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Decision No. 13,161

Application of a STUDENT WITH A DISABILITY, by his parent, relating to the provision of educational services by the Poughkeepsie City School District.

Decision No. 13,161

(April 25, 1994)

Mid-Hudson Legal Services, attorneys for petitioner, RosaLee Charpentier, Esq., of counsel

Shaw & Silveira, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, David S. Shaw, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals respondent's refusal to arrange for a residential school placement for her son. Petitioner sought an interim order directing respondent to immediately place her son in a residential school. The order was granted and the appeal is now sustained.

At the time this appeal was brought, petitioner's son was 14 years old and classified emotionally disturbed by the committee on special education (CSE) of the Poughkeepsie City School District. On February 5, 1991, the child was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. The CSE did not convene until July 30, 1991 to recommend that the child be placed in a residential school commencing September 1991. On September 13, 1991, petitioner requested an impartial hearing to challenge what she characterized as the State Education Department's refusal to approve funding for her son's placement. Apparently, despite a second request, the hearing was never scheduled. By December 5, 1991, respondent had made 17 referrals to various approved residential schools and the student was rejected by 16 of them. It was not until mid-December that the CSE made any referrals to out-of-state schools. In the meantime, in late December, the child was transferred to another psychiatric facility in Pennsylvania. On January 30, 1992, seven months after the CSE's recommendation, petitioner requested that respondent's superintendent look into the CSE's failure to secure placement for her son. The superintendent responded in writing that he was satisfied that the CSE had taken all necessary steps to effectuate her son's placement "as soon as practicable under the law." On March 25, 1992, petitioner's attorney requested that the Department's Office for Special Education Services, Division of Program Monitoring, investigate the district's continuing delay in making any placement available. Although respondent admits that the child had still not been placed at the time the appeal was filed, it explains that the delay was due, in part, to the parent, the Department and the psychiatric facility where the child was hospitalized.

Although the record failed to establish whether petitioner or the hospital contributed to the delay, I issued an interim order directing respondent to take all steps necessary to secure, as soon as possible, an appropriate educational placement for this student. According to Department staff who investigated the matter, petitioner's son was placed in an approved residential school soon thereafter.

Although my issuance of the interim order resolved petitioner's complaint, this case raises important issues involving a school district's responsibility to plan for children temporarily housed in institutional settings. To assure that no child remains institutionalized any longer than is necessary, and that those children who are disabled continue to receive, upon their discharge, a free appropriate public education (FAPE), local school districts and their CSE's need to meet with parents and members of the treatment team well before a child's actual date of discharge. Since the date of a child's discharge is far too late to begin the process of educational planning to provide a timely placement, both Article 89 of the Education Law and '504 of the Rehabilitation Act compel early discharge planning.