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Shayna Lazerson Et. Al v. Capistrano Unified School District

March 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge


This case is an administrative appeal. Plaintiffs, Shayna Lazerson and her parents Jerold and Lori Lazerson (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), appeal the findings of the California Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH") in favor of Defendant Capistrano Unified School District ("School District"). The Court conducted a one day bench trial on this matter on March 14, 2011. Plaintiffs and Defendant filed trial briefs and lodged a copy of the Administrative Record with the Court. At the bench trial, the Court heard oral argument from both sides. Neither party called any witnesses or introduced evidence outside of the Administrative Record.*fn1 Having considered the submissions by the parties and the evidence contained in the Administrative Record, the Court hereby enters its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in conformity with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52.


Factual Background

1. Shayna Lazerson ("Shayna"), now a nineteen year old woman, was a high school student whose parents Lori and Jerold Lazerson ("Parents") resided within the geographic boundaries of the Capistrano Unified School District ("School District"). [Administrative Record ("AR") 1571.]

2. Although Shayna received high grades her freshman year, by Shayna's sophomore year, her grades had begun to slip and Shayna had begun to experience other emotional difficulties. [AR 627.]

3. On November 16, 2006, Parents received a phone call from Shayna at school: Shayna was crying and school staff told Parents that Shayna admitted to wanting to hurt herself. [AR 627-28.]

4. Parents responded by taking Shayna to College Hospital, where she was admitted based on signs of self-mutilation and attempted suicide and where she ultimately received eight days of in-patient treatment. [AR 547, 627-28.]

5. School District staff report that, after the hospitalization incident, Shayna went on to have a successful sophomore year. [School District's Opp. at 3 (citing AR 467) (a copy of Shayna's transcript indicating that Shayna passed all of her classes, including college preparatory classes).]

6. Shayna, however, reports drinking and taking Advil at school in order to "numb out" for the remainder of the year. She also says that she periodically left class for up to thirty minutes at a time. [AR 575-76.]

7. When Shayna's junior year began in 2007, Shayna attended only two weeks of school before being hospitalized again after abusing the family dog, being physically abusive toward her father and making suicidal threats. [AR 576, 634.]

8. Shayna's mother spoke to school nurse Julia Malone on September 19, 2007. Shayna's mother informed Ms. Malone that Shayna was in the hospital and that she would require home-hospital instruction. [AR 635.]

9. On Friday, October 5, 2007, Shayna's father emailed the District to inquire about an Individualized Education Program ("IEP"), or other help the district could provide for Shayna. [AR 884-885.]

10. On Monday, October 8, 2007, a school official phoned Shayna's mother to set up a Student Study Team ("SST") meeting for the following day, October 9, 2007. [AR 637.]

11. The SST meeting took place on October 9, 2007. Shayna, her parents, and school staff attended. The participants discussed Shayna's hospitalization, her diagnoses of bipolar disorder and "major depressive" disorder, her suicidal ideations, and her sexual promiscuity. [AR 638, 816, 820.]

12. At the October 9, 2007 SST meeting, Shayna's parents delivered to the School District a letter that asked for "a comprehensive assessment for special education services for our child under IDEA" and a "concurrent assessment by the Department of Mental Health under Charter 26.5 of the Government Code." [AR 638-41.]

13. On October 15, 2007, Shayna's mother spoke with a school counselor named Ms. Von Duering. Dr. Von Duering asked Shayna's mother if Parents could bring Shayna in for a special education assessment the next day, October 16, 2007. [AR 1296-98] During the phone call, Dr. Von Duering orally informed Shayna's mother of the family's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Act ("IDEA"). [AR 1296]. No formal assessment plan was provided to Parents during or immediately following this phone call. [Id.]

14. Shayna's mother declined Dr. Von Duering's offer to evaluate Shayna on October 16, 2007. Shayna's mother informed Dr. Von Duering that Parents were planning to take Shayna to a residential placement facility -- Copper Canyon Academy ("CCA") in Arizona -- on October 16, 2007 and that an evaluation appointment on that day would consequently prove impossible. [AR 1299.]

15. There is no evidence that Parents based their decision not to bring Shayna in for assessment on October 16, 2007 on the fact that the School District had yet to provide them with a formal assessment plan.

16. On the contrary, shortly after getting off the phone with Ms. Gelsinger, Shayna's mother called back and offered to bring Shayna in for an evaluation later that same day, October 15, 2007 [AR 852.] Parents had not been provided with an assessment plan at the time that Shayna's mother made this offer. [AR 852-53.]

17. The School District apparently did not respond to Shayna's mother's offer to bring Shayna in for assessment on October 15, 2007. [AR 852.]

18. Parents took Shayna to CCA on October 16, 2007. [AR 824.]

19. On October 16, 2007, Dr.Von Duering sent Parents a letter, summarizing the phone conversation that occurred between Dr. Von Duering and Shayna's mother on October 15, 2007 and providing Parents with a written copy of the procedural safeguards available to parents under the IDEA. [AR 271.] In this letter, Dr. Von Duering reiterated that she "would be happy to complete a full psycho-educational evaluation for Shayna should [Parents] make her available to do so." [Id.].

20. On October 20, 2007, Parents sent a letter to the School District reiterating Shayna's series of hospitalizations, her depression and bipolar disorders, her suicide threats and the other circumstances that led Parents to place Shayna at CCA. [AR 474-75.] In this letter, Parents expressed their strong dissatisfaction with the School District, stating that they "want[ed] to go on record and state that we believe that Tesoro high school . . . 'dropped the ball' when it came to Shayna," and asserting that Parents were "extremely upset and disturbed" by how the School District handled their case. [Id.]

21. School representative, Jamie Runyon, emailed Parents on October 30, 2007, asking to meet and test Shayna. [AR 472]. The email proposed several specific appointment times for Parents' review. [Id.] Mr. Runyon's email did not contain a formal assessment plan; rather, Mr. Runyon stated that a formal assessment plan would follow the meeting with Shayna. [Id.].

22. There is no evidence that Parents responded to Mr. Runyon's October 30, 2007 email. 23. The next communication between Parents and the School District occurred just before June 6, 2008, when Parents phoned the School District to request reimbursement for the costs of Shayna's enrollment at CCA. [See AR 273 (June 6, 2008 letter from School District to Parents stating that the "purpose of this letter is to respond to recent phone conversations that occurred between you and ...

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