District Ordered to Pay for Student’s Placement in Residential Treatment

A District Was Ordered To Pay More Than $10,000 Per Month For A Student’s Placement In A Residential Treatment Facility

OAH Case no. 2018050306,
Santa Monica Unified School District

In December, 2018 we received a favorable decision following a hearing against the Santa Monica Unified School District in which we sought Student’s placement in a residential treatment center as well as reimbursement to her mother for costs she had incurred.  Student had a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Major Depressive Disorder and a history of mental health issues including self-harm, running away from home and engaging in risky behavior, resulting in four psychiatric hospitalizations. Student was not attending school regularly and was not benefitting from her education.  Her mother asked the District to fund placement for Student in a residential treatment center (RTC) as mother believed Student needed a highly structured educational and therapeutic program in order to make appropriate educational progress.

District denied this request and instead offered placement in its Off-Campus Learning Center (OCLC) as well as one hour per week of school-based counseling.   OCLC is an alternative placement program on the same campus as the District’s continuation high school.  The District alleged that any need the Student had for RTC was due to medical, social or emotional problems that were not related to her education.

Ultimately, out of fear for her safety and well being, Student’s mother had no choice but to privately place her in an RTC.  Such placement followed Student running away from home and subsequently being hospitalized on an involuntary psychiatric hold. Her treating psychiatrist recommended direct placement into an RTC.  Student’s mother followed that advice and placed her in an RTC at a cost of over $10,000 per day.  She asked the District to both assume ongoing payments as well as reimbursement for her costs. The District refused and continued to make the same offer of OCLC with one hour per week of counseling.

The District based its determination, in part, on an “educationally related intensive counseling” (ERICs) assessment it conducted to determine if Student needed more intensive counseling services.  The Judge found this assessor to be not credible: “Not only did Santa Monica-Malibu ignore the information provided by Student’s mental health professionals, they ignored the factors that skewed {assessor’s} recommendations.  Specifically, Student was in a residential setting where her academics and behaviors were subject to a controlled environment, and she was receiving intensive individual, group, and family therapy provided by a clinical therapist, not a school psychologist.”

The Judge held that Student had required and continued to require placement in an RTC.  She further found the District’s contentions that Student’s problems were caused by the home environment to lack credibility based on the evidence. The Judge ordered Santa Monica-Malibu to reimburse parent’s out of pocket costs and take over funding the RTC placement until Student graduated on June 30, 2019.

Read the full decision.

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