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Case Conclusion Date: 01.16.2003
Practice Area: Education
Outcome: Education Law - Due Process Hearing
Description: Sara was a high school student who had made an unsuccessful suicide attempt trying to overdose on prescription drugs taken from the family medicine cabinet. She became ill and her parents took her to a physician who released her home with a prescription for an anti-depressant. The next day of school, she took her medication and inadvertently took the bottle to school with her. During the day, a boy she knew had a fight with his girlfriend. She remarked to him that she was depressed and had medication, if he was too. I think she was hoping to start a conversation which might have lead the boy to say, "why are you depressed?" The girlfriend told school officials what was said. Sara was searched and the school officials discovered the antidepressants and some other pills that she had taken from the medicine closet when she made the suicide attempt. The school determined that it wanted to expel Sara for 181 school days for bringing the drugs to school and offering them to someone. I requested a PPT to evaluate whether Sara was entitled to special pupil services and, if she was disabled, to evaluate whether the behavior in question was a manifestation of her disability. Meanwhile, the town's board of education held a hearing on the expulsion. I had objected to the hearing before the special education issues were resolved, but the BOE insisted on going forward and heard evidence before they agreed to suspend the hearing pending the resolution of the special education issues. The Connecticut State Board of Education designated an independent hearing officer who heard and decided the case. The school psychologist testified that Sara's behavior was not a manifestation of her disability and that her disability was not sufficient to make her eligible for special pupil services despite the fact that she was cutting and had scarred forearms to prove it. Our expert, a psychologist and psychiatrist, testified that her behavior was consistent with his diagnosis of Depression and that Sara also had Attention Deficit Disorder. The Hearing Officer found for Sara, deciding that she was eligible for special services and that the behavior was a manifestation of her depression and ADD. He ordered another PPT to determine an individualized education program for Sara and that she be readmitted to her high school. Had Sara been expelled, I fear she may have been at great peril. Imagine a suicidal teen at home alone while her parents worked. Imagine the loss of her social connections at the high school. The teachers and peers she was able to remain in contact with undoubtedly helped her overcome her challenges. www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Hearing_Decisions/2002/02_360.pdf