COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
Division of Administrative Law Appeals
Bureau of Special Education Appeals
In Re: Hingham Public Schools BSEA #11-3762
This decision is issued pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 USC 1400 et seq.), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC 794), the state special education law (MGL c. 71B), the state Administrative Procedure Act (MGL c. 30A), and the regulations promulgated under these statutes.
A hearing was held on March 7, 8, 9 and 28, 2011 in Malden, MA before William Crane, Hearing Officer. Those present for all or part of the proceedings were:
Jennifer Griswold Private Special Education Tutor
Lorna Kaufman Private Reading Specialist
Kira Armstrong Private Neuropsychologist
Karl Pulkkinen Public Schools Liaison, Landmark School
Joan McLaughlin Academic Case Manager, Landmark School
Kristen Stuart 3rd Grade Regular Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Elizabeth O’Neill Special Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Boris Samarov 4th Grade Regular Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Christine Rogg 4th Grade Special Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Joan Kilban 5th Grade Regular Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Irene Kopp Speech-Language Pathologist, Hingham Public Schools
Mary Stenson Speech-Language Pathologist, Hingham Public Schools
Jennine Pratt Occupational Therapist, Hingham Public Schools
Marian Francis Occupational Therapist, Hingham Public Schools
Elizabeth Costanza School Psychologist, Hingham Public Schools
Mary Ann Cushing School Psychologist and Team Chair, Hingham Public Schools
Alisa Valley 5th Grade Special Education Teacher, Hingham Public Schools
Mary Beth Robinson Reading Specialist, Hingham Public Schools
Charles Cormier Principal, Hingham’s Plymouth River Elementary School
Jean Curtis Loud Director of Student Services, Hingham Public Schools
Beth Simon Attorney for Parents and Student
Carolyn Kain Attorney accompanying (not representing) Parents and Student
Alexandra Peredo Carrion Attorney accompanying (not representing) Parents and Student
Mary Joann Reedy Attorney for Hingham Public Schools
Laurie Jordan Court Reporter
Pauline Bailey Court Reporter
Kristen Edwards Court Reporter
The official record of the hearing consists of documents submitted by the Parents and marked as exhibits P-1 through P-19; documents submitted by the Hingham Public Schools (Hingham) and marked as exhibits S-1 through S-44; and approximately four days of recorded oral testimony and argument. As agreed by the parties, oral closing arguments were made on April 7, 2011, and the record closed on that date.
The principal issue in dispute is whether Hingham’s proposed IEP calling for placement in an inclusion, 5th grade classroom with special education supports and with pull-out services for reading and writing is appropriate.
For a number of years, Parents, including their educational expert, endorsed the inclusion model with pull-out services that was proposed and provided by Hingham. Parents and Hingham staff worked well together to make a number of adjustments to the IEP to conform to recommendations of Parents’ experts and to address Parents’ concerns. Parents have made clear their respect and gratitude for the accomplished and compassionate teachers and service providers who have worked with their son over the years in the Hingham Public Schools; Parents’ experts have similarly noted the highly qualified teachers whom they observed in Student’s classrooms; and Student himself clearly enjoyed being taught by these dedicated professionals who sustained him during several challenging years in school.
Over time, Parents and their experts came to believe that Hingham’s educational approach was not sufficient to allow Student to become an independent and proficient learner consistent with his educational capacity, and they remained concerned about Student’s continuing high level of frustration and low self-esteem regarding school. The parties essentially had an honest difference of opinion which came to a head at the end of 4th grade, with Parents opting to place their son privately at Landmark School (Landmark) for 5th grade.
Hingham takes the position that a Landmark placement is unnecessarily restrictive and allows fewer educational opportunities than were proposed through the Hingham IEPs.
Hingham believes that not only can Student access the curriculum in a regular education 5th grade classroom if given sufficient supports and accommodations, but that such a curriculum provides a far richer academic experience than would be provided within a substantially-separate learning environment such as a private, special education school. Hingham takes the position that Student’s underlying language deficits were appropriately remediated through special education and related services through 4th grade, and would continue to be appropriately remediated pursuant to its proposed 5th grade IEP.
This part of the dispute was closely contested, with each party presenting extensive, credible evidence in support of its position. Ultimately, for the reasons explained in detail in the Discussion section of the instant Decision, I found Parents’ position to be more persuasive and concluded that a more intensive educational model was warranted and needed for Student for 5th grade in order to allow him to make effective progress in his reading deficit areas and thereby develop his educational potential. I found that Student required a substantially-separate, language-based educational program, and that the educational services offered Student at Landmark for 5th grade were appropriate for this purpose.
Parents also presented claims for compensatory education based upon alleged failure to provide appropriate IEPs during parts of 3rd grade and all of 4th grade. But, Hingham generally followed the recommendations of Parents’ educational expert through 4th grade, and Parents accepted a number of IEPs as a result of Hingham’s responsiveness. For these and other reasons explained in more detail below, I found that Parents are entitled to no relief on the basis of their compensatory claims.
Parent presented one claim regarding an alleged procedural violation relative to Hingham’s alleged failure to review an independent evaluation on a timely basis. I found for Hingham regarding this claim on the basis of the statute of limitations.