Articles Posted in Special Education

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In a ground-breaking move, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has brought a lawsuit on behalf of the children of the state of Michigan. The suit asserts that the state, the Michigan Department of Education and the Highland Park school district have deprived children of their right to read. According to the ACLU, the defendants have violated the state’s constitution by neglecting to ensure that children are able to read at grade level.

illiteracy.jpgAccording to the executive director of the Michigan ACLU, Kary Moss, “Literacy is the gateway to all other knowledge.” Michigan law states that students who are below reading level are entitled to special help sufficient to get them up to grade level within 12 months, and the ACLU is seeking to force the state and its schools to meet that law.

The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of a handful of children who represent the rest of the students in the district. According to court documents, the students all fell behind and remained woefully behind year after year but were never given the special help the law requires.

Highland Park is one of the poorest performing schools in America, according to the Michigan ACLU. In fact, one of Governor Rick Snyder’s first moves upon taking office was to appoint an emergency manager to attempt to help the district improve its performance.

Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, has not commented on the case. Both the Michigan Department of Education and a spokesperson for the governor stated they are unable to comment on the action, but the spokesperson did issue a statement that “Everything we have done and are doing is to ensure that the kids of Highland Park schools get the education they need and deserve.”

According to Moss, the case has implications that reach far beyond Michigan’s borders. “If we’re not preparing our children, there is no way our economy can recover,” said Moss.

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A special education teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave after a parent discovered he had posted derogatory pictures and comments about his students on Facebook. Jeremy Hollinger, who is employed by the Mobile (Alabama) County Public School system to teach special education at Eichold-Mertz Elementary School, posted the comments and pictures on his public Facebook page.

Special%20Needs%20Students.jpgCeleste Dennis, who saw Hollinger’s site, was upset enough to insist her son, a second-grader at Eichold-Mertz, be transferred out of the school. Although she says there were plenty of derogatory comments on the page, including posts about students soiling themselves and eating crayons, she says that one insult hit especially close to home. “It hurt. It genuinely hurt me, said Dennis.”My son wears a helmet for seizures during P.E. He had a picture of himself with my son’s helmet on making fun of him like that was some type of a joke.”

Dennis responded to the cruel postings by reporting Hollinger to the school system and insisting that her son be transferred. The school was slow to take action against Hollinger, however, and he remained in his position at the school until after the incident caught the attention of the press. Initially, the school system refused to explain why Hollinger was still at his post. Nancy Pierce, the school’s representative, initially declined to discuss the matter, saying, “Because it’s a personnel matter, I can’t discuss that with you. The appropriate measures were taken by our Human Resources Department.”

However, on Tuesday, October 18, it was revealed that Hollinger had been suspended with pay as a result of the incident. In the meantime, Dennis hopes the suspension becomes permanent. “It takes a special type of person to deal with special children, and he is not that person,” said Dennis. “I just want him out of there.”

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The Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh, PA) School District has agreed to pay $25,000 per year, plus a 3% annual inflationary increase, to the family of an elementary school aged student diagnosed with autism and mental retardation. The agreement will enable the family to seek private education for their child.

April%20Autism2.jpgThe suit, on behalf of an unnamed family, alleged that the district’s plan to place the then-six-year-old child diagnosed with autism and mental retardation, in Wilkins Primary School was inconsistent with the educational requirements laid out in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act and other laws. It argued that the Pace School, a private school for emotionally disturbed and developmentally disabled children in Churchill, PA was significantly better equipped to meet the child’s needs. The family’s attorney stated that the family “felt very strongly … that the private placement was what was best for their child” therefore the district’s plan would not meet their child’s needs.

The federal civil lawsuit was filed in U.S. District court last May and resolved in mediation this February. The payments, required for 15 years, will allow the family to send their child to the Pace School, despite the fact that it only partially covers the tuition expenses the family will incur.

