This is one of those (rare) moments where, as a school lawyer, you think common sense has prevailed.  We shouldn’t need a decision from a State hearing officer to tell us that once a parent has revoked consent for special education services, then the parent cannot come back and claim that the district has denied the child a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  And yet, we had a four-day hearing in February and March concerning that very issue, resulting in Final Decision and Order 11-0256, Student v. Newtown Board of Education.  The decision will be posted on the State Department of Education website, but until then, you can read a copy of it here.


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A recent letter issued by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) calls into question the practice of denying a request to evaluate a student for potential learning disabilities based upon the failure of the private school where the child attends to conduct Response to Intervention (RTI) activities (or, as we in Connecticut call it, SRBI).  In Letter to Zirkel, 111 LRP 2768 (OSEP 1/6/11), Dr. Zirkel asked OSEP to comment on the question of how a school district that has adopted an RTI approach may meet its "child find" obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in a case where the student attends a private school and the private school has not adopted an RTI approach.  These cases can arise because the child’s parents have enrolled the student in a private or parochial school and either the parents or the private school may come to suspect that the child has a learning disability and make a referral to a public school district for evaluation.  If the parents withdraw the stduent from private school and enroll in public school before making the referral for evaluation, these matters may be resolved by having the student participate in the increasingly more intensive tiered levels of instruction in general education required by most RTI models.  However, if the parents want the child to remain in the private school during the evaluation process, the district is now faced with a conundrum: How do we satisfy our obligation to determine whether the child responds to appropriate instruction in general education if we are unable to provide the appropriate instruction that we would typically provide in this situation?


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In a decision released by the Connecticut Supreme Court on November 16, 2010, Board of Education of Region 16 v. State Board of Labor Relations et al., Region 16 appealed to the Superior Court challenging a decision by the state board of labor relations (“SBLR”) which concluded that the school district had unilaterally changed a condition of employment in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-153e (b) when it increased the workload of four special education teachers during the course of a school year. The SBLR also held that the school district had engaged in unlawful direct dealing with the employees. The Superior Court dismissed the appeal. The school district appealed to the Appellate Court, which, in turn, transferred the appeal to the Supreme Court.


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In a decision released Monday by the State of Connecticut Department of Education, Case No. 09-552, a hearing officer found a student with asthma and allergies triggered by various environmental allergens, including mold and pollen, was not eligible for special education services under the category of Other Health Impaired (OHI).  The student, a senior in high school who actually graduated in June 2010, claimed he should be considered eligible for special education and his family should be eligible for reimbursement for four years of private college preparatory high school education, despite being an honors student with good grades and no need for specially designed instruction at any point during his school career.


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In June 2007, the CT DOE started the process of revising the state special education regulations, and circulated its proposals for public comment.  Based on the responses, the Department decided to revise its proposal and restart the review process.  A new draft has emerged, dated February 3, 2010.  According to the accompanying memorandum from Commissioner McQuillan, a new public comment period will follow.  So, what’s in the new draft that might be of interest to LEA’s in Connecticut?  For the most part, the new draft more closely tracks the IDEA requirements and narrows the differences between state and federal regulatory requirements.  But there are some significant differences and changes from the earlier draft.


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OCR’s guidance letter issued October 17, 2008 In Re: Report Cards and Transcripts for Students with Disabilities, 108 LRP 60114 (OCR 2008) clarifies that references to special education services received by a student are acceptable on report cards intended for parent use in measuring student progress, but not acceptable on transcripts that may be disclosed to employers and post-secondary institutions.


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In a decision filed December 8, 2009, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon issued a ruling in the case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and back on the issue of whether a school district could be liable for tuition reimbursement to a private school in a case where the student had never before received special education services from the public school district.  In Forest Grove School District v. T.A., 129 S.Ct. 2484 (2009), the Supreme Court held that the IDEA does not pose a categorical bar to such reimbursement. On remand for a determination of whether the hearing officer’s reimbursement order should stand, the United States District court reversed, denying reimbursement to the parents on equitable grounds.


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In a report issued January 13, 2010, the Attorney General’s office recommended "as a first step toward full licensure through the Department of Public Health" that the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature support one of three options for licensure or certification of behavior analysts operating within Connecticut school districts.  According to the AG’s Office recommendation, any one of the three options would apply to providers of behavior analysis for all students with special education needs, not just those with autism spectrum disorders.  The three options are as follows:

(1) Licensure of behavior analysts through the Department of Public Health;

(2) certification and oversight through the Department of Education of behavior analysts and/or behavior analyst specialty certification for existing licensed school professionals; or

(3) statutorily require local boards of education to hire only behavior analysts who are certified by a national board such as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board or who, in their scope of professional practice, may engage in behavior analysis, such as school psychologists.


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In a new decision issued October 9, 2009, T.Y. v. New York City Dept. of Education, 109 LRP 63646 (2d Cir. 2009), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is not a procedural violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the IEP not to name a specific school that is recommended for a child with special education needs.  Departing from the 4th Circuit view on this issue in a case decided in 2007, the 2nd Circuit ruled that the IDEA provision requiring IEP’s to include the anticipated location of a child’s services does not mean that the IEP must name a specific school, just a general type of educational program.


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The Supreme Court ruling in the Forest Grove School District v. T.A. case was released this week.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see this ruling as changing much of anything in the world of special education disputes, at least as far as Connecticut is concerned.  Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) continues to allow courts to award reimbursement of tuition in unilateral placement cases if they determine that the school district failed to provide FAPE, even if the student has not previously received special education services from the school district.  The Supreme Court seemed offended that the school district could evaluate a child, find the child not eligible for services, fail to provide services, and then benefit from that failure by having the courts deny reimbursement for the parent’s unilateral private school placement.  Is this really a surprise to anyone?


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