West Springfield Public Schools – BSEA #01-2155
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS
In Re: West Springfield 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 thereunder. A hearing was held in the above-entitled matter on June 15, 2001, at the Springfield, MA Offices of Catuogno Reporting Services. Those present for all or parts of the proceeding were:
Judith Kelliher Special Education Supervisor, Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative
Denise Murphy Teacher, Secondary Developmental Program, Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative
Donald Snyder Director of Special Education, West Springfield Public Schools
Regina Tate Attorney for West Springfield
Lindsay Byrne Hearing Officer, BSEA
The official record of the hearing consists of documents submitted by the School labeled S-1 through S-33 and approximately 3 hours of recorded oral testimony. The School submitted a written closing argument by the mutually selected due date of July 13, 2001. The Parent did not submit a closing argument. The record closed on July 13, 2001. The parent participated in the hearing pro se but did not present witnesses or documents.
1. Whether the 2000-2001 Individualized Education Plan developed for the Student by the West Springfield Public Schools was reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting?
2. Whether the 2001-2002 Individualized Education Plan proposed for the Student by the West Springfield Public Schools is reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting?
Findings of Fact
1. The Student is sixteen years old. At the age of three he had a febrile illness which resulted in hypoxic brain injury. Secondary to that injury the Student has profound, global developmental delays. He has spastic quadriplegia, though he is able to ambulate up to 500 feet with moderate assistance of two people. He uses a wheelchair for most mobility, but does not move the wheelchair himself. He has cortical visual impairment. In the cognitive, communicative, fine motor, social-emotional, and daily living skills domains the Student functions on a three to six month old level. He learns on a sensori-motor level, and is working on areas relating to cause and effect. He requires hand over hand assistance for fine motor and activity of daily living tasks. The Student learns best in a one to one or a small group setting. (S-3, S-10, S-20, S-11; Kelliher, Murphy)
2. The Student began attending the Secondary Developmental Program at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative (hereinafter “The Collaborative”) in 1994. There are five high school age students in the Collaborative program. All students have multiple disabilities. Some, including this Student, have individual aides for all activities, some require continuous nursing care. Staff in the classroom include: the teacher, Ms. Murphy; two assistant teachers; one-to-one aides; one-to-one nurses; a physical therapy assistant; an occupational therapist; an occupational therapy assistant; adaptive physical educator; and a speech-language pathologist. There is additional nursing supervision from the full time Collaborative nurse and the full time nurse on site at the Minnechaug Regional High School, where the Collaborative program is located. There is additional educational supervision and consultation through the Collaborative’s administration. The Collaborative operates during regular school hours and includes a six-week summer component. (Kelliher, Murphy)
3. Denise Murphy (B. ed, M. Sped) has been the lead teacher in the Collaborative program for ten years. She taught the Student from the time of his entrance into the program in September, 1994, until he was withdrawn by the Parent in March, 2000. She described a typical day for the Student as:
1.Bus arrival and morning check;
2. Physical Therapy morning stretching exercises; ambulating with two adults;
4. Placement in standing box to increase bone and muscle strength and to provide positional and perspective changes. Work on voice output switches to increase awareness of cause and effect;
5. Return to wheelchair for group activities, eg. arts and crafts; cooking; art manipulatives; to increase awareness of cause and effect and maximize learning on a sensori-motor level;
7. Activity of daily living instruction;
8. Lunch – work on feeding skills;
9. Leisure time – Student’s preferred activity is swinging;
10. One-to-one activities – typically reading a book with aide or computer skills;
11. Adaptive physical education;
12. Ambulating with two adults around school;
4. Ms. Murphy testified that the Student appeared to enjoy school in that he “smiled a lot”. She noted that since 1994 the Student’s attention to staff and fellow students had improved, he had fewer random body and eye movements, and better feeding skills. (Murphy)
5. Judith Kelliher, Supervisor of the Collaborative program since 1987, testified that the Student made progress in the program consistent with his developmental needs and potential. (Kelliher; see also: S-22, S-11, 12, 16, 17)
6. The Student was due for a full re-evaluation in the Spring, 1997. The Parents have refused to consent to any evaluations and none have been conducted since the Student entered the Collaborative program in 1994. Ms. Murphy testified that the failure to re-evaluate the Student did not have any significant educational effect due to the continual assessment of his needs and adjustment of his services by the service providers in the classroom. (Murphy)
7. The last accepted IEP for the Student was developed for the period March 1999 through March 2000. (S-20)
8. During the course of the 1999-2000 school year the Student received a new wheelchair through the school at no cost to the family. (S-18, S-7) The Parent was unhappy with the new wheelchair and continued to use the older, ill-fitting chair. This caused tension between the school and the family. (Murphy)
