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SEC Aids Gifted Student With Psychiatric Disabilities

This article appeared in the Fall 2009 CLINIC NEWS.

The Special Education Clinic (SEC) successfully obtained accommodations and educational services for P.H., a 17-year-old academically gifted student who was unable to attend school due to a psychiatric disorder. Rather than respond to the parent’s numerous requests for services, the public school district sought to issue P.H. a high school diploma and thereby force her to graduate.

P.H. had attended public school in the district from kindergarten to eighth grade. During ninth and tenth grades, she attended an exclusive, private high school in Connecticut on scholarship from a foundation offering educational opportunities to gifted students from poor urban areas. While in private school, P.H. began to experience anxiety attacks and attempted suicide. As a result, P.H.’s mother re-enrolled her into the public school district, where she was accepted into a magnet school for gifted and talented students.

P.H. successfully completed 11th grade after her mother obtained psychiatric counseling and medication management for her. However, at the start of senior year, P.H. began to experience significant depression, suicidal thoughts, and school phobia, and missed a substantial portion of the school year. Although P.H. was enrolled in several Advanced Placement and Honors classes, her teachers were never notified of her ongoing medical condition or that her academic program should be modified. As a result, P.H. did not complete the first marking period. She was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital when her condition worsened shortly thereafter. P.H. remained hospitalized for several months; upon exiting the inpatient program, she continued in the partial treatment program for the remainder of the school year. P.H. received some educational services through the hospital; however, she did not complete the courses in which she initially was enrolled at the public high school.

Hospital personnel recommended a private school placement for the rest of the school year in a day program for academically gifted students with emotional and psychiatric disorders. The district rejected the recommendation and refused to meet to discuss the accommodations she required. Without necessary accommodations, P.H. received incompletes and an “F” as final grades for the year. Since P.H. still had sufficient credits to graduate, the district sought to give her a diploma and contended that she was not eligible for special education due to her previous high academic performance, advanced proficiency on the High School Proficiency Test and her performance on the SAT, which exceeded 2100.

When the district refused to provide P.H. another year of academic education and to remove the failing and incomplete grades from her transcript, the SEC filed applications for emergent relief and due process. After hearing testimony, the Administrative Law Judge agreed with the parent and prohibited the school district from graduating P.H. She also ordered the district to hold a meeting to determine the student’s eligibility for supports and services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

After the hearing, the school district held meetings to determine P.H.’s eligibility. The district ultimately determined that P.H. was eligible for Section 504 services and developed a plan to accommodate her psychiatric disabilities which included a modified schedule, counseling, and coordination of outpatient services with her schooling. The school district further agreed to remove all incomplete and failing grades from P.H.’s transcript and provide transition services for at least one year after graduation to ensure that P.H. has the opportunity to enroll in a college of her choice.