COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
IN RE: SAUGUS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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. A Hearing was held in the above-entitled matter on September 30 and October 29, 1998, at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals in Malden, Massachusetts. Those present for all or part of the proceedings were:
Parent Mother of Student
Mary Gallant, Esq. Counsel for Saugus Public Schools
Anthony DeMatteo, Ph.D. Special Education Director , Saugus Public Schools
Cheryl Meninno, Ed.D. Education Team Leader, Saugus Public Schools
Chuck Carbone Teacher, Saugus Public Schools
Walter Keddy Assistant Principal, Saugus Public Schools
Scott Haas, Ph.D. Consulting Psychologist, Saugus Public Schools
Frank Bianco Director, Campus Academy (SEEM Collaborative)
Matthew MacAvoy Hearing Officer
The official record of this proceeding consists of exhibits submitted by the Parent marked P-1 through P-27, exhibits submitted by the School marked S-1 through S-19, and approximately nine (9) hours of recorded oral testimony. Written closing arguments were received on December 3, 1998, and the record closed on that date.
1. Whether the 1998-1999 Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) providing for the Student’s placement in a therapeutic 502.4i or 502.5 program is reasonably calculated to provide the maximum possible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting consistent with that goal.
2. If not, whether the Parent’s proposed placement at the Huntington Learning Center meets that standard.1
The Student does not require placement in a specialized therapeutic educational setting as the Student does not present with emotional or psychological issues. The Student simply lacks basic educational skills which require remediation through participation in an intensive 1:1 tutoring program such as that offered at the Huntington Learning Center.
The Student presents with emotional and psychological issues which interfere with her ability to learn and which necessitate her placement in a highly structured, therapeutic day program such as the 502.4i Campus Academy Program at the SEEM Collaborative. The Student has a history of emotional and behavioral problems which actively interfere with her ability to learn. To assure her maximum possible educational development, the Student requires an educational program which can address her need for both therapeutic and academic intervention. The 502.4i Campus Academy program would provide the Student with the highly structured, therapeutic setting recomended by the Student’s evaluators and IEP TEAM. The Parent’s proposed placement at the Huntington Learning Center is inappropriate as it is overly restrictive, does not provide a comprehensive curriculum, and lacks the ability to address the Student’s emotional and behavioral needs.
STATEMENT OF THE EVIDENCE
1. The Student is a seventeen (17) year old female (DOB 8/2/81) who lives with her parent in Saugus, Massachusetts. (Parent)
2. The Student attended school in Derry, New Hampshire from the 2nd through 6th grades. (Parent, P-2)
3. On October 18, 1995, while the Student was in the 8th grade at the Hood School in Derry, New Hampshire, the Parent referred her for an evaluation of her eligibility for special education services. (P-8) In requesting this evaluation, the Parent noted that the Student required 1:1 assistance to understand what she was doing and was having difficulty completing her school work. (P-8)
4. The New Hampshire TEAM found the Student to be functioning at a level well above average and concluded that the Student did not have an “educational handicap.” (P-8) The TEAM did note, however, that the Student had a significant history of absences from school during the 8th grade and in previous school years. (P-2) On November 28, 1995, the New Hampshire TEAM found the Student ineligible for special education services. (P-8)
5 . The Student was enrolled in the 9th grade at the Saugus Public Schools (Saugus) in September of 1996. (Keddy)
6. The Student experienced significant disciplinary and truancy problems during the 1996-1997 school year. (Keddy) She was suspended on several occasions for offenses such as fighting, leaving class without permission, and truancy. (Parent, Keddy) Upon failing to obtain the required credits for graduation, the Student was retained in the 9th grade at the Saugus High School for the 1997-1998 school year. (Parent, Keddy)
7. The Student continued to experience issues with discipline and attendance at the start of the 1997-1998 school year. (Keddy, Carbone) She was suspended on September 17, 1997, and again on October 15, 16, and 17, 1997 for excessive disciplinary referrals. (Keddy) She also demonstrated behaviors considered to be abnormally exaggerated, such as swearing at teachers when asked where she was supposed to be and running away when confronted by School staff. (Keddy) The Student was assigned a 1:1 staff person to escort her to all school appointments. (Keddy, Carbone, Haas)
8. In September of 1997, at the suggestion of Walter Keddy, the Parent referred the Student for an evaluation of her eligibility for special education services. (Keddy, P-3)