9. On March 13 and 14, 2000, school staff noted that the Student’s mouth and fingers turned blue while walking. The Collaborative nurse informed the family that the Student needed to see a physician and obtain medical clearance to return to school. On March 20, 2000, the mother attempted to return the Student to school without a medical certificate but was refused entry. The Student has not attended school since March 30, 2000. Since then, the Parent has not formally withdrawn the Student, has not formally requested an alternate school placement or home-based educational program and has not contacted the school concerning evaluations, services, therapies, or materials. (Murphy, Kelliher; S-5, 6, 7, 13, 15)
10. On April 27, 2000, the Team met to develop the Student’s IEP for the period 4/00 – 4/01. Neither parent attended the meeting. The Team concluded that a continuation of the setting and services the Student received pursuant to his 4/99 – 4/00 IEP would provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to him. The Team therefore proposed an IEP substantially similar to the Student’s previous, accepted IEP. The Parents did not respond to the proposed 4/00- 4/01 IEP. (S-10, S-9, 8, 7; Kelliher) Ms. Murphy testified that the 2000-2001 IEP was the least restrictive, appropriate educational program for the Student based on what was known of him in March 2000. There is no contrary evidence in the record. (Murphy)
11. The School continued to send the bus to the Student’s home each morning for the month of April 2000. The Parent did not send the Student to school. In September 2000, the School resumed sending the bus to the Student’s home each morning. After about three weeks during which time the Parent declined to send the Student to school, transportation was discontinued. (Kelliher)
12. A Team meeting was held on February 16, 2001. The Father attended. He did not request a change of placement or services. The Team developed an IEP which was substantially similar to previous IEPs calling for the Student’s placement in the Collaborative program with an individual aide, physical therapy, speech-language services and adaptive physical education. Ms. Murphy testified that the IEP’s goals and objectives were designed to maintain and support the Student’s learning on the basic sensori-motor level of functioning. She noted that the Student’s level was based on his previously known functioning (as of March, 2000) but that she would expect to see some regression in his skills due to the prolonged school absence. Nevertheless she believes the proposed IEP is appropriate to meet the Student’s known educational needs in the least restrictive setting (Murphy). Ms. Kelliher testified that the proposed 2001-2002 IEP offers the Student the environment and services designed to maximize the educational benefit to him. (Kelliher)
13. The Parents have not signed an acceptance or rejection of the proposed 2001-2002 IEP. The Student received no educational services during the 2000-2001 school year. The Student may re-enter the Collaborative Program as soon as consent for services is received. (Murphy)
Findings and Conclusions
There is no dispute that the Student has special learning needs which entitle him to receive a free, appropriate public education pursuant to M.G.L.c. 71B, 20 U.S.C 1401 et seq ., and 29 U.S.C. 794. There is no evidence in this record to suggest that the IEPs developed by the West Springfield Public Schools for this Student are either procedurally or substantively inadequate. On the contrary, all the documentary and testimonial evidence in the record supports a finding that the Collaborative Program offers the Student appropriately tailored educational and related services in a setting designed to maximize the Student’s exposure to the mainstream of High School life. I found both Ms Kelliher and Ms. Murphy to be knowledgeable, sympathetic, and credible witnesses. I found their concern for the Student to be genuine. Neither of them recommended any service or setting not already incorporated into a proposed IEP. Further the IEPs at issue reflect the written recommendations of professionals, and provide services which have proven appropriate and beneficial to the Student in previous school years (see p. 4, 5). The Parents offered no evidence that any professional recommended services other than or in addition to, those already set out in the proposed IEPs. There is no evidence in the record that any proposed service or setting is inappropriate for the Student. Finally, the Parents offered no explanation for their failure to send the Student to school for the better part of one and a half school years. Therefore, based on the totality of the record, it is my conclusion that both the 2000-2001 and the 2001-2000 IEPs developed by West Springfield are reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting.
It is clear from the record that difficult and continuing circumstances within the Student’s home are preventing his access to an appropriate educational program. Both West Springfield and the Collaborative have sensitively pursued available legal options for compelling the Student’s attendance in the secondary developmental program. The very limited success these avenues offer do a disservice to this vulnerable student. While continuing to offer the appropriate Collaborative placement, the School should investigate other means of delivering the necessary special education services to the Student.
The 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 Individualized Education Plans proposed by West Springfield are reasonably calculated to provide the maximum feasible educational benefit to the Student in the least restrictive setting.
Hearing Officer, Lindsay Byrne