Zatopa&Stephens : Case Study : Non-Profit Corporations
Zatopa & Siegel, Attorneys at Law

Case Involving a child with a mental illness
Joseph is a 15 year old with a long history of academic difficulties. By his third grade year in the public schools, Joseph was determined eligible for special education services due to his learning disabilities.

By the time Joseph was nearing the end of his fifth grade year, his parents decided to place him in a NPS for learning disabled students, due to his lack of progress and the District's lack of an appropriate program for Joseph. For the sixth through the eighth grades, Joseph attended a private school at his parents' expense. Yet he had increasing difficulties with attention and, consequently, a depressed mood.

For his freshman year, his parents placed Joseph in a parochial high school. Joseph struggled there; he had attentional issues, made poor choices in friends and was using drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. At the end of October, 2005, Joseph stole a wallet from another student but gave it back when confronted by the student. Joseph was asked to leave the private high school as a result of the theft.

In November of Joseph's freshman year, he began attending a public high school. When his parents asked about special education services for Joseph, they were informed that Joseph would not receive any until he had undergone an assessment. Almost immediately after enrolling in the public high school, Joseph got into trouble and he was found doing graffiti in one of the school's bathrooms.

At home, Joseph was not complying with his parents' rules. On one occasion in late November, he ran away from home for two full days. In early December, Joseph underwent an independent assessment at a private hospital. As a result, Joseph was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and Learning Disorder, NOS. For his first semester grades, Joseph received one C, one C-, one D and three F's. Despite Joseph's previous eligibility for special education services and reports from his teachers that Joseph was performing poorly, as well as the parents' request for special education services when Joseph re­entered the District, Joseph received no support from the District.

During the winter break, Joseph had arrived home one night so drunk that he was unable to walk. On another occasion in December, Joseph was caught trying to shoplift some beer; his parents, rather than the police, were called. Joseph continued to engage in other risky behavior (i.e. petty theft, drug use and exhibiting poor judgment in his choice of friends) and his parents felt that they could no longer keep Joseph safe at home. Therefore, they placed Joseph at a wilderness program in December.

In January, our office requested concurrent assessments from the District and Mental Health to consider special education services for Joseph. By February, Joseph had completed the wilderness program. Because he needed further residential therapeutic services, his parents placed him in a residential program at their own expense in late February, at a cost of $10,000 per month.

In May, 2006, Mental Health conducted an assessment of Joseph. On June 2, an IEP meeting was convened. The District determined that Joseph was eligible for services as a learning disabled student. Despite Joseph's history of depression and inappropriate behaviors, a diagnosis of depression from the clinical staff at California Pacific Medical Center and San Francisco Community Behavioral Health's conclusion that Joseph demonstrated "depressive symptoms", the District did not determine Joseph eligible as an emotionally disturbed student. Rather the District and Mental Health offered Joseph placement in a Special Day Class with learning disabled students and outpatient therapy services.

Our office filed for due process. We obtained a settlement for the parents, which included full coverage of the residential placement from June, 2006. As Joseph remained in placement at the residential facility for almost two years, the monetary value of the settlement to our clients was in excess of $150,000.

Case involving a child with a learning disability
Richard was 10, had difficulty with reading comprehension, spelling, and reversed his letters. These difficulties were less apparent when he was 5 and 6 but as school became more complicated he was falling further behind. In addition he was beginning to act up. The school had provided some counseling, but did not agree that Richard qualified for special services. After speaking over the phone, reviewing material, and meeting with Richard’s parents, we recommended the following:

1. That the family make a formal request to the school for a full assessment and determination of his eligibility for special education.

2. That the family should consider an independent assessment (outside of the school) to compare with the school’s and in case additional support information is needed.
Once the assessments were completed, we advised the parents on how they could attend the IEP meeting themselves. We told the parents to save those resources in case there were any disagreements at the IEP meeting.

The school agreed that Richard qualified for special education as a learning disabled child but only offered classroom adjustments (moved his seat, offered a slot in the after-school homework club). The family’s assessment stated that he needed to work 1:1 with an aide (90 minutes per day), using a multi-sensory approach to work on basic cognitive skills. The school did not agree at the IEP meeting about this.

Our office then wrote the district a letter, noting the strong support in the family’s assessment for the 1:1 aide and the school’s assessment that Richard was 2 grades behind in basic skills and might fall even further behind. There was no change in the district’s position.
We then met in mediation. The mediator found our evidence persuasive and in private session told the school they would likely lose at a hearing and therefore have to pay for the 1:1 aide and also reimburse the family for their attorney fees.

The school agreed and offered 1 hour a day (as opposed to 90 minutes) of a 1:1 aide and agreed to pay for 50% of the family’s attorney’s fees and reimburse the family for their independent assessment. While we advised the family that we would likely get the full 90 minutes and 100% of the attorney’s fees if we went to hearing, there was also a chance that the matter would turn out differently and therefore the offer seemed a good one, particularly when we added to the mediation agreement that the parties would meet in 2 months and if Richard had not made any progress, the school would add another 30 minutes a day of the 1:1 aide.

Case involving a section 504 plan
Sarah had some difficulties with language, specifically in articulating certain letters and sounds. She did not qualify for special education services under IDEA and her parents decided not to pursue that any further. Nonetheless she still had difficulty in school, particularly in social situations in class, where some students would make fun of her. In addition this seemed to have some secondary impact on her reading skills, particularly when she read out loud for practice.
We requested a section 504 meeting with the school district at which point the district agreed to see if Sarah qualified under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Since the eligibility requirements are different than under IDEA, Sarah qualified under 504. The family then attended what is called a 504 plan meeting with the school. At that meeting the district offered a school aide to work with Sarah 1 hour week on our out-loud reading. Sarah’s parents requested in addition 2 hours a week of speech therapy so Sarah could work on those sounds that gave her some difficulty. The district refused.

We then contacted the district, called for another 504 meeting. We had the family secure an outside speech and language assessment, which concluded that Sarah needed speech therapy in order to address her language needs. We submitted the report to the district and it agreed to provide the speech therapy.

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