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K.M. v. Manhasset Union Free School and District

April 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Platt, District Judge.



Before the Court is a Complaint brought pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A) to appeal the decision of a State Review Officer of the State Education Department. For the following reasons, the decision of the State Review Officer is affirmed in all respects.


I. Factual Background

Plaintiff, K.M., brings this suit on behalf of her daughter, A.M., a former student at Defendant, Manhasset Union Free School District ("Defendant" or "District"). Plaintiff claims that A.M. was improperly denied due process and a free and appropriate public education (a "FAPE") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §1400, et seq. and 34 C.F.R. Part 300, et seq. ("IDEA"), New York State Education Law §§ 4401, 4404, and 4407, and the Constitution of the State of New York, Art. 11, §1. Plaintiff claims that A.M. was improperly classified as "Multiply Disabled" rather than "Learning Disabled" ("LD"). Plaintiff alleges that this improper classification prevented A.M. from receiving a FAPE, led to emotional distress, caused K.M. to incur out of pocket expenses for A.M., and impaired A.M.'s educational development. (Pl.'s Mem. at 1-2). K.M. also claims that A.M. demonstrated slow writing speed and attention problems as early as kindergarten but that these issues were not addressed by special education professionals until A.M. was in the eighth grade. (Pl.'s Mem. at 3).

In May of 2000, when A.M. was in the eighth grade, Plaintiff privately arranged for a neuropsychological evaluation of A.M. administered by Paula Zuffante, Ph.D., at the Schneider Children's Hospital (the "Schneider report"). (Def.'s Exh. 3).*fn1 K.M. arranged for the private testing because she was worried about A.M.'s declining grades and because the Middle School's psychologist, Mrs. Sternberg, refused to test A.M. as she was not failing any of her classes. (Tr. at 601, 625-29). Although A.M. did seem to have some difficulty with her course work in the first quarter of eighth grade, by the end of that school year, her grades had improved, and she had earned a final grade of an A in almost half of her classes. (Def.'s Exh. 12).

According to the Schneider report (Def.'s Exh. 3), A.M.'s verbal intellectual abilities were found to be Superior to Very Superior; her nonverbal intellectual abilities were estimated to be in the High Average to Superior range; and her academic abilities were in the Very Superior range. A.M. was described as having below average idea development and descriptive detail in her written work, forgetting to turn in assignments, procrastinating, having anxiety over assignments, and avoiding homework. In addition to assessing A.M.'s academic and intellectual abilities, the examiner concluded that A.M. was experiencing depression, anxiety, social alienation, and a lack of support from adults and peers. The Schneider report suggested that A.M.'s anxiety may have been negatively impacting her academic performance and that A.M. had consistently demonstrated a pattern of being well controlled at school and impulsive and aggressive at home. A.M. reported numerous fights with her mother, including one in which she threatened to cut herself and another in which the police had to be called. The Schneider report concluded that A.M.'s behavioral patterns did not warrant the diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ("ADHD") in light of her anxiety and depression. It also suggested that the Committee on Special Education ("CSE") review the Schneider report and create an Individual Education Program ("IEP") to best meet A.M.'s needs, as she had not performed up to her academic abilities and required additional support from within the school. (Def.'s Exh. 3).

In the Spring of 2000, K.M. scheduled a meeting with A.M.'s guidance counselor, the High School Principal, and the Middle School Principal to discuss the Schneider report and to address K.M.'s growing concerns for her daughter's future in high school. The results of the Schneider report were discussed, and it was agreed that A.M.'s ninth grade teachers would periodically send progress reports home to K.M. (Tr. at 328; Def.'s Exhs. 10,11 and 30).

During the summer between eighth and ninth grade, K.M. sent A.M. to a private program in New Hampshire to improve her organizational and time management skills and generally prepare her for the ninth grade. (Tr. at 630-31). A.M. attended this program without consultation with or support from the District. (Tr. at 631).

In January of 2001, Plaintiff again complained to the District that A.M. was not doing well in school. A.M.'s guidance counselor, Jane Grappone ("Grappone"), suggested that A.M. attend a general education Writing Center and informed K.M. that she could request a CSE referral and further evaluations through the Special Education Office if she desired. (Tr. at 335-36).

In her ninth grade year, A.M. was enrolled in honors math and biology and received above average grades in both. A.M. received all A's and B's with the exception of C's in French and physical education. The majority of her teachers' comments were positive. (Def.'s Exh. 13).

In May of 2001, Grappone and Dr. Donald Lee ("Dr. Lee"), the school psychologist for the high school, met with K.M. after she again expressed concern for her daughter's declining grades, continued behavioral and emotional difficulties, and recent hospitalization for a suicide attempt, which K.M. insisted was merely an attempt to scare K.M. and not an "actual" suicide attempt. (Tr. at 136-38). Dr. Lee stated that A.M.'s problems in school were emotionally based and that she should be classified as "Emotionally Disturbed" or "ED," as the Schneider report's findings suggested. K.M. objected to the ED classification. Dr. Lee further explained the procedure for requesting evaluations and referrals to the CSE. (Tr. at 341-42). Also during this meeting, K.M. stated that she was afraid to allow A.M. to be on medication as she did not want to have pills around the house. (Tr. at 333-34).

After Dr. Lee's meeting with K.M., he scheduled a meeting with A.M. Following that meeting in the Spring of 2001, Dr. Lee reported that there was no consistency between what K.M. had stated and what A.M. had told him when he met with her privately. (Tr. at 138). A.M. indicated to Dr. Lee that she did not feel overwhelmed in school, although she did have some difficulty with writing. In fact, A.M. did not describe academics as a problem at all. (Tr. at 139). A.M. stated in this meeting that the pressure from her mother at home was relentless and unbearable. (Tr. at 140).

Following her meeting with Dr. Lee, K.M. referred A.M. to the CSE for evaluation in an effort to have her classified as Speech and Language Impaired ("SLI"). K.M. presented a private speech and language evaluation by Renee Toueg ("Toueg"), a speech and language pathologist. (Def.'s Exh. 4). Toueg's report declared A.M. to be within the average range for her age level in both expressive and receptive language. (Def.'s Exh. 4). The only test on which A.M. scored below average was the rapid digits naming test, which examines one's ability to retrieve phonological information from long term memory within a designated time span. (Def.'s Exh. 4). Toueg recommended that A.M. receive orthographic language therapy to improve her ability to copy information.

At K.M.'s request, the CSE convened in early September of 2001 to evaluate A.M. and to address K.M.'s request for an SLI classification. At this CSE meeting, Margaret Blair ("Blair"), the District Coordinator for Special Education, found that the private speech and language evaluation conducted by Toueg indicated that A.M. was within the average to high average levels for verbal performance. (Tr. at 43). Blair attempted to direct the focus of the CSE meeting to the emotional issues highlighted in the Schneider report but K.M. refused to address these issues. (Def.'s Exh. 9). K.M. then determined that the psychological examination she received for A.M. in the year 2000 was inaccurate and stated that she would secure an ...

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