin, the Special Education Chairperson for the Hale Middle School, testified that she does the educational testing at the School3 and would be the logical person to test the Student. She testified that she would use the test results to determine the Student’s ongoing eligibility and what services should be provided to him. She stated that she would use tests from the Woodcock 3 achievement battery including a written language test, an oral language test, reading tests, and fluency tests. She has learned that Kathryn Hewett, Ph.D, has done some independent cognitive testing of the Student. Ms. Watskin believes that Dr. Hewett is a very competent neuropsychologist and believes that her report will be very thorough.4 Ms. Watskin would not administer the same tests that Dr. Hewett has administered.5 (Watskin)
4. Ms. Watskin described the procedure that the School District would follow with respect to the Student’s testing as follows. Either Ms. Watskin or Jackie Mooney, the special educator who has worked with the Student, could administer the tests to the Student. If Ms. Watskin were to administer the test, she would also interpret the test results. If Ms. Mooney were to administer the test, Ms. Watskin would provide her with instruction relating to the test administration and would interpret the test results6 . The test administration would take approximately one hour and fifteen minutes to two hours and would be conducted in two separate sessions. Ms. Watskin would then meet with the school psychologist, who is very familiar with cognitive testing and Jackie Mooney, who is very familiar with the Student, and review all of the testing results. They would also review Dr. Hewett’s report if it had been provided to them. Ms. Watskin would then write a report that would be shared with the Parents. The Team would convene to review the report and testing results.
5. Dr. Hewett wrote a letter to the Student’s Mother, dated April 26, 2001, which stated in relevant part:
[Student] experiences significant anxiety from his uneven abilities; his self-esteem about them is quite vulnerable. From my review of testing done in the past two years, I believe there is ample evidence of his learning profile and that it would be detrimental to [Student] to do additional, repetitive testing at this time. (Exh. 5)
Dr. Hewett did not testify at the hearing and she did not provide any written report of her evaluation results. Ms. Zirbel and Ms. Watskin testified that they never spoke to Dr. Hewett regarding the Student.
6. The Student’s mother attended the hearing. She did not testify or present any witnesses, but she cross-examined the School District’s witnesses. (Refer to tape recording of hearing.) She submitted exhibits after the close of testimony and submitted a written closing argument on June 1, 2001.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(2) instructs that “A local educational agency shall ensure that a reevaluation of each child with a disability is conducted (A) if conditions warrant a reevaluation or if the child’s parent or teacher requests a reevaluation, but at least every 3 years.” The Parents have refused to consent to evaluations and have informed the School District that they have arranged for the Student to receive independent evaluations.
20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(C)(ii) states that if the parents refuse to consent to the school’s proposed evaluation, the school may continue to pursue an evaluation by utilizing the mediation or due process procedures under 20 U.S.C. § 1415. Thus, the hearing officer has the authority to resolve the dispute regarding the Parents’ refusal to consent to the School District’s proposed reevaluation.
In accordance with § 1414(a)(2), the School District is required to conduct a reevaluation if conditions warrant reevaluation. I find that a reevaluation was warranted because the School District did not have sufficient current information to assess the Student’s needs. My reasoning follows.
I relied upon the testimony of Ms. Zirbel in determining that the School District required updated information regarding the Student’s language abilities. The then current IEP included direct services in the areas of writing, language arts, and speech. (Exh. 4) After the Student was named to the honor roll, the Team questioned whether the Student continued to require services in the areas of writing and language arts and sought to evaluate the Student in order to determine whether he required further services in said areas and if so, what services he required. Ms. Zirbel testified that the Team had previously discussed the Student’s “writing issues,” but had not done a formal evaluation of the Student’s writing ability.
It was reasonable for the School District to seek further evaluations at that time. The Student had recently made the honor roll, which could indicate that he had made significant progress. The School District is obligated to provide appropriate services to the Student. It would not be appropriate for a School District to ignore significant progress and continue to provide services that may no longer be meeting the Student’s needs. If the School District had been able to complete its evaluation of the Student, it would have had a clearer picture of the Student’s then current needs and may have been better able to provide services to him for the remainder of the school year.
The Parents have raised concerns regarding the effect that testing would have upon the Student. They provided a letter from Dr. Hewett which indicated that “it would be detrimental to [Student] to do additional, repetitive testing at this time.” Dr. Hewett was not at the hearing and therefore was not available to explain how she reached her conclusion. Also, it is irrelevant that she believes that repetitive testing would be detrimental, because Ms. Watskin testified that she did not intend to duplicate any of the testing done by Dr. Hewett as long as she was provided with the test results. Therefore, I do not believe that Dr. Hewett’s April 26, 2001 letter provides a sufficient basis upon which to deny the School District’s request for authorization to evaluate the Student.
Finally, the Parents are incorrect in their assertion, made in their closing argument,7 that the School District was not permitted to reevaluate the Student before the Parents because the Parents sought an independent evaluation prior to the School District’s request for consent for a reevaluation. Federal courts have consistently allowed school districts to perform their own evaluation of a Student. As stated by the fifth circuit, “If a student’s parents want him to receive special education under IDEA, they must allow the school itself to reevaluate the student and they cannot force the school to rely solely on an independent evaluation.” Andress v. Cleveland Independent School District , 64 F.3d 176, 2 (ECLRP 133 (5 th Cir. 1995). This is especially true in the case at hand where the School District is being asked to rely solely upon an independent evaluation from which they have not received any report or any information of any kind.
The School District is authorized to reevaluate the Student in order to assess his current areas and/or level of need.
By the Hearing Officer,
Catherine M. Putney-Yaceshyn
Dated: June 29, 2001
The Parents did not submit any exhibits five days prior to the hearing. The Hearing Officer allowed the Student’s Mother to propose exhibits for inclusion in the record after taking testimony in the matter. The exhibits that were admitted are marked as Exhibits 8-13.
Ms. Zirbel testified that the Team learned that the Student had recently made the honor roll and then questioned what services the Student needed.
She testified that she has earned three credits for training she received in administering the Woodcock -Johnson revised. She has taken 20 hours of training in the Woodcock-Johnson 3 since she received her testing materials in the fall.
She testified that she has not received a report from Dr. Hewett, nor has Dr. Hewett contacted her regarding the Student.
She stated that she received a list of the tests that Dr. Hewett had given the Student, she would look to see where there were gaps and choose the tests she would give him accordingly.
Ms. Watskin testified that the parent would have input into the decision as to whether she or Ms. Mooney would administer the test.
See Parents’ closing argument, page 1