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Student v. Houston ISD, Dkt. No. 355-SE-0815 (Hearing Officer Brenda Rudd, Feb. 12, 2016).

Facts:  The student received special education from the Houston Independent School District as a child with autism and a speech impairment.  The student had good reading and communication skills but had difficulty with impulsive behavior, monitoring the student’s own behavior, and understanding the impact of behavior on others.  The student had been placed in private school and returned to the district several times.  While in the district, he was placed in a structured learning classroom.  The private setting had a small staff-to-student ratio and students who needed more intensive interventions.  The student’s academic goals at the private school were virtually the same as those offered by the district.  The parents eventually sought to have the student returned to the district, but did not believe the transition program provided the student FAPE and requested a due process hearing.  The parents, therefore, requested private placement at the district’s expense.

Holding:  The hearing officer determined that the district’s proposed program was not reasonably calculated to provide FAPE, but that the student was not entitled to a private placement because the private program was not appropriate for the student.  The district’s program did not adequately set out the staff-to-student ratios and activities staff would provide.  The program provided a 1:1 aide, but did not include an explanation of the aide’s responsibilities.  The teacher assigned to the student had little or no knowledge of the student and the student’s needs.  The hearing officer also found that the proposed program would not have provided positive academic and non-academic benefits to the student.  It also did not plan for the student’s transition during the first days of attendance at the district.  The hearing officer ordered that those deficiencies be corrected so that the student could transition back to the district.  The private placement was not appropriate because it focused more on behavior and less on academics.  There was no data showing whether the student had progressed academically and there was no opportunity for the student to be with non-disabled peers.  In addition, the classroom lacked structure and did not properly provide for transition times.  The hearing officer, therefore, concluded that the student was not entitled to a private placement at the district’s expense.

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