9. On September 22, 1997, Saugus notified the Parent of its intent to conduct an initial TEAM evaluation. (P-3) A psychological evaluation would be performed as such evaluations are part of all initial TEAM evaluations conducted by Saugus. (DeMatteo)
10. On October 1, 1997, the Parent gave her consent to the full TEAM evaluation. (Meninno, DeMatteo, Haas, S-12) The Parent testified that she did not fully review the evaluation consent form before signing it and did not intend to consent to the psychological evaluation. (Parent) She did not, however, raise an objection to the evaluation until after Dr. Haas’ psychological report was issued. (DeMatteo)
11. As a result of her suspension on October 15, 16, and 17, 1997, the Student was placed in the self-contained Alternative Learning Center Program at the Saugus High School during the pendency of the TEAM evaluation. (Keddy, Carbone)
12. A Cognitive and Educational Status Assessment was conducted by Chuck Carbone of the Saugus Public Schools on October 21, 1997. (Carbone, P-9, P-27, S-16) The Student’s score in Basic Math Skills and Mathematics Reasoning reflected a developmental level of grades one (1) and two (2) respectively. The Student’s Basic Writing Skills were also assessed as very low, being comparable to a grade 2.4 student although Written Expression was revealed as a relative strength, falling in the 5.8 grade range. In Basic Reading, the Student’s scores indicated that she was functioning at a 3.5 grade level. Reading Comprehension was, however, identified by Mr. Carbone as a relative strength with the Student obtaining scores at the 6.1 grade level. The Student’s score on the Test of Broad Knowledge was low, equivalent to that of a student in grade 2.7. (Carbone, P-9, S-16)
13. On October 22, 1997, Scott Haas, Ph.D., conducted a psychological evaluation of the Student. The Student was accompanied to the testing session by Mr. Carbone, whom she asked to remain outside the door as she feared becoming agitated. (Haas) The Student reported feeling out of control and described having behaved violently while living in New Hampshire. She informed Dr. Haas that she had previously attempted suicide on one occasion, had been psychiatrically hospitalized and had participated in individual therapy while in New Hampshire. She also described a history of drug use and of sexual and physical abuse. In addition, she reported vegetative symptoms of depression including insomnia, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Dr. Haas did not independently confirm the Student’s reported history. (Haas, P-7, S-15)
On the WISC-III, the Student achieved a Verbal IQ of 56, a Performance IQ of 55 and a Full Scale IQ of 52. On the WRAT-R, the Student demonstrated Reading, Spelling and Arithmetic Scores in the deficient range, all falling at or below the 3rd grade level. Dr. Haas concluded however, that Student’s scores on the WISC-III and WRAT-R were not reflective of her true cognitive potential as her presentation was not consistent with an intellectual functioning level in the moderately retarded range. Dr. Haas opined that her impulsive approach to the materials due to an emotional disorder and under socialization was a limiting factor. While he allowed for the possibility of an intellectual or cognitive component to the difficulties evidenced in the Student’s scores on the WISC-III and WRAT-R, Dr. Haas stated that no conclusions could be reached until the Student’s emotional difficulties were addressed in treatment. He diagnosed the Student with a Depressive Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and substance abuse. (Haas, S-15, P-7)
Based upon this evaluation, Dr. Haas concluded that the Student would benefit from mental health treatment to address her lability, preoccupation, alleged acting out behavior, under socialization, alleged substance abuse, sadness and impulsivity. Specifically, he recommended group and individual treatment and long-term mental health treatment planning. In regard to educational planning, Dr. Haas recomended that emphasis should be placed on the Student’s emotional disorders and how they affect her ability to function intellectually. He testified that the Student needs to be in a structured program capable of limit setting and of specifically addressing her emotional needs. He considered the 502.4i Campus Academy program at the SEEM Collaborative to be an appropriate placement for the Student. He did not consider the individual tutorial program at the Huntington Learning Center (HLC) to be an appropriate placement as it would not address her emotional needs. (Haas, P-7 , S-15)
14. A TEAM meeting was convened on November 19, 1997, to review Mr. Carbone’s and Dr. Haas’ evaluations. (P-15a, S-17) The TEAM found the Student eligible for special education services and recommended that she be placed in a therapeutic day school program to address her academic needs as well as emotional and behavioral issues. (Carbone, Haas, Menino, DeMatteo, Keddy) The Student was referred to the 502.5 Castle School Program. (P-15a, S-17)