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The Sarasota (Florida) County School District has reached a settlement over a lawsuit filed by a student alleging mistreatment. The district will pay $52,500 to settle the claim. The claim comes from a developmentally disabled student who states that she was mistreated by her teacher, Diana O’Neill, from Venice Elementary School. The teacher no longer works for the school.

Bad%20Teacher.jpgThe parents of the girl will drop the lawsuit against the district but still can file additional lawsuits against the teacher. All school board members and the district have agreed to settle the claim.

However, all is not in the clear for the school district since three other students have come forward alleging further abuse. They have sent letters of intent to sue to the district.

The current settled lawsuit states that the teacher pinched, poked, slapped and shoved the disabled student and called her a “fat ass” and a “waste of air.” This occurred when the student did not respond to the teacher. The student is missing half of her brain, which was surgically removed as an infant. The student is unable to talk, see or walk. According to the lawsuit, the day the student was abused, she came home with bruises.

The student’s attorney, states that the student was unable to communicate her abuse to the parents since she does not communicate. The parents state that they sent the child to school daily without any idea of the child’s poor handling.

O’Neill did not comment on the settlement. The amount of the settlement was reached through mediated session.

The teacher was arrested in 2008 on charges that she abused the disabled students in her care. She was acquitted of those charges. She kept her job in the school district but does not work as a teacher, but rather works in the record’s department. It is possible that she could lose her teaching certificate. A state administrative judge is scheduled to hear the case against O’Neill later this month, and will then make a recommendation about revoking her teaching certificate.

The Education Practices Commission will then vote whether to accept the judge’s recommended order. If the commission revokes her teaching certificate, the district would be able to fire O’Neill since she would no longer be qualified for her $78,000/year job.
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In Boston, a settlement has been reached having to do with a former student who allegedly received electric shocks at the school he attended. The special needs school, agreed to pay $65,000 to settle the lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that the shock therapy was inhumane and violated the student’s civil rights.

shock%20therapy.jpgThe school known as The Judge Rotenberg Center uses a controversial form of aversive therapy. In order to control aggressive behavior, and to prevent self injury in autistic students, the device administers a shock.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Antwone Nicholson. At the time of the filing, in 2006, he was 17 years old and was enrolled at the school for the last four years. The student’s mother agreed to settle to simply move on. The school agreed to the settlement because it was minimal and far less than what it would cost to fight the case in court. The suit originally was for millions of dollars in damages.

The school is thought to be the only one in the United States that uses the therapy. Some parents of the school believe the therapy is successful and is used only as a last resort in preventing severely autistics children from injuring themselves. The settlement allows for the school to be absolved of all claims by the family. The school also says that the parents of the student were made aware of the treatment used at the time of enrolling the son.

Nicholson acknowledges that she knew of the treatment but said she thought it would be used only in situations where the boy was a threat to himself or to others. She says that was not the case. She claims that if her son simply said no to a directive or did not pay attention, the center’s administrators would shock him.

Nicholson says her son pleaded with her to remove him from the school. He still lives at home with her but has flashbacks to the treatment, she says.

Earlier, an appellate division of the New York Supreme court dismissed a claim that a Freeport, NY school district helped place the student in the school. Another lawsuit, brought against the state itself was also dismissed.

According to the school, less than 20 percent of students experience the shock therapy and only if positive reinforcement does not control behavior. The US Justice Department has begun an investigation to determine if shock therapy is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Approximately 30 advocacy groups presented a letter to the Justice Department asking for the shocks to end.
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The parents of an eight year old special needs child have filed a lawsuit against the township of Voorhees’s school, in New Jersey. The parents allege that their eight year old girl was sexually harassed by a boy on the bus and at school. The suit was filed in federal court in Camden.

Rowdy%20school%20bus.jpgThe lawsuit against the school states that the school district did not protect the child from the repeated occurrences, which occurred at Signal Hill School by an eleven year old student.

According to the lawsuit, the employees at the school showed deliberate indifference to the alleged harassment. The parent’s concerns, the lawsuit states, which they voiced to the teacher, received a response from the teacher indicating that the eight year old should wear a bra.

