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CORCHADO v. BOARD OF EDUC.

February 18, 2000

BETH CORCHADO, ON BEHALF OF HER SON, SADRACH CORCHADO, PLAINTIFF,
V.
BOARD OF EDUCATION, ROCHESTER CITY, SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Feldman, United States Magistrate Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

Preliminary Statement

This is an action brought by plaintiff, Beth Corchado, on behalf of her son, Sadrach Corchado, (Sadrach) pursuant to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., seeking review of a denial of educational benefits. The sole issue before this Court is whether Sadrach, a fourth grade student attending public school in the City of Rochester, qualifies for special education benefits under IDEA. The defendant determined that Sadrach did not qualify for benefits under IDEA and, on administrative review, an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) and a State Review Officer (SRO) agreed. For the reasons that follow, I find that Sadrach does qualify for IDEA benefits and, therefore, direct the defendant to develop and implement an individualized educational plan (IEP) for Sadrach pursuant to the IDEA.

Factual Summary

The facts, as set forth in a detailed administrative record, are for the most part undisputed. Sadrach is a ten year old fourth grader who attends public School # 33 in the City of Rochester. Born in Puerto Rico after only eight months of gestation, Sadrach suffers from multiple and complex medical difficulties. The SRO summarized briefly Sadrach's medical history in his decision affirming the denial of IDEA benefits:

[Sadrach] was born in Puerto Rico and has reportedly had a life long seizure disorder, which may have been the combination of congenital measles and birth anoxia. A pediatric neurologist who examined the boy in November, 1994 reported that the child also has an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with aggressive tendencies, a psychomotor delay, mild asthma and learning disabilities with possible mental retardation. He further reported that the child also had a tremor in his bilateral upper extremities. The pediatric neurologist expressed concern that the medication to control the child's seizure disorder was having a significant detrimental effect on his ADHD, and recommended a different combination of medications. The result of an EEG conducted during the examination were consistent with a tendency toward a focal seizure disorder. A second neurologist, who saw the boy in February, 1996, opined that he appeared to have a partial complex seizure disorder with secondary generalization.

In addition to his seizure disorder, tremors, and ADHD, the SRO also summarized Sadrach's medical history with respect to observed problems with the child's speech and language development:

In a speech/language evaluation conducted on May 23, 1995, the speech language pathologist noted that Spanish was the dominant language spoken in the home, but that the child was considered to be bilingual. The child received scores from one to three years below his chronological age on all tests of his expressive and receptive communication skills.

The medical record also confirms that Sadrach's language skills are complicated by the fact that he speaks with a lisp and stutters. In addition, Sadrach suffers from auditory deficiencies. As described in the SRO's decision, Sadrach was evaluated by a City School District audiologist in early 1996. "The audiologist indicated that the child had a fluctuating hearing loss which was expected to cause hearing difficulties in instructional situations." Although Sadrach completed first grade in 1996, he periodically needed home and hospital tutoring "because seizures and asthma prevented him from attending school."

Sadrach returned to school in September, 1996, to commence second grade. Due to academic and health related difficulties, Sadrach repeated the second grade in the 1997-1998 school year. In March of 1998, while Sadrach was repeating second grade, his mother completed a special education referral request seeking special education services for her son. Her request was referred to, and evaluated by, the school district's "Pupil Personnel Services Team" (PPST) who found that "Sadrach could be classified as a student with a `Other Health Impairment,'" thus making him eligible for special education benefits. The PPST recommendation was referred to the district's Committee on Special Education ("CSE"). In May, 1998, the CSE rejected the PPST recommendation, finding that Sadrach had "made progress such that achievement is described as average for his grade placement" and that his noted medical problems "are not significantly impacting his overall progress."

Sadrach's mother decided to obtain an independent medical evaluation from the Genesee Developmental Unit ("GDU") at the Genesee Hospital. The GDU evaluation team was supervised by Dr. Miriam Halpern, a developmental pediatrician with the GDU. Dr. Halpern obtained her undergraduate degree from University of Michigan and her medical degree from the University of Rochester Medical School. She completed a pediatric residency at Oakland Children's Hospital and at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Dr. Halpern also completed a fellowship in developmental pediatrics at Strong Memorial and worked for five years as pediatrician at the Anthony Jordan Health Center, an inner-city HMO in Rochester.

As case manager for Sadrach, Dr Halpern herself conducted a neuro-developmental evaluation to determine what medical conditions Sadrach had. Dr. Halpern then referred Sadrach to other team members at GDU for specialized testing and evaluation in the areas of communication and education/academics. Each team member prepared a comprehensive report documenting their testing results and evaluative recommendations. After each team member had evaluated and tested Sadrach, the team again conferenced and prepared a detailed "Team Evaluative Summary."

The GDU reports are part of the administrative record and will not be repeated at length herein. Suffice it to say that the team members found Sadrach to suffer from significant learning disorders and/or neurological problems. For example, during her examination of Sadrach, Dr. Halpern observed Sadrach to have a seizure lasting approximately 30 seconds involving "significant tremulousness" of his right hand. Dr. Halpern also noted that Sadrach has "articulation difficulties," "difficulty with fine motor coordination" and "visual tracking problems." The GDU Communication Assessment found Sadrach's "language comprehension and expression abilities" to be "markedly diminished." He exhibited "diminished ability to register auditory information in short term memory." Overall, the communications assessment found Sadrach to suffer from "significant language weakness" to the point where "his language system is not able to cope with the demands of the curriculum." The GDU "Educational Assessment" likewise found significant deficiencies. Testing found Sadrach to be reading at a beginning second grade level, his reading comprehension at an end of first grade level, math problem solving applications at an end of first grade level and math computation at a mid-second grade level. The evaluator concluded:

Sadrach's performance within this evaluation setting indicates the need for additional educational support for him to meet the demands of the third grade curriculum. He has repeated second grade; however, skills have not developed to an end of second grade level. He presents as a youngster who has significant language needs. . . . It is strongly suggested that Sadrach be referred to the Committee on Special Education to be identified as a youngster with special needs. Given his history of ...

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