11 August, 2018 08:11

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District Court Rules in Favor of Special Education Parents

On July 21, 2014, a U.S. District Court confirmed a previous decision issued by the Office of Administrative Law regarding Millburn School District’s failures with respect to an autistic child, raising concerns about this top-rated school district’s willingness to serve its most vulnerable students.

The Administrative Law decision was issued In December 2012, after an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) heard over 22 days of live testimony from 16 witnesses and evaluated over 80 pieces of evidence.  In her decision, the ALJ was very critical of several of Millburn’s special education professionals and its ABA program.

For example, the ALJ describes serious failures on the part of two of the district’s seasoned professionals who did not suspect autism even though they observed that the child had the same severe communication delays and maladaptive behaviors that are hallmarks of autism.

In addition, the ALJ criticized the school district’s ABA classrooms. ABA is an instructional approached proven effective for autistic children.  Relying on the opinions of two highly regarded autism experts, the ALJ determined that Millburn’s inadequate administration of its ABA program rendered the instruction ineffective (the child of the parents who sued was not in Millburn’s ABA program at the time the program was observed by experts, but other children with autism were in the program).

Millburn appealed the ALJ’s decision to the U.S. District Court, and on July 21, 2014, the District Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision in all respects.  Before siding entirely with the parents, the District Court considered the credibility attributed to the testimony provided by the school district’s professionals and the school district’s own documents in evidence, which did not support their testimony. The District Court’s 21-page decision can be found here.  The ALJ’s 87-page decision can be found here.

District Court Says Severe Discrepancy Cannot Be the Sole Criteria for SLD Classification

According to a decision issued by US District Court Judge Kevin McNulty, the Sparta School District committed a procedural error by relying exclusively on the “Severe Discrepancy” model in determining a student’s eligibility for special education services.

Parents of B.M. sued the Sparta Township Board of Ed (the “District”) after a 2009 decision by the District’s child study team (“CST”) that B.M. did not meet the eligibility criteria for a specific learning disability. In making its decision, the CST disregarded numerous assessments, evaluations, observations and professional recommendations that contained insight into B.M.’s persistent academic difficulties. Instead, citing District policy, the CST relied exclusively on a numerical comparison of standardized scores received on only 2 of the assessments, and determined that a “severe discrepancy” did not exists.

The NJ District Court held that, based on state and federal regulations promulgated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), severe discrepancy “may not be the sole determinant of whether a child has a SLD…Rather, a school must base its determination on all of its assessments of a child…and on careful, documented consideration of parent input, teacher input, test results, and other information concerning the child’s health and background.”

In formulating its opinion, the Court offered an excellent analysis of the eligibility determination process required under IDEA. The full opinion can be found here. Analysis of the eligibility process begins at the bottom of page 2.

Department of Justice Reaches Settlement with NJ School District over Service Animal Policies

The Delran Township School District will adopt a service animal policy and pay a $10,000 fine to the Complainant in order to resolve a Justice Department Investigation. The Complainant alleged that the school district violated the ADA by refusing to allow her son, a student with autism and encephalopathy, to have his service dog in school or at school-related activities. The Justice Department’s full findings of fact and the actions to be taken by the school district can be found here.

The Common Core Is Tough on Kids With Special Needs

Recommended by Carolee Adams at M-SPEC’s information meeting “What Will Common Core Mean for Your Child”

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