15. The Student began attending the Castle School on December 8, 1997. (Menino, Keddy).
16. On January 15, 1997, the Parent contacted Dr. Meninno to inform her that the Student did not like the Castle School because of the length of the school day and the staff’s insistence that the Student restrict her inappropriate language and behavior. (Meninno, S-12)
17. Shortly thereafter, the Student was suspended for a day due to inappropriate language and behavior. (DeMatteo, Parent, S-12) The Parent testified that this verbal altercation with a teacher resulted from the Student having witnessed another child throwing a dog down a flight of stairs. (Parent) The Castle School requested that the Student and Parent return the following day to discuss the Student’s behavior. (S-12) The Parent chose not to attend this meeting and the Student did not return to the Castle School. (Parent)
18. On January 20, 1998, the Parent withdrew the Student from the Castle School. (P-22, S-13) The Parent also withdrew the Student from the Saugus Public Schools to pursue a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). (P-19, P-20, S-13, S-14)
19. In response to the Student’s withdrawal, Dr. Meninno convened an emergency TEAM meeting on January 20, 1998. (Meninno, S-11, S-12, P-16) Present at this TEAM meeting were Dr. Meninno, Mr. Carbone, and the Parent. (Meninno, Carbone) Dr. Meninno and Mr. Carbone discussed the Student’s withdrawal with the Parent and proposed the 502.4i Campus Academy program or the 502.5 Crossroads School as alternatives to the Student’s placement at the Castle School. (Meninno, Carbone, S-11, P-16) The Parent rejected these alternative placements and informed the TEAM that the Student would pursue a GED. (Meninno, Carbone, Parent, S-11, P-16)
20. The Student was evaluated by the HLC on January 28, 1998. (P-13, P-14, P-24). On the Slosson Oral Reading Test, the Student demonstrated sight-word reading skills at a 7.1 grade level. On the Burns/Roe Informal Reading Inventory the HLC evaluator noted that in the area of silent reading skills, the 7th, 8th, and 9th grade levels of this test are normally administered to children of the Student’s age. Given the level of the Student’s reading skills, the evaluator was, however, unable to administer these test levels. In the area of oral reading skills, the Student correctly answered only 20% of the 7th grade level comprehension questions. Again the evaluator noted that due to the Student’s skill level, grade appropriate tests could not be administered. Due to the Student’s reading deficiencies, the HLC evaluator was also unable to administer the Metropolitan Achievement Test. The HLC recommended that the Student receive 280 hours of tutoring services. (P-13, P-14)
21. The TEAM reconvened on January 29, 1998 and again proposed two (2) alternative placements for the Student: the 502.4i Campus Academy program and the 502.5 Crossroads School. The Parent notified the TEAM that she would not consider the proposed placements and that the Student would be pursuing a GED.
22. On February 3, 1998, the Parent wrote to the Superintendent of the Saugus Public Schools to request that Saugus fund a tutoring program for the Student at the HLC so as to enable her to meet the requirements for a GED. (P-16, P-25, S-11, S-12)
23. On February 4, 1998, Dr. DeMatteo responded to the Parent’s request for tutoring by reiterating Saugus’ position that the Student required placement in a specialized therapeutic program and, therefore, that the requested individual tutoring program would not be funded by Saugus. (P-25, S-12)
24. The TEAM reconvened on February 10, 1998, to discuss educational opportunities for the Student. (P-16, S-11). Present at the TEAM meeting was Elaine Berman of the HLC. Ms. Berman described the HLC as a program providing individual tutorial services which awarded neither a diploma, GED, or educational certificate. (Carbone) The TEAM declined to support the Parent’s request for placement at the HLC as it could not address all of the Student’s areas of need, and again strongly recommended placement at the 502.4i SEEM Collaborative or the 502.5 Crossroads School. (Meninno, P-16, S-11) These recommendations were based upon the TEAM’S findings that these programs would provide the Student with necessary educational experience while also addressing her emotional and behavioral issues. (Meninno) The Parent refused both of these proposed placements. (Parent, Meninno, P-16, S-11)
To eliminate further lapses in the Student’s educational program, the TEAM developed a temporary placement in the 502.4 Alternative Learning Center at the Saugus High School. (P-16, S-11) In this program, the Student would receive all academic instruction in substantially separate classroom settings, would attend a substance abuse program twice weekly, and would meet weekly with the School’s adjustment counselor. The TEAM also recommended that the Student receive outside counseling to address the emotional issues which were deemed to be interfering with her ability to function in school. (P-16, S-11) The TEAM did, however, continue to advocate for the Student’s placement in a therapeutic setting such as the SEEM Collaborative or the Crossroads School. (Menino, P-16, S-11)
25. On February 20, 1998, the Parent filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Education alleging that the Saugus Public Schools had failed to provide a program or services for her daughter. (P-4, P-5, P-6, S-8)
26. The Student entered the 502.4 Alternative Learning Center program at the Saugus High School on February 23, 1998. Due to concerns about the safety of the Student and the safety of others however, the Student was suspended from school on February 24 and 25, 1998. (Keddy)
27. On February 25, 1998, the Parent rejected the IEP proposing a temporary placement at the Saugus High School and requested a TEAM meeting. (S-11) Specifically, the Parent rejected the proposed full-day program, and the counseling sessions with the substance abuse and school adjustment counselors. (P-16, S-11) The Parent did not arrange for individual outside counseling as proposed by Saugus. (Parent)
