Case Highlights Importance of School District Interdepartmental Communication

by Jocelyn Campbell

In Re: Student v. Boston Highlights Importance of Interdepartmental Communication and Immediate Action to Cure Procedural Errors

After having an opportunity to review In Re: Student v. Boston, BSEA #1702840, a recent decision by Hearing Officer Rosa I. Figueroa, Massachusetts Bureau of Special Education Appeals, November 3, 2016, it is clearly imperative for school districts, no matter their size or demographics, to assess and tighten their interdepartmental communication processes so as to ensure continuous and immediate communication between departments within a school system; and that if necessary, any corrective action by the district to cure defects should be immediate – resulting in delays (errors) which could be considered a di minimus violation.

The findings of fact by Hearing Officer Rosa I. Figueroa in Student v. Boston included the testimony by the Supervisor of Early Childhood in Boston that she was unaware of the email exchanges between Boston’s former attorney and the Parent’s attorney, which were concluded to have provided notice to the Boston Public Schools of the resident student’s registration for the Pre-K lottery, the parent’s assertion of a possible disability, and the request for an initial evaluation. Thus, the delay in the initial evaluation process under Child Find being completed for this student (consent, testing, and team meeting) was clearly the result of the communication breakdown between the departments (lawyer and early childhood) within the district.

It is important to highlight that because Boston took immediate action when they learned of a possible error and began to cure their procedural defects, by expediting the evaluations and meeting date, the final number of days that the Boston Public Schools was outside the timelines was reduced to four (4) days. And although finding that the Parent had met the required burden consistent with Schaffer v. Weast, 126 S.Ct. 528 (2005), as to her assertion of procedural violations, Hearing Officer Rosa I. Figueroa found that “Boston was well on its way to curing all defects and was only four school days short of meeting its forty-five day timeline for conducting evaluations and scheduling a Team meeting.” Hearing Officer Figueroa further found that the four-day delay, “although contrary to W.B. v. Matula, 67 F.3d. 484 (3rd Cir. 1995), appears to be a de minimus violation in terms of an outcome determinative standard.”

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of each school district to ensure ongoing interdepartmental communications to avoid breakdowns or miscommunications, take immediate corrective action when notified of a procedural error, and always consider the discussion of any compensatory services, if the student is determined to be eligible for special education services.

Finally, schools must consider conducting a 504 meeting to provide immediate accommodations when in receipt of an independent evaluation that documents a student’s disability.


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