WAS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT REQUIRED TO PAY FOR THE STUDENT’S PRIVATE PLACEMENT?
Case citation: Student v. Rockwall ISD, Dkt. No. 176-SE-0212 (Hearing Officer Mary Carolyn Carmichael, August 7, 2012).
Summary: The student attended school in the Rockwall Independent School District and qualified for special education services as a student with an emotional disturbance. The student had a history of longstanding and serious emotional issues resulting in multiple hospitalizations. Following the student’s placement in the district’s disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP), the parents withdrew the student from the district and placed the child at a private school without input or approval from the district.
In July of 2011, the parents requested a due process hearing challenging the district’s placement and program decisions, but the parties settled the dispute. The settlement addressed the student’s possible re-enrollment in the district during the 2011-12 school year. The settlement required the parent to give at least 30 days notice of their intent to re-enroll the student. The district then was to (1) schedule an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) Committee meeting, (2) review the student’s progress, and (3) consider any new evaluations, and/or (4) revise the student’s individualized education program (IEP).
During the fall of 2011, the parents provided notice of their intent to return the student to the district and the district scheduled an ARD meeting, which was held on December 14, 2011. However, the parents later requested another due process hearing complaining that the district failed to consider the student’s evaluations and progress prior to revising the student’s IEP and denied the parents full participation in the development of the student’s program. The parents requested reimbursement for the costs of the student’s private placement.
Ruling: The hearing officer ruled in favor of the student on each of the parents’ claims and ordered reimbursement for the student’s private placement. The program proposed by the district was not reasonably calculated to provide the student an educational benefit. The program was not based on the student’s current and unique educational needs, did not offer the student education in the least restrictive environment, and did not consider a continuum of alternative placements.
In addition, the district predetermined the student’s placement at the December 2011 ARD Committee meeting. According to the hearing officer, this constituted a procedural error that denied the parents an opportunity to be full participants in the ARD Committee and impeded the student’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
The hearing officer determined further that the private placement and private counseling services were appropriate for the student and provided the student with meaningful educational benefit. Thus, the parents were entitled to reimbursement for the spring of 2012 tuition and course fees.
Things to Remember: In order to receive reimbursement for a private placement, a student has to prove both that the district’s program was not appropriate and that the private placement is appropriate. Most cases seeking reimbursement do not meet both elements. The parents, in this case, however provided sufficient evidence to meet their burden of proof on both issues.
Least Restrictive Environment
WAS THE STUDENT’S REMOVAL FROM THE REGULAR EDUCATION SETTING APPROPRIATE?
Case citation: Student v. Houston ISD, Dkt. No. 162-SE-0212 (Hearing Officer Gwendolyn Hill Webb, July 13, 2012).
Summary: The student attended middle school in the Houston Independent School District and was classified as a student with a severe emotional disturbance. The student had a history of hospitalizations and behavioral problems at school. In May of 2011, the student was moved from a self-contained Behavior Support Classroom to a regular education classroom when the administration changed its policy to include all special education students in the general education class with the assistance of a special education teacher.
The student did not adjust well to the regular education setting. Throughout the 2011-12 school year, the student had numerous disciplinary referrals. The student’s behavior included disrupting class, verbal outbursts, skipping class, tardiness, threatening students and staff, physical altercations, and violent behavior. The district held manifestation determination reviews (MDRs) to address the student’s behaviors, and determined that they were a manifestation of the student’s disability. The district attempted numerous accommodations, developed and modified the student’s Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), and performed Functional Behavior Assessments when needed. Despite the district’s efforts, the student continued to experience significant behavioral problems that disrupted the educational environment in the classroom.
In January of 2012, the district proposed the student’s removal from the student’s home campus school, and placement at another school, which was a special education school within the district for children with severe behavior problems. The parent did not agree with the proposed placement and requested a due process hearing. The parent requested placement in the regular education setting with a one-on-one coach, increased distance between desks, and marking a circle around the student’s desk within which the student could move freely, among other things.
Ruling: The hearing officer held that the special education placement proposed by the school district was appropriate and offered the student education in the least restrictive environment. The hearing officer determined that the parent’s approach to the student’s placement, ignored the student’s inability to function in the inclusion classroom without consistently disrupting the teaching and learning processes for the student and others in that setting. The record showed that education with nondisabled peers, even with resource room or itinerate instruction, was not possible.
In this case, the district significantly modified the general education program so that the student could remain in the regular classroom. However, according to the hearing officer, the student made very limited educational progress. In addition, the student’s presence in the regular education setting significantly impacted the educational environment for the rest of the class. Thus, the hearing officer determined that the student’s proposed special education placement was appropriate and denied all relief requested by the parent.
Things to Remember: Here, the record showed that the student’s behavior significantly impacted the learning environment in the classroom. The district made legitimate attempts to make the student successful in the regular education setting, but to no avail.