28. The TEAM reconvened on March 5, 1998, to discuss the rejected portions of the proposed IEP. At this meeting, the Parent requested that the School provide a home tutor. The Parent agreed to random drug testing of the Student and indicated that she would obtain counseling independently and would provide the School with verification thereof. The Parent further stated her willingness to visit the SEEM Collaborative and the Crossroads School, although she indicated that she would prefer a home tutoring program be provided by the School. The TEAM continued to recommend the Student’s placement in a therapeutic setting, participation in a substance abuse program and weekly counseling. The TEAM observed that the Student’s behavior while in the Alternative Learning Center at the Saugus High School continued to be very disruptive and impulsive and that the Student did not appear to be benefitting from the program. (S-10)
29. The Parent visited the Crossroads program on March 25, 1998. At the conclusion of this visit a TEAM meeting was conducted via the telephone during which Saugus proposed a 502.9 diagnostic placement at the Crossroads School. The Parent accepted the proposed diagnostic IEP and the Student was enrolled at Crossroads on that same day. (P-17, S-9)
30. On March 25, 1998, the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Office of Program Quality Assurance found as follows:
“ The Saugus Public Schools as a result of a TEAM meeting on November 19, 1997, issued an IEP for (Student) which called for a 502.5 program. The Student was placed at Castle School. The parent (mother) withdrew her daughter from the Castle School on January 20, 1998, and notified the District of her actions by letter. Further, the parent also withdrew her daughter from the Saugus Public Schools in writing effective that same date. The district in response to the parent’s request for payment for a GED program offered to reconvene a TEAM meeting. A TEAM meeting was held on February 10, 1998, and the district issued an IEP calling for a 502.4 program. The Parent rejected that IEP in part on February 25, 1998, and requested a meeting with the TEAM to discuss the disputed elements. The district reconvened on March 5, 1998, and the TEAM proposed a Diagnostic Evaluation at the Crossroads Program.” (P-6, S-8)
Based upon these findings, the Office of Quality assurance concluded that no violation of education law, regulation or policy had occurred with regard to the specific issues raised by the Parent in her February 20, 1998 complaint. (P-6, S-8)
31. On May 7, 1998, a TEAM meeting was conducted at the Crossroads School to evaluate the Student’s progress. The Parent did not attend this TEAM meeting. The Student was described to Ms. Meninno as doing well at Crossroads School. (Meninno)
32. The Student underwent psychometric testing by Pamela Hopkins, M.Ed., at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on May 19, 1998. On the WISC-III, the Student demonstrated a Full Scale IQ of 64, placing her level of intellectual functioning more than two (2) full standard deviations below the mean. The Student’s verbal comprehension skills were found to be in the 5th percentile overall. The testing also revealed difficulties in the areas of perceptual organization, sequential memory, auditory processing, and in sequencing and the use of space. The Student’s word identification and spelling skills were found to fall between one (1) and two (2) full standard deviations below the mean for the Student’s age and grade level. On a structured test assessing reading comprehension, the Student earned an overall score falling approximately one (1) full standard deviation below the mean or at the mid-6th grade level. On the Gates MacGinite Reading Test, an independent measure of reading comprehension, the Student scored within the average range. Given a timed test assessing her arithmetic skills, the Student earned an overall score falling more than two (2) full standard deviations below the mean, suggesting difficulty with the recall of basic facts, particularly multiplication. The Student maintained a cooperative attitude throughout the testing, but was noted by Ms. Hopkins to display a dulled affect. Although reported to have a low tolerance for frustration, Ms. Hopkins found little evidence of a problem in this area. (P-10)
33. On May 29, 1998, the Parent withdrew the Student from the Crossroads School after observing the Student being taunted and verbally harassed by several male students. (Parent, DeMatteo, P-18, S-4, S-5) Notification of the Student’s withdrawal was received by Saugus on June 2, 1998. The Student’s father was notified of his daughter’s withdrawal by Dr. DeMatteo on June 3, 1998. (S-4)
34. On June 19, 1998, Dr. Florence Lai of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Learning Disorders Unit wrote to Dr. DeMatteo in regard to the results of the psychometric testing conducted on January 28, 1998 and as to her impressions of the Student. Dr. Lai stated that tests of the Student’s basic skills revealed marked weaknesses, with reading her skills falling at the 4th grade level, spelling skills at the 5th grade level and arithmetic skills at the 3rd grade level. In summary, Dr. Lai found that the Student displayed cognitive abilities more than two standard deviations below average. She attributed the majority of the Student’s difficulties to cognitive limitations. Dr. Lai opined that the Student’s history of behavioral problems resulted from having been placed in academic settings well above her level of functioning. In support of this conclusion, Dr. Lai cited the fact that the Student had displayed no behavioral abnormalities while undergoing evaluations at MGH. (P-11) The Parent did not provide copies of Dr. Haas’ psychological report or the Student’s school record to Dr. Lai or Ms. Hopkins for their consideration in conducting their evaluations. (Parent)
