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In Re Special Ed. Placement of Walker

OPINION FILED JULY 1, 1982.

IN RE SPECIAL EDUCATION PLACEMENT OF STEVEN WALKER. — (STEVEN WALKER, A MINOR, BY JOYCE WALKER, HIS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

JOSEPH CRONIN, DIRECTOR OF THE ILLINOIS OFFICE OF EDUCATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MARJAN P. STANIEC, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Steven Walker, a resident of co-defendant Glenbrook High School District No. 225, was an emotionally handicapped child, and by virtue of his handicap he was entitled to "a free appropriate public education" under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. (1976)); section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794 (1976)); the education article of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. X, sec. 1); the handicapped children article of the Illinois School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 122, par. 14-1.01 et seq.); and the Rules and Regulations to Govern the Administration and Operation of Special Education in Illinois (Ill. Admin. Reg. 1979, art. I-XV) (hereinafter State Rules).

In June 1978, Steven's mother, Joyce Walker, dissatisfied with the recommendation of School District 225's multidisciplinary staff regarding Steven's educational placement and program for the following school year, requested an impartial due process hearing to challenge the recommendation.

On November 9, 1978, no due process hearing having been held, Mrs. Walker took the unilateral action of placing Steven at the Lakeside Children's Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The due process hearing was finally held on November 16, 1978; the hearing officer recommended that Steven be placed at Lakeside and that defendant School District 225 assume full financial responsibility as provided by law. District 225 appealed the hearing officer's decision to the Illinois Office of Education, which determined that District 225 could provide an appropriate education for Steven and consequently that he was not eligible for private placement.

Thereupon, Mrs. Walker brought an action on behalf of Steven in the circuit court of Cook County pursuant to section 4 of the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 267) seeking review of the decision of the Illinois Office of Education. The circuit court reversed the decision of the Illinois Office of Education, finding that, effective November 9, 1978, Steven was entitled to special education and related services in a residential school, and ordered District 225 to reimburse Mrs. Walker for the costs incurred by her to date, and thereafter to pay Lakeside for services rendered to Steven.

Defendants, the Illinois Office of Education and Glenbrook High School District 225, appeal the trial court's order. The issues presented for review are (1) whether Mrs. Walker may recover from District 225 the cost of Steven's placement at Lakeside despite the fact that she made the placement before an official determination that it was appropriate; (2) whether the services rendered to Steven at Lakeside were necessary special education and related services for which District 225 was required to pay; and (3) whether the trial court's determination that Lakeside was an appropriate placement for Steven while District 225's program was not appropriate is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Steven Walker, a resident of co-defendant School District 225, transferred in September 1976 to Northbrook Junior High School from an off-campus junior high school for severely emotionally disturbed students. He was placed in the eighth grade special education program for the 1976-77 school year, but was "mainstreamed" for four classes. He subsequently was removed from two of these classes because of behavior problems. In February 1977 the junior high and high school special education and guidance staffs conducted an annual review of Steven's progress, and recommended that he be placed the following year in a half-day contained program for severely emotionally disturbed students with some mainstreaming and assistance from a social worker. Mrs. Walker was notified of this plan and assented to it.

During the second semester of the 1977-78 school year Steven's grades began to drop and his behavior to deteriorate. In May 1978, Mrs. Walker informed District 225 that she wanted to seek a private residential placement for Steven. She had reached this decision in consultation with staff members of the Irene Josselyn Clinic, where Steven had received private treatment for five years. In a letter to District 225's instructional supervisor of special education, Steven's therapist, Lisa Cohen, expressed her concern about Steven's "lack of psychological growth and development in the past two years." Ms. Cohen stressed that "we are running out of time. Steve is already fifteen and few good residential treatment facilities will consider a child of this age. Certainly a year or two later * * * finding a suitable treatment facility would become virtually impossible."

On May 23, 1978, Steven's annual review was conducted by District 225, and Ms. Cohen attended. The participants in the review recommended that during 1978-79 Steven continue in a program consisting of a half day of mainstreaming and a half day of containment. In June 1978 Mrs. Walker contacted Steven's principal to request an impartial due process hearing. On June 21 the instructional supervisor of special education at Glenbrook North wrote Mrs. Walker that she must address a written request for a due process hearing to the superintendent of District 225, Dr. Forrest Sheely; Glenbrook North's program plans for Steven were enclosed.

The medical director of the Josselyn Clinic, Mary Giffin, M.D., subsequently wrote Dr. Sheely to advocate residential placement for Steven because of the severity of his emotional problems and his inability to function in any regular or special classroom setting. An independent report to District 225 by Robert Traisman, Ph.D., who had examined and evaluated Steven, recommended intensive psychotherapy and a stabilized environment for him.

On August 25, 1978, Mrs. Walker again requested a due process hearing, stating as grounds for the request: (1) her objection to the proposed special education placement; (2) failure of the District to consider evaluations by qualified outside personnel; and (3) failure of the District to comply with the State Rules in that, among other things, it failed to notify Mrs. Walker of both the staff review of Steven's progress and her right to attend the review session, and of her right to an impartial hearing. Dr. Sheely responded with a suggestion that a second multidisciplinary staffing should precede a due process hearing.

A second staff review meeting was held on September 19, 1978, with Mrs. Walker and Ms. Cohen attending to advocate residential placement. The review board recommended, however, that Steven's current program be continued. Steven began to attend classes at Glenbrook North the following day, but a week later, on September 26, 1978, Mrs. Walker again requested a due process hearing. On September 29 she addressed a fourth demand for a hearing to Dr. Sheely. The hearing was finally scheduled for November 16, 1978. Meanwhile Steven's behavior became violent and continued to deteriorate. Following a serious altercation with Steven a week before the scheduled hearing, Mrs. Walker, acting on the advice of Steven's therapists, concluded that an emergency placement at a residential treatment center was necessary. Previously Steven had sustained a serious leg injury, and it now appeared there was a danger of further physical injury to him in his existing environment. On November 9, 1978, suffering from extreme depression, Steven entered Lakeside Center. Steven remained at Lakeside and completed his secondary education. He is now enrolled in college.

The due process hearing was held as scheduled on November 16, 1978. The impartial hearing officer recommended that Steven be placed at Lakeside and that District 225 assume financial responsibility as of November 16, 1978. District 225 appealed the hearing officer's decision to the Illinois Office of Education, which issued an administrative order that Steven did not ...


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