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Westhampton Beach schools to enroll special-needs teen

Left to right, attorney Thomas Killeen and parents

Left to right, attorney Thomas Killeen and parents Christian and Terrie Killoran of Remsenburg talk in Westhampton Beach High School on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, after a special hearing regarding school placement of the Killorans' son Aiden, 13, who has Down syndrome. Credit: Randee Daddona

The parents of a teenager with special needs who challenged the Westhampton Beach district’s refusal to enroll their son claimed a partial victory Thursday when school officials agreed to provide some services for the student, who also will be home-tutored until a fuller placement decision is reached.

The agreement means that Aiden Killoran, 13, who has Down syndrome, will be enrolled in Westhampton Beach Middle School and go there for such services as physical therapy, Christian and Terrie Killoran said.

The pact was reached during a break Thursday in a special hearing on Aiden’s placement, held at Westhampton Beach High School and presided over by state-appointed hearing officer Nancy Lederman. It was the second session held on the matter; the various parties first met on Monday.

The Killorans live in Remsenburg and their son has been attending Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School. The district, which has kindergarten through sixth grade, contracts with Westhampton Beach schools to educate its children in the intermediate and secondary grades. However, Westhampton Beach refers special education students who require the most services to Eastport-South Manor, under an arrangement with that district.

The Killorans have sought Aiden’s enrollment in Westhampton Beach Middle School so he could be with his peers from the Remsenburg-Speonk district, instead of going to the Eastport-South Manor system.

Under the agreement reached Thursday, Aiden will be home-tutored while a district special education committee determines his placement.

Christian Killoran said this means Aiden will be able to take the bus to middle school with his brother, who is starting seventh grade, after the Westhampton Beach district starts the 2016-17 academic year on Tuesday — the day before Aiden’s 14th birthday. For his special-needs son, he said, it is a step closer to being fully enrolled in the school.

“It’s not concluded,” the father said. “However, I am cautiously optimistic about the probability that my son will ultimately be integrated within the school district.”

Kevin Seaman, an attorney for the district, said a decision on further placement within the middle school will come after the special education committee makes its determination, which may require a month or longer.

Another hearing session will be held in October, if needed.

Earlier Thursday, Westhampton Beach superintendent Michael Radday testified that the district does not have a program to accommodate Aiden, who has limited intellectual abilities. Students with special needs at the middle school are on a Regents diploma track and study Common Core curriculum with modifications, he said.

“This is not about not wanting to educate Aiden Killoran. This is about what do we have in the district to meet his needs, and we don’t have a program that can meet his needs,” Radday said.

The Killorans initiated the due-process case to seek a decision from a state-appointed hearing officer after the May dismissal of a federal lawsuit they had brought against the Westhampton Beach district.

That lawsuit, filed in August 2015, requested 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 IEP, specifying his instructional needs.

It alleged 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, in dismissing the case, said 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.

Janet Achilich, a recently retired director of special education in the Remsenburg-Speonk district, testified Thursday about Aiden’s experience in that school district from the time he began as a kindergartner.

The Remsenburg-Speonk district created a special program for Aiden while he was an elementary student, she said, and she was involved in his placement when he graduated from the district. The initial recommendation was for placement in the Eastport-South Manor district, given that Westhampton Beach did not “appear to be cooperating with us to try to create anything,” Achilich said.

After the Killorans rejected Aiden’s placement in Eastport-South Manor, Achilich said, “It was our hope that Westhampton Beach would create a hybrid program for Aiden such as we had done.”

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