In regard to educational planning, Dr. Lai recommended that the Student be placed in small, substantially separate classes that would teach to her level of functioning. She further recommended that the Student be encouraged to pursue a vocational track and that she be prepared for work in a real life situation. She also suggested that the Student be provided with remedial help during the summer in an individualized tutoring program such as the Huntington Learning Center or the Sylvan Learning Center. (P-11)
35. The Saugus Public Schools did not provide the Student with a summer program as Dr. Lai’s letter was not received prior to the end of the school year and because the Student was over 16 and was considered to have been withdrawn from the Saugus Public Schools. (DeMatteo)2
36. On June 29, 1998, the Parent filed a Request for Hearing with the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals.
37. On July 21, 1998, a Pre-Hearing Conference was conducted at the Malden Office of the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals. Present at the Pre-Hearing Conference were Hearing Officer Matthew MacAvoy, Dr. Anthony DeMatteo, and the Parent.
38. In August of 1998, Saugus received a follow-up report from Dr.Lai stating that she had eliminated the possibility of Attention Deficit Disorder as a diagnosis. (P-12)
39. Pursuant to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals Hearing Officer’s Order of July 21, 1998, the TEAM reconvened on September 3, 1998, to consider Dr. Lai’s reports and to identify educational programs which would be appropriate for the Student. Prior to this TEAM meeting, Dr. DeMatteo spoke with Dr. Lai in regard to her recommendations for educational placements. Dr. Lai recommended various 502.5 programs which the TEAM agreed to pursue. (DeMatteo)
The TEAM concluded that the Student had many areas of need academically and emotionally. Her skills were found to be splintered across all academic subjects. The Student was found to learn best in a small group setting with a structured and supportive environment. The TEAM determined that the Student would benefit from a program that would focus on her strengths and that would assist her in improving across all academic areas through a multi-modal, hands-on approach. In addition, daily contact with a school adjustment counselor and individual counseling at MGH to address the emotional issues which interefere with her ability to function in school were also recommended. (P-26, S-3)
40. Pursuant to the TEAM’s recomendations, referral packets were forwarded to the Carroll School, the Landmark School, the Lighthouse School, and the SEEM Collaborative. (S-2) The Student was denied admission at the Carroll School as a result of its finding that the Student’s academic difficulties stemmed from emotional/behavioral issues which the Carroll School was not prepared to address. (Meninno)
41. On September 21, 1998, the Student was accepted at the 502.4i Campus Academy program. Based on a review of the records provided, Frank Bianco and the Campus Academy staff determined that the Student was an excellent candidate for the school. The Campus Academy would provide the type of highly structured academic program and therapeutic support which the Student was judged to require. (Bianco, S-1)
42. On September 25, 1998, Dr. Florence Lai wrote to Dr. DeMatteo to clarify her previous comments and recommendations regarding the Student’s educational program. Dr. Lai stated that because the Student had missed so much school and was so far behind in her basic skills, she felt it reasonable to believe that “a place like the Huntington Learning Center could provide adjunctive remedial help during the summer.” (emphasis in original) She stated further that it was not her intention to recommend the Student’s placement at the Huntington Learning Center “instead of a regular school program”. Based upon her discussion with Frank Bianco of the SEEM Collaborative, Dr. Lai stated that the Campus Academy program seemed appropriate for the Student. (S-18)
43. Dr. Cheryl Meninno testified that neither she nor the members of the TEAM consider the Huntington Learning Center to be an appropriate placement for the Student. Specifically, Dr. Meninno stated that the HLC program is merely a tutorial service which does not provide a comprehensive curriculum and would not address the Student’s emotional/behavioral needs. The HLC also does not offer the GED, diploma or educational certificate which the Parent seeks. Dr. Meninno testified further that simply obtaining a GED would not be appropriate for this Student due to her many areas of need. (Meninno)
Dr. Meninno testified that she is familiar with the Campus Academy program at the SEEM Collaborative and believes that it is an appropriate placement for the Student as it would address her emotional as well as educational needs. In her opinion, the 502.4i Campus Academy program is the least restrictive placement capable of addressing the Student’s special needs. Dr. Meninno testified that if the Student was not successful at the Campus Academy program she would recommend a 502.6 residential placement for the Student. (Meninno)
44. The Parent testified that the Student had not had behavioral problems prior to the release of Dr. Haas’ psychological report. She stated that she had no intention of having the Student psychologically tested when she referred her for an evaluation of her eligibility for special education services and that she was only seeking academic testing. She acknowledged however, that she did sign the TEAM evaluation consent form without reading it. The Parent expressed her belief that the Student had misled Dr. Haas as to her true history, and that, consequently, Dr. Haas’ conclusions were based on erroneous facts. The Parent testified that as a result of Dr. Haas’ report, Saugus incorrectly labeled her daughter as emotionally troubled and in need of a therapeutic program. According to the Parent, the Student lacks basic skills due to Saugus’ failure to provide her with an appropriate education. The Parent stated her opinion that Saugus has repeatedly placed the Student in “drop-out schools.” (Parent)
