Teacher's Long-term abuse denied student FAPE resulting in 5 years of compensatory services

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In Fulton County School District, 112 LRP 1885 (SEA GA 02/01/12) an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)ruled that a Georgia school district denied a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a student with a disability because the district failed to stop a teacher's known, prolonged abuse of the student when he was in middle school and failed to inform his parents of the abuse. Although the student was already 19 at the time of the  decision, the ALJ ordered the school district to pay for his receipt of five years of private occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and supplementary aids and services.

The student had hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and a developmental delay. He received special education services and progressed reasonably well throughout elementary school. In 2006, when he was 13 and in middle school, he was placed in a classroom on a hall that only served students with intellectual disabilities.  It was in this classroom that he was abused by a particular classroom teacher. The teacher had been employed by the school district since 2002 and had been reported by a special education coordinator to have a short temper and for yanking and yelling at her students. It was recommended her contract not be renewed. Unfortunately, the middle school principal referred to the poor reference as merely a "personnel issue" and retained the abusive teacher.

Additionally, in 2004, the special education nurse reported the teacher for abusing students. She wrote a letter to the middle school principal stating that the teacher frequently hit  a particular student, had sprayed Lysol at a student and put her in the hallway after the student had passed gas. The nurse also reported that the teacher frequently called the students vulgar and profane names and she isolated students in a room across the hallway by themselves. Despite the nurse's report to the principal, the "teacher" continued in the classroom. The ALJ found that it was common knowledge that the teacher was abusing students on a daily basis and that other staff were intimidated by the principal and afraid they would lose their jobs if they continued reporting her abuse.

Regarding the student whose parents requested this hearing, the evidence showed that the "teacher", frustrated by the student's slow pace, had pushed him into lockers and down onto the concrete. At the end of the school day when the student was slow to pack up his book bag, the teacher would throw his book bag off his desk and tell him to get on the bus. All of the staff on this particular hall were aware of this teacher's abusive treatment. The ALJ noted that, perhaps the worst case of abuse, was when the teacher left the student alone in a windowless dark room and strapped to a Rifton chair. This occurred at least three times in the 2006 to 2007 school year. The student's parents became aware of the abuse of their child when he transitioned to high school and they were called by another parent whose child had been abused. Distrustful of the school district, the parents requested a non school district placement. When the district denied their request, the parents asked for a due process hearing.

 Evidence at the hearing showed that the student regressed while in high school and suffered from PTSD. Based on the evidence of prolonged abuse, the ALJ determined that the student had been denied a free appropriate public education. Moreover, the ALJ determined that the parents had procedural rights to be full informed relevant to their son's education and that the school district violated those rights. The failure of the school district to tell the parents of the abuse impeded their opportunity to participate in the IEP process. Thus, the failure to fully inform the parent of the abuse was a significant procedural violation that amounted to a denial of a free appropriate public education.

Finally, the ALJ determined that the parents deep distrust of the school district and their fear that a district school program would aggravate the student's PSTD, "doomed" any attempt to place the student in a district school. Thus, the ALJ ordered the school district to provide five school years of intensive, integrated, home and community-based instruction to compensate him for the five years during which he did not receive an appropriate education. It is noteworthy that, since the student is currently 19, the five years of compensatory services will include services beyond the student's 21st birthday. For additional background and CNN coverage of this case please see the CNN Schools of Thought website.