• District Prevails On Appropriateness of Assessments, FAPE and Denial of Lindamood Bell and Fast Forward Services
  • August 27, 2003
  • Law Firm: Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, A Professional Corporation - Cerritos Office
  • On June 22, 2000, a California Special Education Hearing Officer ("H.O.") ruled in Encinitas Union School District v. T.F., that the District had appropriately assessed a student diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and provided him with a free, appropriate public Education ("FAPE") through the Learning Center, a District established program. The HO also found that the District was not required to fund Lindamood-Bell and FastForWord programs, based on the testimonies of Student's educators that Student had received an educational benefit through the Learning Center.

    In September 1997, the District referred Student, who was diagnosed with autism, to the California Diagnostic Center for a comprehensive educational assessment. The District incorporated the Diagnostic Center's findings into Student's school program. The District additionally obtained: an independent OT evaluation in January 1998; another educational assessment in February 1998; an adaptive technology assessment in early-mid 1999; and a follow-up evaluation by the Diagnostic Center in November 1999. Student's parents were satisfied with the assessments and program provided by the District until Student was placed at the Learning Center, a class for high functioning special education students who require an emphasis on social skills and pragmatic language development with mainstreaming opportunities, modifications, support and services appropriate for each individual student. By the end of the 1998-1999 school year, parents were dissatisfied with Student's progress. Parents and District could not agree upon a placement for the 1999-2000 school year. The District offered extended school year for 1998-1999, continuation of placement at the Learning Center for 1999-2000, APE, speech and language and OT services. During the 1999 winter break, Parents unilaterally removed Student from the Learning Center and placed him in a private school. Although Parents withdrew their demand for reimbursement for independent evaluations, the District continued to seek a due process determination on the appropriateness of its assessments and its offer of FAPE for the 1999-2000 school year.

    The Hearing Officer not only found that the initial 1997 Diagnostic Center evaluation was appropriate, she held that it alone constituted an appropriate evaluation that assessed Student in all areas of suspected disability. According to California Education Code § 56381(a) reassessments are required only once every three years absent extenuating circumstances. The HO held that the additional assessments voluntarily conducted by the District, although unnecessary, were also appropriately conducted and reported pursuant to the guidelines set up by California Education Code §§ 3630(e), 56327.

    In determining whether the Learning Center was an appropriate placement for the 1999-2000 school year, the HO relied heavily on District's witnesses' testimony regarding the structure and set up of the class and the progress made by Student while attending the class. It was the Respondent's experts' position that the District program was not adequately responding to Student's auditory processing deficit and not providing him with educational benefit. Respondent's experts felt that Student's auditory processing deficit could only be remediated through 1-3 hours of individual therapy by either the FastForWord, or Lindamood-Bell program, neither of which Student was receiving at the Learning Center. The HO held that the Learning Center was FAPE for the 1999-2000 school year and that the District was not required to provide Lindamood-Bell or FastForWord services. The HO reasoned that parents are not entitled to dictate the educational methodology and that the District adequately performed its obligation of FAPE by providing a placement that was reasonably calculated to provide Student some educational benefit. The Learning Center had provided Student and would continue to provide Student an educational benefit in the least restrictive environment.

    SIGNIFICANCE

    This decision is a crucial step towards reaffirmation of the school districts' ability to provide students a "basic floor of opportunity" without the assistance of private remediation methodologies such as FastForWord or Lindamood-Bell. If the student's unique needs are being met, and she/he is receiving an educational benefit in the least restrictive environment, the district has met its obligation of FAPE, regardless of the methodology utilized to meet the student's needs.

    1. Although the Learning Center teacher had been trained in the Lindamood-Bell reading program and utilized the LIPS program with Student as requested by parents, Ms. Lindamood testified that only her staff could provide reliable Lindamood-Bell therapy. The HO wholly rejected this theory. Moreover, the HO refused to accept experts' testimony that Lindamood-Bell and FastForWord were the sole ways to address Student's auditory processing needs.

    2. The HO noted "that a program that provides academic superiority does not trump the value of integration with nondisabled peers." Student was receiving significant social benefit from his participation in the regular education program to which he was 67% mainstreamed through the Learning Center placement.