The Parent described the Student as lacking confidence and struggling with low self-esteem. She testified that the Student lacks basic skills and is unable to make change or tell time. She stated that the Student became increasingly resistant to attending school in the fall of 1997 and that she gave-up trying to force the Student to attend. She acknowledged that the Student can be disruptive and impulsive and difficult in school, and that the Student had significant disciplinary and attendance problems during the 1996-1997 school year. The Parent testified that the Student also did poorly academically during the 1996-1997 school year. She is also aware that the Student’s behavioral problems served as the basis for Saugus’ finding of eligibility for special education services. The Parent testified however, that she has not brought the Student for individual counseling at MGH as she does not believe that the Student requires any counseling. (Parent)
The Parent stated that the Student is currently employed four days per week as a restaurant hostess which she enjoys. According to the Parent, the Student will not agree to attend a full day educational program. The Parent is, therefore, seeking a placement at the HLC so as to enable the Student to remediate basic skills and obtain a GED. The Parent testified that Saugus began providing individual tutoring after the first day of Hearing and that the Student has made excellent progress in that setting. She testified further that she does not consider the Campus Academy Program at the SEEM Collaborative to be appropriate as, in her opinion, the Student does not require a therapeutic placement and because it would take the Student almost four years to graduate given her current high school standing. (Parent)
45. Frank Bianco, the Director of the Campus Academy program at the SEEM Collaborative, described the Campus Academy as a full year, alternative program for students with adjustment and learning issues requiring a highly structured, supportive, therapeutic environment. The Program serves approximately fifty (50) students divided into three (3) clusters of sixteen (16). Each cluster is staffed by four (4) teachers. In addition, the program is staffed by two (2) clinical staff members, a neuropsychologist, a consulting clinical psychologist, three (3) social workers, two (2) crisis counselors and a vocational instructor. Classes within each cluster are divided according to the students’ individual learning style and achievement levels. The program is also equipped with a crisis center which is staffed at all times by trained clinical staff. All students receive individual counseling at least twice per week which focuses on learning issues including school avoidance. Students also participate in group counseling two (2) to three (3) times per week. Family meetings are conducted twice each month. Mr. Bianco further testified that the program is highly structured with a focus on providing feedback to the Student from class period to class period. (Bianco)
At the Campus Academy, the Student would begin each day at 8:30. Following breakfast, the Student would attend Mentor Group. Each student is assigned a teacher and clinician and participates in a mentor group to discuss issues such as homework, review daily check sheets and personal goals. The Student would then attend academic classes including Math, English, Science, and Social Studies taught by certified teachers. In the afternoon the Student would participate in either a work study program or could participate in the Campus Academy’s culinary arts vocational program. While at the Campus Academy program, the Student would also accrue credits for graduation. Students are given the option of receiving a diploma from their sending district after satisfying the sending district’s credit requirements. (Bianco)
The Campus Academy would attempt to address the Student’s behavioral and disciplinary problems through providing constant feed back to the Student and consulting with her clinical team. The program would address the Student’s basic life skills issues by tailoring instruction around her work experience to make the activity interesting and motivating. Mr. Bianco testified that the focus would be placed upon breaking negative patterns such as consistent school avoidance. (Bianco)
Mr. Bianco testified that he first spoke with the Parent on September 10, 1998. The Parent described the Student as a child with only basic skills who could not make change or tell time. She also informed him that the Student had never had behavioral or emotional issues. Based on this description, Mr. Bianco referred the Parent to the Developmentally Delayed (DD) program at the SEEM Collaborative. The Parent subsequently met with Dr. George Flynn of that program. Dr. Flynn concluded that the Student was not developmentally disabled and should have been referred to the Campus Academy program. After receiving the formal referral packet from Saugus, the Student’s IEP was reviewed by Mr. Bianco, as well as the neuropsychologist, the intake coordinator, and a member of the program’s secondary TEAM. There was a consensus that the Student represented an appropriate candidate for the Campus Academy based on the information provided. Mr. Bianco testified that the Student fits the profile of a Campus Academy student in that she has exhibited a pattern of school refusal and other issues which have not been appropriately addressed. Mr. Bianco stated that the Campus Academy possesses programs and clinical staff capable of addressing the Student’s special needs. (Bianco)
