the current due process hearing, the Winkelmans are represented by attorney Andrew Cuddy, of Auburn, New York. Cuddy was admitted pro hac vice (for
this particular matter) under the sponsorship of Michael J. Goldberg, a Cleveland Criminal Defense attorney, who represented
the Winkelmans for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. Michael welcomed the
help from Cuddy and sponsored him so that he could practice law in Ohio
on behalf of the Winkelman family. Cuddy is an experienced special education
attorney that has recently published The Special Education Battlefield: A Guide to the Due Process Hearings and Other Tools
of Effective Advocacy (available at www.andrewcuddybooks.com).
current due process hearing is addressing the Winkelman’s claim for reimbursement for a private school placement of
their son at the Monarch School,
a state approved school designed to meet the educational needs of students with autism.
PCSD claims that the school is not appropriate, and that the parents are not entitled to reimbursement. PCSD further maintains that its in-district program is appropriate to meet Jacob’s needs, despite
the Districts failing special education programs according to Ohio Department of Education records.
hearing lasted eleven days. During the hearing the Winkelmans presented testimony
of three individuals that were qualified as experts by the hearing officer who testified that the PCSD program would cause
irreparable harm and injury to the student. The District only presented the testimony
of their staff to support the District position that the PCSD program would “allow for educational benefit.” “I believe the District staff was pressured to misrepresent information to the
hearing officer, and am investigating this matter further so that it can be brought to the attention of the appropriate authorities
if warranted,” said Cuddy.
stated, “The position of the District is outrageous. Experts and the child’s
physicians are telling the District that their program will cause irreparable harm to the student. For the District to insist the student attend this program is evidence of their complete disregard for
the student’s well-being.” Cuddy has launched an investigation into
the budgetary issues of the District, as he suspects that IDEA money that is designated for special education programming
is being funneled to the School District’s attorneys.
“There is no other explanation I can imagine for a District spending $1,000,000 dollars defending a program that
all the experts involved in the case conclude will injure the child. If we follow
the money, I believe we will find the individual for this decision-making,” Cuddy said.
asked of his opinion regarding the case, Cuddy expressed confidence. “The
burden of proof in these due process hearings is upon the parents. We presented
multiple experts with advanced degrees supporting the parents’ position. Every
service provider familiar with the child supported the parents’ position with their reports and testimony. The District’s defense in this matter was based on the opinions of their own staff, which certainly
appeared ‘coached’ as each witness testified about hours of preparation spent with multiple school district attorneys.” Cuddy further stated, “The only way that I can imagine the hearing officer ruling
against the parents is if the corruption in the District goes beyond the District and to the level of the hearing officers
and the Ohio Department of Education.”
an attorney from New York, Cuddy expressed surprise about
the programs that were described by the PCSD staff. The classrooms, which were
continually referred to as “units” by the PCSD staff, offered little educational instruction to the students. In the morning hours, the special education teacher only spent 15 minutes of time
with each student. The remainder of the morning the student only received the
attention of a classroom aide, a person unqualified to provide instruction. A
similar routine was established in the afternoon, allowing for minimal time with a certified teacher. “Districts are not allowed to ‘warehouse’ special education in this manner. These children are entitled to teaching services equivalent to a regular education student. That is not happening in Parma. I am surprised that other parents are not up in arms. There
was also evidence in the hearing that the Parma staff is using
mechanical restraints in the classroom to control behavior of students with autism.
This rises to the level of criminal conduct, in my mind, as the state’s own regulations prohibit mechanical restraints
for this purpose,” Cuddy said.
hearing also focused on the School Report Card of the Ohio Department of Education.
“Parma did not pass. The District’s action plan to address their failures in special education, and complained of inadequate
funds to properly train staff. It was clear during this hearing that the staff
members are not properly trained, and that there are funding issues.” The
two classrooms addressed in the hearing both exceeded the state limit of eight students.
Cuddy is continuing to investigate the funding issues. “It seems
very clear from the District’s records that money intended to pay for special education programming is being used to
pay attorneys to fight providing appropriate special education programming. This
is contrary to what the law allows, as it is a violation of law to use special education money to pay attorneys. This practice negatively impacts of the provision of special education services to all the students in
A decision from the impartial hearing officer, Harry Taich, Esq., is due on June 28, 2007.
If you have questions regarding this press release, please contact Andrew K. Cuddy, Esq.