Zatopa&Stephens : Case Study : Regional Centers
Zatopa & Siegel, Attorneys at Law
Our office was retained by the parents of an adolescent boy, Jamie, who was identified as emotionally disturbed under special education laws and was placed in a series of residential facilities. Jamie, however, was repetitively discharged from each facility due to increasingly aggressive behaviors toward other students. Some of Jamie’s behaviors were threatening and assaultive, others involved sexual threats.

As he was repeatedly discharged, Jamie was placed, pursuant to AB 3632, in more and more restrictive placements. As a result, Jamie’s parents obtained an outside assessment that concluded Jamie suffered from Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), a disorder associated with Autism.

As a result of this new diagnosis, the parents referred Jamie to the responsible Regional Center, which reviewed the records, including the new assessment, and concluded that Jamie was emotionally disturbed, and that even if he was suffering from PDD-NOS, this was not Autism, and therefore Jamie was not Regional Center eligible. This prevented Jamie from being placed in a facility that specialized in PDD spectrum disorders.

During this eligibility dispute, Jamie again acted out and was placed in Juvenile Hall, a clearly inappropriate placement.

Our office referred Jamie to a clinic that specializes in evaluating Autism spectrum disorders. After conducting the evaluation, the clinic concluded that Jamie was Autistic, had been misdiagnosed for years, and that his severe behaviors resulted from this misdiagnosis.

Following receipt and review of the clinic evaluation by the Regional Center, our office reached a settlement with the Regional Center, which found that Jamie was eligible for Regional Center services. The Regional Center then found an appropriate facility for Autistic individuals, and Jamie has successfully resided there ever since.

Our office was contacted by the parents of Ramona, who was an adolescent who suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that has similarities to Autism, but involves individuals with average intelligence. The Regional Center agreed that Ramona required a residential placement, but was unable to find one appropriate for her in California. The Regional Center informed the parents that they would place her on a waiting list for a new facility that might open, but gave the parents no timeline.

When Ramona’s parents contacted us, Ramona had already been wait-listed for a placement for over a year. Our office initiated a due process request on Ramona’s behalf against the Regional Center. In the informal conference, we began negotiating with the Regional Center to place Ramona in an out-of-state residential facility that specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome. The Regional Center is required to certify to the State Department of Developmental Services that no in-state placement is available and that the cost of the facility will not exceed a specific amount. Once approved by the State, the Regional Center can then do an out-of-state placement.

However, in order to fully fund the placement, the parents’ local school district needed to fund the education portion of the placement. Our office pursued due process with the district as well as the Regional Center. Our office ultimately obtained agreement with the Regional Center and the school district to jointly fund the education portion of the program. Approximately five months after our office was retained, Ramona was placed in the out-of-state placement.
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