Findings and Conclusions
There is no dispute that this Student is a child with special learning needs as defined by M.G.L. c.71B and 20 U.S.C.§1401 et seq. , and is thus entitled to a free appropriate public education and an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) which is reasonably calculated to provide for her maximum possible educational development in the least restrictive environment consistent with that goal. David D. v. Dartmouth School Committee , 775 F.2d 411 (1st Cir., 1985). At issue in this proceeding is the question of whether the 502.4i therapeutic day placement at the SEEM Collaborative’s Campus Academy program proposed by the Saugus Public Schools is reasonably calculated to provide the maximum possible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting consistent with that goal. It is my determination that a clear preponderance of the evidence presented, considered in the context of applicable federal and state statutes, regulations and case law, supports the finding that the 502.4i Campus Academy program proposed by Saugus is appropriate. I find further, that the Parent’s proposed placement at the Huntington Learning Center is not reasonably calculated to provide the maximum possible educational benefit to the Student. My reasoning follows.
At issue in this proceeding is the appropriateness of the therapeutic (502.4i) Campus Academy program at the SEEM Collaborative proposed by the Saugus for the 1998-1999 school year. The Parent contends that this proposed placement is inappropriate because the Student does not require a therapeutic educational program. The Parent posits that the Saugus Public Schools’ continued insistence upon the Student’s placement in a therapeutic setting is erroneous as the Student does not have emotional or behavioral issues. Rather, the Parent asserts, the Student simply lacks basic academic skills which could be most efficiently remediated through her placement in a 1:1 tutorial setting such as the Huntington Learning Center.
Saugus contends that the proposed placement at the Campus Academy is entirely appropriate for this Student and would provide her with the least restrictive setting capable of maximizing her educational development. Saugus argues that the evidence clearly supports the Student’s placement in a therapeutic setting and that the Huntington Learning Center placement sought by the Parent is not appropriate as it provides neither a comprehensive curriculum nor the emotional and behavioral interventions necessary to enable the Student to derive the maximum benefit from her educational program. After careful consideration of the evidence presented at the Hearing, I find Saugus’ position to be supported by a clear preponderance of the evidence.
The great weight of the evidence produced at the Hearing supports the School’s recommendation for the Student’s placement in a therapeutic educational setting. While the Parent disputes the credibility of Dr. Haas’ psychological evaluation, she presented no evidence to refute either his conclusions or the facts on which these conclusions are based. The Parent’s assertion that the Student simply misled Dr. Haas by providing a false history is simply not supported by the facts. Indeed, the facts indicate to the contrary. While disputing the veracity of the Student’s report of sexual abuse, at the Hearing the Parent did acknowledge that an incident had occurred although she believed it necessary to clarify that the Student was sexually molested rather than raped when she was seven years old. (Parent, Haas) In addition, while the Parent repeatedly stated that the Student had not evidenced behavioral problems prior to the release of Dr. Haas’ report, the Student’s record actually reflects an alarming number of significant disciplinary and behavioral problems during the 1996-1997 school year, well prior to her evaluation by Dr. Haas.3 (Parent, Bianco) During that year, the Student was subjected to repeated disciplinary action for offenses ranging from fighting, to truancy and leaving classes without permission. (Parent, Keddy) She was also consistently absent from school, missing almost the entire month of January 1997. (Parent) Consequently, having failed to attain a sufficient number of credits to graduate, the Student was retained in the 9th grade for the 1997-1998 school year. Again, these behavioral problems resumed almost immediately upon her return to school in the fall of 1997. (Keddy) By November of that year, her behavior had escalated to a point whereby she required a one to one aide to escort her to all school appointments. (Keddy, Carbone, Haas)
I can also find no support for the Parent’s position in the evaluations completed by the MGH. (P-10, P-11, P-12) While Dr. Lai did, in her letter of June 19, 1998, opine that the Student’s problems were cognitive in origin, the Hearing Officer notes that Dr. Lai had not been provided with copies of the Student’s school records nor with Dr. Haas’ report prior to reaching this conclusion. (Parent) There is also some question as to whether Dr. Lai ever personally evaluated this Student. (DeMatteo) I do find compelling however, Dr. Lai’s letter of September 25, 1998, wherein she identifies the SEEM Collaborative program as appropriate for this Student as she apparently reached this conclusion after discussions with Mr. Bianco, Saugus personnel, and with her own colleagues at MGH. (Bianco, DeMatteo, S-18) This recommendation by Dr. Lai is also consistent with virtually all of the credible evidence presented at the Hearing. (Haas, Carbone, Meninno, DeMatteo, Bianco) Thus, I find that a preponderance of the evidence clearly supports Saugus’ position that the Student requires placement in a specialized, structured, therapeutic day school capable of addressing her emotional and academic needs in order to derive the maximum possible educational benefit.