The harassment started in the spring of 2010 when the boy encouraged the girl to expose herself on the bus. The parent’s allege that the boy continued the harassment by asking to see “private parts and touching her butt.” The mother contacted the teacher and the teacher said that the boy was “such a nice boy” and stated that the girl’s statements could be a form of attention getting.

The harassment continued into the next school year. In another incident, the boy “touched breasts while asking to see them” and continued to do so on the bus ride home that day. The girl stated that because she was pressured, she pulled down her shirt to and showed him.

The lawsuit requests that adult monitors be placed on all school buses in the township, among other things. It would also require the school district to put in place methods to investigate the complaints of sexual harassment within the district.

The lawsuit alleges that the girl’s education suffered because she was continually monitoring where the student was. In response to the claims, the school moved the student to the back of the class, even though her individual education program requires her to be near the front of the class. The girl has auditory processing disorders.

The school district was unable to comment and has not responded to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks damages to cover medical and legal costs as well as funding for home instruction for the girl until an alternative school can be obtained, at the district’s expense.
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A civil lawsuit brought against the Los Angeles County Office of Education was settled. The lawsuit stated that students within the district were being punished for asking for instruction and that teachers at the school in question, Camp Challenger in Lancaster, were routinely missing classes.

rowdy%20class.jpgAccording to a statement released by the education office, the teaching staff will be examined and changes made. Teachers will be retrained. In addition, as part of the lawsuit settlement, career programs and new literacy programs will be put into place. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit.

According to the ACLU, students were graduating from the school without being able to read. According to Mark Rosenbaum, who is the attorney working on behalf of the ACLU, “these kids could not fill out job applications or read basic signs.”

In the lawsuit, it is alleged that the civil rights violations occurred and deprivation of education that is legally mandated was not provided to students enrolled at the facility. As a result of the class action lawsuit, about one quarter of the teachers have been transferred or resigned. The principal and the assistant principals may face legal charges. A federal judge will need to approve the settlement.

The office of education is like to work with various professionals to improve the education of youths who attend the high school. In addition, the county’s educational program will move towards courses that include special education, instruction, literacy and other areas of specific need. Another action of the settlement forms the Challenger Reform Taskforce, which will be responsible for monitoring the reforms occurring at the school to ensure they are being taken seriously. The county will also likely pay attorney’s fees and other expenses related to the case.
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Louisiana school officials face a lawsuit for handcuffing and shackling a six year old boy. The advocates who filed the charges include the child’s parents, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center. School officials from the Louisiana Recovery School District are accused of handcuffing the child for what the attorneys call, “minor offenses.” Included in the lawsuit are Paul Valias who is the superintendent for the school district and security officers of the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School where the child, now seven, was a student.

Handcuffs%20on%20child.jpgAccording to the director of communications for the school, Ken Jones, the employee involved in the charges was terminated and the child was never arrested. However, attorneys say that the methods of punishing students at the school crossed the line.

According to the lawsuit, an armed school security officer took a six year old to the principal’s office where the child was then handcuffed and shackled to a chair. The student was accused of shoving another child. Two days prior to the incident, which occurred in May of 2010, another officer handcuffed the child for failing to “listen and follow directions.”

The parents of the child said that the principal defended the officer’s actions in the case. The lawsuit states that the principal told the parents that it was part of the school’s policies to handcuff children who were “out of control” until they calm down. The child did not move when the principal told him to and the principal is accused of saying, “if the child failed to follow the rules in the future, he would be handcuffed.”

The parents claim in the lawsuit that the child’s life will never be the same since being handcuffed.

