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Doe v. Richmond Consolidated School District

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 31, 2016

JACOB DOE, by and through His Mother, JENNIFER Y., Plaintiff,


          MARK G. MASTROIANNI United States District Judge

         Plaintiff, Jacob Doe (“Student”), [1] acting through his mother, has brought this suit pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., against co-defendants, Richmond Consolidated School District (the “School District”) and the Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”), challenging the January 6, 2015 decision by a hearing officer at the co-defendant BSEA. Specifically, Student asks the court to reverse the hearing officer’s finding that the Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) offered by the School District for the 2014-2015 school year offered Student a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”), as required under the IDEA. Additionally, the Student asks the court to find that student was provided with FAPE at the Middlebridge School (“Middlebridge”), the residential school at which Student was unilaterally placed by his parents[2] for the 2014-2015 school year, and order the School District to provide both reimbursement and prospective payment of the expenses of Student’s placement at Middlebridge. The parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment are currently before the court.

         I. Background

         A. Educational History

         Student began attending the Richmond Consolidated School, a Pre-K-8th grade school operated by the School District, at least as early as the first grade. (Dkt. No. 25, Administrative Record 97, 118.) At some point he began receiving supplemental services pursuant to a 504 Accommodation Plan. (Id. at 118.) During the summer of 2012, prior to his seventh grade year, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”). (Id.) Previously Student had been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). (Id.) When the 2012-2013 school year began, Student’s special education team (“TEAM”) met to review the new diagnosis and evaluation. (Id.) The TEAM found that Student was eligible for special educational services pursuant to the IDEA and created an IEP for him for the 2012-2013 school year. (Id.) Student’s parents accepted the 2012-2013 IEP, which called for (1) various classroom accommodations, (2) direct occupational therapy services to address sensory deficits and (3) direct social skills services with the school adjustment counselor. (Id. at 118, 187- 201.) Consistent with the IEP, Student was placed in a regular education classroom that had no more than twelve students. (Id. at 118.)

         Student was involved in several behavioral incidents in late fall and early winter of 2012. (Id. at 118, 1609-10.) During the same period, Student’s parents also became concerned that Student was being bullied at school, however no formal bullying reports were filed by Student’s parents. (Id. at 119.) A risk assessment relative to Student was conducted in January 2013 and Student’s TEAM subsequently met in April to review the risk assessment and consider changes to Student’s IEP. (Id. at 118-19.) No changes were made to the IEP, however the Special Education Director, Jenevra Strock began reeducating school staff about ASD. (Id. at 119.) Additionally, the school adjustment counselor, Dominic Bondini, had discussions with Student’s outside therapist about using common language. (Id.)

         In May 2013, Student was hospitalized for ten days in a pediatric psychiatric unit due to increased anxiety and OCD symptoms. (Id.) Student had recently experienced an escalation of his separation anxiety with respect to his mother and was missing time from school. (Id.) The discharge instructions from the hospital recommended that he attend a “step down program” and receive increasing passes to home and school. (Id.) The records from the hospitalization do not identify issues related to attending school. (Id.) When Student was discharged, he was taken to the step down program, but did not attend, instead returning home. (Id.) The local mental health practitioner Student saw recommended that he not attend school or take the MCAS at that time. (Id. at 119, 513-14.) The School District subsequently provided home tutoring for the remainder of the school year. (Id. at 119.)

         During the summer of 2013, Student attended a wilderness-based, residential, therapeutic program. (Id.) While attending that program he was evaluated and his diagnoses of ADHD, OCD, and AHD were reaffirmed. (Id.) The evaluation included a recommendation that Student be placed in a structured, residential environment. (Id. at 120.)

         On August 21, 2013, Student’s parents notified the School District that they were unilaterally placing Student at a residential school-The Hillside School. (Id.) Despite this unilateral placement decision, the School District held its annual IEP meeting for Student, who was then thirteen, on September 5, 2013. (Id.) Student left his placement at The Hillside School in April 2014 and the School District resumed providing tutoring services to Student for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year. (Id.) Student and his family do not seek any reimbursement from the School District for the costs associated with Student’s attendance at The Hillside School.

         The School District held another TEAM meeting on June 13, 2014, to discuss the three-year reevaluation of Student, as required under the IDEA. (Id.) Student’s parents attended this meeting and agreed to three assessments: a transition assessment, an occupational therapy assessment, and a math evaluation. (Id.) At the parents’ request, the TEAM began drafting the IEP while the assessments were pending. (Id.) On June 23, 2014, Student’s parents notified the School District that they would be unilaterally placing Student at Middlebridge for the 2014-2015 school year. (Id. at 121.) The following day, the School District sent a proposed IEP to Student’s parents. (Id. at 120.)

         The IEP called for (1) direct occupational therapy services, (2) direct services with the school adjustment counselor, (3) pullout math instruction with a special education teacher, (4) group social skills, and (5) services to address anxiety with a behaviorist. (Id. at 120-21.) A variety of classroom and testing accommodations, as well as extended school year services were also proposed. (Id.) Though Student had attended seventh grade during the 2012-2013 school year, the proposed IEP provided for Student to attend eighth grade during the 2014-2015 school year. (Id. at 187, 287.)

         The transition assessment provided by the School District was conducted on June 24, 2014 and the occupational therapy assessment was conducted on June 28, 2014. (Id. at 121.) The transition assessment found the primary barriers to a successful transition to adulthood would be his existing anxiety, OCD, ASD, and math issues. (Id.) The occupational therapy assessment found fine motor and sensory deficits and recommended the use of a graphic organizer as well as involvement with chores, meal preparation, crafts, and sports. (Id.)

         On June 30, 2014, Student’s mother filed a Hearing Request with the BSEA. (Id. at 3, 121) The preliminary statement indicated the request was filed in order to (preemptively) seek retroactive reimbursement for Student’s placement at Middlebridge beginning on July 7, 2014. (A.R. 3.) Later that summer, another TEAM meeting was held to discuss the results of the transition and occupational therapy evaluations. (Id. at 121.) An updated IEP was proposed, though it did not include any substantive changes. (Id.) Student’s parents rejected the IEP services and placement on August 19, 2014. (Id.) A third TEAM meeting was held September 11, 2014, after the results of an August 7, 2014 math evaluation were available. (Id.) At this September TEAM meeting two recommendations made by Judith Imperatore (“Imperatore”), a transition counselor privately hired by Student’s parents, were also considered, even though the School District had not yet received Imperatore’s written report. (Id. 121-22.) An amended IEP was sent to Student’s parents the same day. (Id. at 121.) It updated Student’s disabilities to include a math disability, added a math goal, and made a few other minor changes. (Id. 121-22.) On September 25, 2014, Student’s parents again rejected the IEP services and placement. (Id. at 122.) Student’s parents received a comprehensive transition assessment and vocational evaluation from Imperatore on October 3 or 4, 2014 and a copy was provided to their counsel a couple days later. (Id. at 1088.) The School District was not provided a copy of the report until the week prior to the BSEA hearing and no additional TEAM meetings were held prior to the BSEA hearing. (Id. at 122.)

         The BSEA Hearing

         As previously stated, Student’s parents filed their request for a hearing with the BSEA on June 30, 2014. (Id. at 121.) The hearing was initially scheduled for August 4, 2014. (Id. at 117.) On July 23, 3014, the School District requested a postponement and then Student’s parents requested a further postponement on ...

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