New Rochelle Family Wins $90,000 Special Education Hearing Against Board of Education

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Ned Rauch of the Journal News is reporting that the City School District of New Rochelle has been ordered to pay $89,958.33 in tuition fees to reimburse the parents of a special needs student formerly enrolled at the Barnard School who placed their child in the Manhattan Children's Center, a school based on the Applied Behavior Analysis approach.

NEW ROCHELLE — School district officials say they will fight to overturn a recent ruling ordering the district to pay for the private education of a 6-year-old New Rochelle boy with autism. The ruling, issued last month by an impartial hearing officer, orders the district to cover the nearly $90,000 tuition the parents of Judah Creizman paid to the Manhattan Children's Center for the 2010-2011 school year. [READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE]

The mother of the child is quoted in the Journal News saying "Nobody's interested in doing what's right for my kid" and "The whole thing is a sham." and "The only thing they care about is the money.

The hearing officer in the case ruled that the district failed to provide the student with a "free and appropriate education" ("FAPE") as required under Federal law and must reimburse the parents. The district plans to appeal.

The district has the option to redress the basis for the adverse ruling next year and meet the FAPE standard going forward. If, however, the district were unable to meet this standard, New Rochelle would be required to pay the costs of an out-of-district placement up until the child graduates high school or age 21, whichever comes first. The Manhattan Children's Center is for children ages 3-12 so the child could be enrolled there for 6 more years at a cost of about $540,000 for a total of $630,000. The most common, lowest-cost option to the district for an out-of-district placements between ages 12-18 could be the BOCES program which would cost the district, at minimum, $60,000 or another $320,000. If the child remains until age 21 add another $180,000. All-in this child could end up costing the district over $1.1 mm. On an Net Present Value basis, at 5% interest, this is a cost of about $525,000 to the district.

There are three factors suggest the district will win this case on appeal.

First, the appeals process in New York State has been corrupt for years.

Second, if the district received a variance from New York State, they are permitted to have one additional child in a special education class, in this case 7 instead of 6. In New York State, special education class sizes and ratios vary depending on the needs of the child. Typical ratios are 6:1:2, 8:1:2 or 12:1:2, meaning either 6 or 8 or 12 pupils in the classroom, one teacher and two aides and/or assistants. An Special Education Assistant is higher level position than Special Education Aide. The position of Special Education Assistant is a step below a tenure track Special Education teacher, requiring a college degree and a license based on certified training in special education. A Special Education Aide is not required to have a college degree and no license is required. They are more like a helper to the teacher. It is rare that a pupil would be assigned a 1:1 "shadow", essentially a third Special Education Aide but entirely dedicated to one student.

Third, if the mother were really confident in her case she would have no reason to initiate or cooperate with an article in the Journal News, she would simply wait to win on appeal and collect her check. There is absolutely no way that the school district initiated the story and the Journal News rarely does a story that is not served up to them on a silver platter so it is reasonable to believe that the parents contacted the Journal News to tell their story and gain public sympathy.

Without knowing more about the case, and not applying it to these particular parents, it is quite common for affluent parents in New Rochelle to elect to place their child in a very expensive private school as a personal preference and then try to manufacture a case against the district and pressure them to settle in order to get the district (i.e. New Rochelle taxpayers) to subsidize the private school. Given the amounts of money involved it is always worth it for such parents to hire high priced lawyers and special education experts to chase this money. The district typically settles these cases, a fact known within affluent circles in New Rochelle thus inviting further trawling by other affluent parents looking for the public school system to subsidize their decision to place a child in a private school.

The district should win this case unless the district failed to obtain a waiver from New York State to place a 7th child in the classroom in which case that would be a very costly failure.

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