Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Due process: How one mother is fighting the York County School Division for her child’s education

Brandon Turkatte stopped receiving homebound education services from the York County School Division on Nov. 16, according to his mother, Larisa Turkatte. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)
Brandon Turkatte stopped receiving homebound education services from the York County School Division on Nov. 16, according to his mother, Larisa Turkatte. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)

Editor’s note: This is the last installment of a three-part series about a mother’s experiences with the York County School Division.

Brandon Turkatte was receiving homebound instruction over the summer from the York County School Division when his mother, Larisa, said she discovered he received fewer hours than promised.

For months, Larisa sent countless emails to school officials about Brandon’s homebound education — she then filed multiple complaints with the Virginia Department of Education.

Brandon’s recent teacher, Hannah Violet, quit teaching Brandon on Nov. 16 and since then, no special education teacher has come to the Turkatte residence to provide education services to the boy, Larisa said.

York County’s response

On Nov. 19, WYDaily reached out to Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the school division for comment.

After leaving multiple voicemails on her work and cell phones, a WYDaily reporter told Goff in an email that there was a report of a student no longer receiving education from the division.

Goff did not answer additional phone calls for comment and instead, emailed WYDaily, citing the need for more information.

“That is a very broad allegation and does not address my request for specifics,” she wrote, adding the division complies with the Disability Education Act.

When WYDaily repeatedly attempted to get Goff on the phone to explain the allegations, Goff again resorted to email.

“Due to the sensitivity of this topic and the need to ensure information provided by the division is not misquoted or taken out of context, we will only conduct this conversation in writing,” Goff wrote.

When the reporter asked how the topic was sensitive, Goff said specific student matters are confidential.

However, Larisa gave the school division consent for officials to speak to WYDaily regarding her son.

But even with that parental consent, Goff, speaking on behalf of the school division, continued to decline to discuss the matter.

“For many reasons, including privacy concerns and the confidential nature of student information, the school division does not comment on individual student matters or disclose any information about individual student matters,” Goff wrote.

Back to school

On Nov. 22, Larisa met with Brandon’s Individual Education Placement team and Brandon was denied homebound instruction because “the physician failed to certify that the student was confined to home or a healthcare facility”.

The letter was not signed and was provided by Larisa to WYDaily. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)
The letter was not signed and was provided by Larisa to WYDaily. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)

Larisa was informed on this decision in a letter presented during the meeting.

According to the Prior Notice document outlining the IEP’s decision, the team denied homebound placement for Brandon as this was a temporary placement and feels Brandon could attend Mount Vernon Elementary School.

“The team determined that Brandon’s services can be delivered in the self-contained setting at MVES,” according to the document. “Brandon has made progress in this placement in the past and this placement will meet his current needs.”

Prior to the meeting and Brandon’s services being stopped, Larisa never received a letter or any sort of documentation denying homebound services, she said.

Larisa said she submitted a renewal application with a doctor’s note on Oct. 28 since Brandon’s homebound services would expire on Nov. 4.

She then filed another complaint with the VDOE on Nov. 25. The next day, Elaine Gould, director of student services at York County School Division, sent a mediation request to Larisa.

“Ms. Turkatte has agreed to mediation to help resolve current issues around homebound instruction,” Gould wrote on the mediation request form. “The school division welcomes to opportunity to resolve these issues and concerns.”

At first, Larisa was open to mediation but declined after speaking with Brandon’s father, Nolan Sessions.

Larisa wrote in an email on Dec. 5, there was too much going on and requested a due process hearing from the Virginia Department of Education.

“YCSD does not obey or recognize my son’s medical needs,” Larisa wrote in the due process form. “YCSD also do not follow orders from medical provider, Brandon’s MD and therapists.”

“Brandon has a right to free appropriate public education based on his medical needs,” she added. “Brandon has to get his education at home in order to eat and maintain healthy body weight.”

Brandon Turkatte using his sensory processing toy. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)
Brandon Turkatte using his sensory processing toy. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Larisa Turkatte)

YCSD’s rebuttal

On Dec. 6, Gould submitted a rebuttal to the VDOE regarding Larisa’s complaint.

According to the email, Gould filed for a five-day extension in order to respond to the complaint and provide supporting documenting to the Nov. 12 claim.

“As explained in greater detail below, the Parent’s allegations are factually inaccurate,” Gould wrote. “YCSD remains in compliance with the applicable regulations, and therefore the Parent’s Complaint should be dismissed.”

Larisa claims the YCSD approved 20 hours of homebound education over the summer for Brandon and Gina Rondinelli, the special education teacher, failed to provide those hours due to frequent cancellations, did not establish a regular visitation schedule with Brandon, cheated on her hours claiming to work more hours than she did, accepted Larisa’s father signature instead of Larisa — Larisa is Brandon’s legal guardian.

“Each of the Parent’s eight allegations in the Notice of Complaint above are either factually inaccurate and/or fail to state a complaint…,” Gould wrote.

In the complaint, Larisa states the IEP meeting happened on June 12 when Gould said it happened on April 15.

Documents show the meeting occurred on April 15.

Both Larisa and the YCSD agreed Rondinelli would provide the special education hours between June 17 and Aug. 30.

Rondinelli provided hours from July 2-25.

However, Larisa and Gould do not agree on the length of homebound instruction hours, the time sheet’s signature and how many hours have been provided to Brandon under the new teacher, Hannah Violet.

Larisa claims the YCSD only provided 5.5 hours of homebound instruction; YCSD claims Rondinelli provided 15 hours and due to a family emergency had to stop teaching Brandon.

“Ms. Turkatte signed the Log Sheet for all 16 hours,” Gould wrote. “Moreover, YCSD understand that Ms. Turkatte’s father does not speak English and Ms. Rondinelli did not communicate with him during the time period in which she made ESY services available to the Student.

The school division sent more than 100 pages of documentation to VDOE to support their case to dismiss Larisa’s complaint. The documents include Brandon’s medical records from Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, which stated he tested positive for a gluten allergy but showed no symptoms with gluten in his diet.

“Brandon has a documented allergy to Gluten but continues to eat foods containing Gluten with no signs or symptoms of allergy,” the document notes. “Education has been provided to mother regarding possible benefits of cutting gluten to Brandon’s diet.”

On Dec. 9, a hearing officer for the due process hearing between Larisa and the school division sent an email to both parties.

The resolution period ends Jan. 6 and if no resolution is reached within 40 days between Larisa and YCSD, the due process will start on Jan. 6 and end on Feb. 18, according to the due process hearing letter received by Larisa.

The division is being represented by Jason Ballum, of Reed Smith LLP in Richmond. Larisa cannot afford an attorney and currently has no representation.

Alan Bart, an associate in the Complex Litigation Group affiliated with Reed Smith LLP, sent a Notice of Insufficiency to dismiss Larisa’s due process hearing request to the hearing officer.

According to Bart’s biography, his practice focuses on education law including representation of public school boards in Virginia.

The hearing officer dismissed YCSD’s request to reject Larisa’s request for a due process hearing on Dec. 10.

“YCSD believes that the complaint does not adequately describe the nature of the problem and a proposed solution,” the officer wrote. “I disagree. I find that the parent’s Request for Due Process Hearing contains a sparse, but sufficient, description of the nature of the problem alleged and a proposed resolution.”

A hearing date has not been scheduled.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although this is the final installment of this series, WYDaily will follow the story as it unfolds.

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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