The Hearing officer was presented with two separate and different plans for providing an education for the Student. In arriving at his decision, he did not decide between these competing plans. He found that task would have been difficult if not impossible, partly because of the lack of research on Rett Syndrome. He found instead that the law required him only to decide whether or not the plan put forth by the School District would be reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit to the Student. In other words, the question regarding the standard was whether there was a preponderance of evidence that the program the School District offered (a) would provide an educational benefit for the student, or (b) would be reasonably calculated to provide an educational benefit to the Student. The Hearing Officer decided that because of the difficulty in deciding which program was better, the Parents' or the School District's, the decision would be made on the basis of whether the School District's program was reasonably calculated to provide the educational benefit. He decided that the School District's program reflected a careful and competent analysis that included reasonable effort to obtain information to design a program that would benefit the Student. The School District took into account information from a number of sources and used the services of an outside consultant that was knowledgeable about Rett. In addition, the professionals which the School District employed had solid professional credentials and had worked with the Student for several years.
The Hearing Officer also noted that the Parents' major objection to the program of the School District was the inadequate, in their opinion, opportunity for interaction between the Student and her peers. All of the other students in the ELS class where the Student might be placed would also have severe communication and cognitive disabilities. The Parents contention was that this would not provide a social environment for the Student. The School District disputed this, pointing out that the Student would interact with non-disabled students during lunchtime and on school field trips, and could also be mainstreamed into regular classes when appropriate. The School District program also included a provision for non-disabled students to visit the ELS classroom on a volunteer basis. The Hearing Officer concluded that the objections of the parents did have some merit, and that the School District had not completely addressed those concerns. However, the Hearing Officer concluded that it was not appropriate to hold the School District to a standard that would not be possible to meet. He pointed out that there was a lack of any research studies on the effectiveness of different approaches in the classroom to stimulating the communication and cognitive abilities of students afflicted with Rett Syndrome. The Hearing Officer admitted that this raised unsettling questions regarding whether any placement for the Student would be effective in promoting educational progress for the Student. In spite of this, the Hearing Officer concluded that the School District had made a reasonable effort to develop a program for the Student that met the standards under the IDEA to propose an appropriate placement for the Student.
In determining what would be the least restrictive environment (LRE) for the Student, the Hearing Officer noted that both the Parents and the School District agreed that an inappropriate placement by definition could not qualify as the LRE. The question was which program was appropriate, the Parents' or the School District's. To support its position regarding the LRE, the School District presented evidence that the Student has not benefited from the regular educational placement in the critical areas of communication and cognitive abilities. While admitting that the Student's regular educational placement had provided her with opportunities for interaction with non-disabled students, the School District maintained that this interaction did not justify the Student's regular educational placement given the placement's lack of success in the areas of communication and cognitive abilities.
The Parents maintained that the determination of the Student's LRE should not be judged by the lack of success, according to the School District, of the current educational placement because of the serious deficiencies in the current program. The Parent's position, according to the Hearing Officer, also was that the Student had achieved some success in the current educational placement. The Parents stated that the School District had downplayed the Student's successes and exaggerated the Student's failures. The Parents believed that one of the reasons for the lack of progress in certain areas was due to the School District's refusal to work with the Parent's private providers of educational services. The Parents maintained that this refusal to incorporate the Parent's private providers was one of the major deficiencies in the School District's ELS program.
The Hearing Officer made his decision regarding whether the educational placement was appropriate based upon the extent that it reflected a careful and competent analysis which included reasonable efforts to construct an appropriate program for the Student by obtaining all relevant information. This was the basis for his standard of justification to accept the School District's position that the regular educational placement would not be appropriate for the Student. The Hearing Officer referred to 20 USC 1412(a)(5) which requires that a school district educate disabled students in the LRE, and states that "to the maximum extent appropriate children with educational disabilities shall be educated with non-disabled children." The key to this passage is the interpretation of the word appropriate. This was left to the Hearing Officer and he determined that the School District based its decision of the appropriateness of the program for the Student upon careful and competent analysis, including reasonable efforts to obtain relevant information.
The Hearing Officer also considered the Parents allegations that the School District had failed to meet statutory and regulatory timelines required under the IDEA. He did not consider that these procedural violations had any bearing upon the findings or relief that the Parents had requested. The Hearing Officer concluded that the ELS program designed by the School District was reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit to the Student, and that the decisions made by the School District in arriving at this program reflect a careful and competent analysis which included…