Saratoga County

Judge: Shen must pay student’s tuition

A federal judge this week ordered the Shenendehowa School District in Clifton Park to reimburse the
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A federal judge this week ordered the Shenendehowa School District in Clifton Park to reimburse the parents of a special education student for out-of-state tuition and legal fees.

H. Jeffrey Marcus, the attorney for the parents of the child, said tuition owed by the district amounts to about $40,000 plus about $30,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

But Michael Smith, director of special education for Shenendehowa, said the school board may decide to appeal, which the administration is recommending.

The youth, born in 1991, is identified only as A.V. in court papers.

According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn, both an impartial hearing officer and the review office of the State Education Department agreed with A.V.’s parents that the Hampshire Country School in New Hampshire was an appropriate placement for the child in the 2004-2005 school year.

But, Kahn wrote, the state review officer “did not favor reimbursement of the parents due to their failure to have A.V. attend ‘intake evaluation interviews’ during the last week of August 2004” at two other schools recommended by the district.

The judge said that the review officer “incorrectly characterized facts that were apparently central to his analysis.” Only one school, in Connecticut, had an interview with the parents scheduled by Shenendehowa. And that Aug. 27 interview would have taken place after the parents had placed at A.V. at Hampshire.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the Education Department, noted that the judge partly backed up the review officer, and characterized Kahn’s ruling on tuition reimbursement as “a disagreement, not a rebuke.”

Smith said the district contended that the Hampshire school was not an appropriate placement for A.V., or at least not one that taxpayers should have to pay for. Despite the review officer’s ruling, Smith said, the Hampshire school was not approved by the Education Department for special education students, and the district did not believe that the school could meet A.V.’s special education needs.

Kahn said A.V. received diagnoses including “pervasive developmental disorder,” and was described as “requiring constant adult support to help him master basic classroom survival skills. … In the fall of 2003, A.V. began to display escalating inappropriate classroom behaviors in school, several of which were severe enough to warrant out-of-school suspensions.”

The parents on Nov. 23, 2003, suggested out-of-district placement, and the district agreed to look into that. A neuropsychologist, Kahn wrote, “recommended that A.V. not be placed in an environment for ‘children with primary externalizing behavior problems or emotional disturbance,’ as such a placement would be inappropriate and contrary to A.V.’s best interest.”

Smith said parents can send their children to any school they want, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers should necessarily have to pay for it.

Kahn found Shenendehowa had failed to provide A.V. with “a free and appropriate public education.” He agreed with the hearing and review officers that Hampshire was an appropriate placement, rejecting the district’s position.

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