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MSD appeals special needs case

Gavel, with defocussed law books behind.
District wants reversal of judge’s decision, absolution of $91,223 payment for student’s outside treatment

The Medford School District has appealed a ruling that required it to pay $91,223 for the costs of a student’s schooling in Utah after finding that school officials here failed to provide an adequate education to a former South Medford High School student before he was expelled and later sought treatment outside the state for inappropriate sexual behavior.

In an appeal filed in U.S. District Court, the school district claims it followed the law, providing an education to a special needs student, and that paying for treatment of his sexually impulsive behavior at an out-of-state facility is “inappropriate.”

The district’s lawyers issued the 13-page claim for relief in response to an administrative law judge’s Aug. 8 order, which found the district “committed various violations” of the student’s right to a “free appropriate public education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act between 2019 and 2021 and, as a result, should pay the student’s guardian $91,223.61 for the cost of attending a treatment facility known as White River Academy in Utah.

In its claim, filed Sept. 9, the Medford School District asks the court to reverse the administrative law judge’s findings of failures to the student’s education and absolve it of responsibility to pay for the student’s attendance at White River Academy. The district also requests a stay on “all remedies” ordered by the administrative law judge until an appeal is complete and for the court to offer “other relief as the court deems just and proper.”

School officials declined to comment on the appeal, because litigation is pending.

The guardian, who has asked not to be identified, said he had not seen the appeal.

“If they appeal it, then we’re not going to back down from this,” the guardian said.

Legal proceedings between the guardian and school district began in December 2021, when the guardian filed an Oregon Department of Education request for a due process hearing. The hearing, involving the guardian and officials involved in the student’s education, occurred in late May 2022. The administrative law judge issued a final order Aug. 8, and it was amended the following day.

The hearing revolved around the education and treatment of the student, a former foster child who was shuffled around schools in multiple states before moving to Medford to live with the guardian, who is related. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the student enrolled at South Medford High School.

The student suffered from learning disabilities and was prone to behavioral outbursts, according to court filings. It led to the creation of an individualized education program, or IEP, meant to assess the student’s behavior and academic performance while providing accommodations for the student to be successful at school.

When the student moved to Medford, it was assumed he had an Oregon-based IEP, according to court records. But both the guardian’s and the district’s filings show that was not created until March 2019, after he was expelled from South Medford for sexually assaulting a classmate.

The student returned to the high school that same year before the coronavirus pandemic forced students and staff into virtual learning. During that time, the student struggled with learning and sexual addictions and was, at one point, accused of assaulting a child in the guardian’s home.

The situation between the district and the guardian came to a head in 2021, when the guardian decided on his own to place the student into STAR Guides, a treatment program for teens. The same year, the guardian also decided to withdraw the student from Medford School District and place him in White River Academy.

In its latest court filing, the district said the Academy placement prompted an IEP meeting Sept. 1, 2021, with the guardian present. The meeting, however, was unsuccessful, and the guardian continued on with his plan to withdraw the student from the district and place him elsewhere, the district’s latest court filing said.

The guardian told the newspaper the sour meeting between him and the district triggered his pursuit of legal representation and, eventually, filing the due process complaint with Oregon Department of Education.

The school district contends in its federal court filing that it “properly evaluated and identified” the student from December 2019 through February 2021, the period the due process complaint addresses.

It also asserts the district “provided Student with a (free appropriate public education), including an appropriate placement from December 2019 to February 2021.”

As well, the district did not “predetermine (the) student’s placement or deny (the) guardian participation in the IEP process during the 2020-21 or 2021-22 school years.”

The court filing concludes by saying the administrative law judge’s spring order of the guardian’s reimbursement for tuition and related expenses at White River Academy is “inappropriate, as unilateral placement was made for reasons unrelated to (the) student’s educational needs.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.