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GPV Achieves Prevailing Party Status in Residential Placement Case

In a case examining important issues of behavior and residential placement, GPV attorneys Marcy Gutierrez and Tilman Heyer prevailed against all allegations raised by the parent against Modesto City Schools (“Modesto”), in OAH Case No. 2022070237 and 2022060890. See link to the complete decision, attached here: Decision Document.

In this case, the parents of a ninth-grade male student requested residential placement. The parent believed that extreme behaviors occurring in the home justified a highly restrictive setting. The student was previously placed in a resource support program, but as his behavior needs increased and school performance decreased, the IEP team met and proposed placement in a social-emotional special day class (“SDC”), called the Therapeutic Learning Classroom. In addition, the IEP team also proposed comprehensive wraparound supports, including supports for the parent and resources to address concerns in the family home.

The judge agreed with Modesto’s placement offer in the SDC, finding that the proposed placement and supports provided FAPE to the student, in the least restrictive setting. The judge found that the SDC program had, “classes [that] were smaller…a lower student-to-teacher ratio, and…staff trained to support students with social-functioning needs and resultant behavioral issues.” Additionally, the wraparound services in the home were “another layer of support for Student and his family” during a time of stress at home. The judge also noted the social benefits of mainstreaming for a student who had friends at school and could interact appropriately with peers in general education. Modesto successfully rebutted the testimony of the student’s private psychologist and psychiatrist, who were in favor of residential placement, with the judge finding that both were not knowledgeable about the student’s educational needs, and their opinions were unpersuasive. In sum, Modesto showed its placement offer was the least restrictive and reasonably calculated to provide FAPE to the student.

This case features an important example of how IEP teams can distinguish home concerns from school concerns in making least restrictive placement offers. In this case, the judge found that the impact of the home environment on the student’s school functioning was addressed by wraparound supports. The student’s disengagement at school was further addressed by changing placement from resource to special day class, and significantly increasing the percentage of time spent in special education. The judge specifically cited the social-emotional focus of the proposed classroom as one reason it was an appropriate placement.

It is always difficult to determine what effects home behaviors have on a student’s educational needs. As this case demonstrates, there are cases in which a student’s behavioral challenges at home may be appropriately addressed by keeping the student at a comprehensive site, by providing wraparound services for the family and a more supportive learning environment.

If you have any questions about this blog post, the decision, or LRE in general, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at GPV. You can also follow us on Facebook, Linkedin or Instagram.

This does not constitute legal advice. Each case must be analyzed on the specific facts of that case. GPV does not guarantee or predict the same or similar result in all cases. If you have questions about a particular fact pattern, please contact your legal counsel.

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