The question of who decides where a child with special needs is educated was the focus of opening statements and testimony at a Monday hearing in Westhampton Beach on placement of a teenager with Down syndrome.
The parents of Aiden Killoran, 13, have said their son should be enrolled in Westhampton Beach Middle School like his peers from the Remsenburg-Speonk district, where he has gone to elementary school, instead of being referred to the Eastport-South Manor district.
Representatives for Westhampton Beach schools, however, said Monday that their district is not prepared to handle the needs of a child with Aiden’s level of disability within their existing classes.
“Simply, we do not have a program that would come close to satisfy the needs of the student,” said Kevin Seaman, an attorney representing the Westhampton Beach school district.
This particular student, Seaman said during his opening statement, is dealing with lessons “of first-grade level” that would be a mismatch for the district’s special education classes of students seeking Regents diplomas.
“Westhampton Beach hasn’t found a need to create such a program . . . because we haven’t had the student profile that warrants that kind of program” and the district is under no obligation “to create a program that does not exist,” Seaman said.
Christian and Terrie Killoran filed a federal lawsuit in August 2015 requesting that the court “mandate Westhampton Beach Union Free School District to admit” their son as a seventh-grade student and in accordance with an individualized education plan, or IED, specifying his instructional needs.
The suit alleged that the district “has steadfastly refused to accept alternate assessment children” needing special services “in total disregard of the mandate of the IDEIA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act] to educate children in the Least Restrictive Environment.”
U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt dismissed the case in May, saying the plaintiffs had “failed to exhaust their claims” before the district and the state. He concluded that “the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action” unless that administrative review had taken place.
The Killorans live in Remsenburg and their son has been attending Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School there. That district has a contract with Westhampton Beach schools to educate its children in the intermediate and secondary school years. However, Westhampton Beach refers the special education students needing the most services to Eastport-South Manor, under an arrangement with that district.
The Killorans initiated the latest due process case to seek a decision from an impartial hearing officer from the state. They say their son should be able to rejoin his classmates in the eighth grade at Westhampton Beach Middle School.
Nancy Lederman presided as hearing officer Monday at Westhampton Beach High School before an audience of more than 20 people, many there in support of the Killorans.
Christian Killoran, who is a lawyer, repeated his call for Westhampton Beach to offer his child the education he needs in-house, stating that doing otherwise amounts to segregation and discrimination.
“This district has never in its entire history provided for the post-elementary education of an alternately-assessed special education student. Ever,” he said. “And there’s no amount of smoke and mirrors that can hide that fact.”
Lisa Hutchinson, an attorney representing Remsenburg-Speonk, said the hearing should clarify where the child is enrolled, which entity makes determinations on his special education placement and what program recommendations should be made. She sided with the parents’ request for the teenager to go to the school that her district contracts with for secondary education.
“We do not believe valid and sufficient reasons exist to deny the child enrollment in Westhampton Beach,” Hutchinson said.
The district doesn’t need “all the myriad of special education programs” to enroll Aiden Killoran, just the ones to satisfy its students’ needs, she said.
The hearing lasted for about five hours, with much of that time spent in questioning of Mary Ann Ambrosini, director of pupil personnel at Westhampton Beach and among the administrators overseeing special education programs. She said the district sends “approximately 23 students” to other schools and special-ed programs out-of-district.
She said the Killorans’ son would require “a life skills program” outside stringent testing requirements and more support than the current special education classes of 15 students, a special-education teacher and an aide in current Westhampton Beach classes. He presents “intellectual disability” and “his functioning level is about kindergarten or first-grade level,” she said.
“If we have enough students to create a program . . . then we do that,” Ambrosini said. “If we have one student it would not benefit him. One student is not a class.”
The family and the two school districts in the hearing are expected to introduce more witnesses in hearings over coming days. The next session is scheduled Thursday.