ROCKVILLE – A death in the family of attorney Holly Parker forced the postponement of the last court hearing date in the case of whether Montgomery County Public Schools offered a special-needs teenager adequate access to a free and public education and should reimburse the child’s family for private education costs.
Administrative Law Judge Marina Sabett, who is presiding over the case, announced the last day of testimony is due to resume Jan. 15 at the Carver Educational Services Center with an alternative continuation date set for Feb. 5.
Sabett announced after a noon recess Parker’s father died and she was unable to continue the case that day. Parker represents the parents of the disabled teenager.
Parker and MCPS attorney Jeffrey Krew were scheduled to offer their closing arguments Wednesday evening.
During the sixth day of the hearing Wednesday, the attorneys spent the morning questioning Stephanie Evers, the nurse administrator for school health services in the County.
Other witnesses were scheduled to testify in the afternoon prior to closing statements.
Sabett said she will offer a written ruling within 30 days of the completion of the last hearing date.
The attorneys discussed at length Tuesday whether the parents waived any rights by calling for a public hearing but ultimately proceeded with the case. The parents invited the media and others to attend because they said they thought Krew treated them unfairly during his earlier questioning.
“This is generally not done,” said Sabett, referring to open hearings involving a student’s health.
Several topics played out in the court hearing this week:
-Who was qualified to offer the boy certain anti-epileptic medicines in the event of a seizure;
-Whether the parents wanted their son to only attend a school with a registered nurse serving as the primary school nurse;
-Whether the school nurse at the Baltimore Lab School, a private special education school where the student is enrolled, is providing the level of care for the student greater than or equal to the care he would receive if enrolled at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring;
-Whether the Baltimore Lab School provided the least-restrictive environment for the student to learn;
-Whether a registered nurse could recommend a treatment for the student other than a treatment guideline signed by the student’s primary care physician, Dr. Dewi Frances Depositario Cabacar;
-The severity of the seizures suffered by the student;
-Whether Paul Griffin, the father of the boy, exploited a Lee Middle School’s suicide to make a point about his son’s safety or if he had genuine concerns about whether his son would die if he had a seizure in a restroom he did not know locked behind him.
Those offering testimony Tuesday included Baltimore Lab School nurse Molly Watt, who was subpoenaed by Krew, and three other subject-matter experts from MCPS familiar with the student’s case: speech language pathologist Bambi Lowry; physical therapist Jane Juliano; and school psychologist Alison Kane.
Watt explained the student is watched by different adults throughout the day at Baltimore Lab School other than when he’s in a restroom stall but by not a single individual.
She described four seizures suffered by the student at the school, including one in which a basketball coach she said she trained offered helped treat him.
Juliano portrayed the student, who has a right hemisphere brain malformation, as someone able to run quickly, play sports and perform well on certain tests if he’s adequately encouraged. Griffin said he is not interested in MCPS’ covering physical therapy costs for his son.
Kane’s described the student as “a lovely young man” who was “very pleasant to observe” and “tended to work more independently” than some of the other special-needs students in his classes.
The psychologist also opined that the Baltimore Lab School “is not the least-restrictive environment” for the student.
Evers offered testimony Wednesday in line with the school defense’s claims that the parents showed no interest in sending their child to Brooke E. Lee Middle School.
The parents contest their student could not thrive at the public school with class sizes between 25-28 students as opposed to the five to six students in his classes at the Baltimore Lab School.
“In your professional opinion, did she provide you a good justification for having a nurse as opposed to a health (technician)?” asked Krew, referring to Cabarcar.
“No,” responded Evers, later testifying, “I know the parents felt strongly the nurse should be there.”
One of the key parts of Krew’s case is proving MCPS could provide an adequate free and public education in a safe environment
Krew asked Evers if, in her opinion, Lee Middle School could have met the student’s needs during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.
“Yes. Definitely,” replied Evers.
However, Parker countered that Evers defied Cabacar’s treatment guidelines for the student to be at a school with a registered nurse.
“So did you tell Dr. Cabacar that you were not going to follow her orders?” Parker asked.
“I did not,” replied Evers.