On a related note, HERE is an AP story about a similar lawsuit recently filed on behalf of an eight year old autistic girl who was allegedly handcuffed and arrested at her school last year. This lawsuit claims that the school district and the Sheriff’s Department violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is suing Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah claiming that the practices of the truancy court program violate the constitutional rights of the public school children and their parents.

truancy%20graphic.jpgThe administrators of the program, the class action lawsuit contends, have threatened to arrest students or have them placed in custody if they fail to attend school. The lawsuit says that the administrators of the court engaged in a “pattern and practice of intimidation designed to bully plaintiffs.” The bullying is said to lead to a waiving of the constitutional rights of those involved.

The plaintiffs in the case are nine teenagers who are identified through the lawsuit by pseudonyms and their parents or guardians. The students have special education needs, chronic medical conditions or family caretaking obligations. The lawsuit says that these special circumstances resulted in the student’s missing school, being tardy or being unable to maintain schoolwork requirements in class. It also says these conditions also lead to the students to be unable to behave in school.

These abuses are alleged to have occurred in five school districts in the state, including Providence, North Providence, Coventry, Cumberland and Woonsocket. More than 700 students attend schools in this area in the past two years.

Of those filing the lawsuit is a student from a middle school who suffers from sickle cell anemia and who has an education plan that specifically says the student should not be punished for missing school. In this case, the mother was ordered to appear in Family Court because she failed to appear in the truancy court because she was hospitalized. The mother appeared in the court but without the child who was home ill. The court, under Judge Jeremiah, issued an arrest warrant for the child then told the mother it would vacate the arrest warrant if the child was brought in to school by noon that day. The mother took the child to school and two hours later, he complained of chest pains and had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

Some plaintiffs were under the age of 12 when they were labeled as being wayward or truant students. One mother was ordered to leave her night job early to ensure that her child made it to school by 7 am. The woman lost pay because of this decision and eventually lost her job, though it is not known if the change in schedules played a role in this. Another mother was ordered by the school to bring an ill child to school or he would be arrested.

In another instance, a child with Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD who struggled to attend school and often had behavior problems in class was told by the magistrate that he “had no interest whatsoever” in the child’s behavior or health concerns, but only that the student failed to come to school and fell behind in studies.

The Truancy Court program was created by Judge Jeremiah in 1999 and it was designed to help those students who are labeled as at risk to stay in school. These courts operate in school offices and school libraries and are part of the Family Court process. Attorneys are appointed as court magistrates to administer such hearings. These types of courts are present in 150 schools throughout the state and have no written transcripts of what occurs in each of the hearings. That is a violation of due process rights to the plaintiffs, the class action lawsuit claims.

The court requires parents to sign documentation that “waive their rights” to legal representation in a Family Court situation. Weekly truancy court hearings may be required if the magistrate issues them.
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A federal judge ruled late last month that the school board from Itawamba County, Mississippi violated a lesbian student’s rights when it canceled the prom because the student challenged a ban at the prom of same sex couples. However, the federal judge did not order the district to reinstate the prom.

prom%20gay%203.jpgJudge Glen Davidson from US District Court did not reinstate the prom because a private prom that some parents are planning will provide the student with the same experience. The late date of the April 2nd prom made it difficult for the judge to require its reinstatement saying it would be too much of an inconvenience for all involved.

The case began when Constance McMillen requested to bring her girlfriend who is a sophomore at the same school, to the dance and she wanted to wear a tuxedo to the event. McMillen, 18, contacted the American Civil Liberties union to sue the school district to allow the same sex couple access to the prom.

Davidson stated a trial would be set for a later date but did not set a date for it. The parents of students at the school are hosting a private prom on the same day the school prom was to take place. All junior and senior students are able to attend, though there was not specific information about whether or not gay students would be allowed to attend. Another prom is being sponsored by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, which is an advocacy group for same sex couples.

The court case furthers the First Amendment rights of same sex couples within the school setting. Kristy Bennett, who is the legal director for the ACL, is preparing the case for trial and plans to ask the judge to list the board’s actions as unconstitutional. They are hoping to be awarded damages plus court costs.

The school board says it canceled the prom because they did not believe the prom could be successful at protecting the safety of students. The school is in a rural northern Mississippi community and has some 715 students in the high school.