I find further that the proposed placement at the SEEM Collaborative’s Campus Academy program is reasonably calculated to provide the maximum possible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting consistent with that goal. The Campus Academy program is a small, highly structured, therapeutic day school program capable of addressing this Student’s emotional and academic needs. (Bianco, Meninno) The Campus Academy would provide the Student with small group class instruction in a structured supportive environment. (Bianco, P-26, S-3) Clinical Staff are available to the Student on a daily basis to provide individual and group counseling, along with routine feedback and support. (Bianco, Haas, P-26, S-3) The Program is also equipped to respond to emotional and behavioral crisis. (Bianco) In addition, at the Campus Academy the Student would be provided with the type of vocational opportunities recommended by the Parent’s own expert, Dr. Lai. (P-11) Given the Student’s satisfaction with her current employment as a restaurant hostess, she could utilize the Campus Academy’s vocational culinary arts program to develop her knowledge and basic skills while increasing her confidence and self-esteem. (Bianco, Parent)
I find no support in the record for the Parent’s proposed placement at the Huntington Learning Center. The HLC lacks a comprehensive curriculum and any ability to address the Student’s emotional needs. (DeMatteo, Carbone, Haas, Keddy, Meninno) It is quite simply not an educational program, but merely an adjunctive tutorial service. (S-18) Indeed, the HLC is not even capable of providing what the Parent seeks for her daughter, a diploma or GED. (Parent, Carbone) Of the two programs at issue in this proceeding, only the Campus Academy is capable of awarding credits toward graduation from high school. (Bianco) Moreover, the Parent failed to introduce any evidence as to the qualifications of HLC staff or as to the specific elements of the tutorial services provided at the HLC. Indeed, the bulk of the information provided came from Saugus personnel who all concluded that it is clearly inappropriate as a primary placement due to its lack of a comprehensive curriculum and its inability to address the Student’s emotional needs. (DeMatteo, Carbone, Haas, Keddy, Meninno) Thus, I find that the Parent’s proposed placement at the HLC is not reasonably calculated to provide for the Student’s maximum possible educational development.
I find that the 502.4i placement at the SEEM Collaborative’s Campus Academy proposed by the Saugus Public Schools for the 1998-1999 school year is reasonably calculated to provide for the Student’s maximum possible educational development in the least restrictive setting consistent with that goal . The Saugus Public Schools shall place the Student at the Campus Academy forthwith.
By the Hearing Officer,
Date: December 30, 1998
During the Pre-Hearing Conference conducted immediately prior to the first day of Hearing, the Hearing Officer informed the Parent that her request to have the psychological report of Dr. Scott Haas removed from the Student’s school record was not a claim for which relief could be granted by the Bureau of Special Education Appeals. Therefore, this issue was not considered by the Hearing Officer in this proceeding.
As the question of whether the Saugus Public Schools denied the Student a free appropriate public education (FAPE) by failing to provide her with the summer program recommended by Dr. Lai and for failing to convene an emergency TEAM meeting upon notification of the Student’s withdrawal from the Saugus Public Schools on June 2, 1998, was not identified as an issue in this proceeding, the Hearing Officer is constrained from considering this question.
As the question of whether the Saugus Public Schools denied the Student a free appropriate public education (FAPE) by failing to refer her for an evaluation of eligibility for special education services was not identified as an issue in this proceeding, the Hearing Officer is constrained from considering this question.
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