SERVICES: Learning-disabled Boy Turned Away
Family in court to force Oakland Schools to provide
specialized programming for their son.
by L. L. Brasier, Detroit Free Press, August 22, 2003
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Tommy Sullivan, now 10, has always struggled in school.
Testing shows he has normal intelligence, but he has problems
reading. In 1999, he was certified as learning disabled with a
By June 2002, his teachers in the Walled Lake School District
were certain he had additional difficulties, perhaps a problem
in how he processes information he hears, and referred him to
Oakland Intermediate Schools for an evaluation.
The district has the latest technical equipment designed to help
pinpoint language and hearing impairments.
But it took seven months before district officials were able to
see him, and by then he was into another semester in which he
"I hounded them," said Tommy's mother, Mary Sullivan. "First
they said they didn't do that kind of testing in the summer, and
then I couldn't get them committed to an appointment date."
And she is dismayed by the spending habits of the board and
administrators of Oakland Schools.
"It's outrageous," Sullivan said. "When I think of how all that
money could have been used . . . ."
The Sullivans were also dismayed when the ISD audiologist who
observed Tommy in his classroom determined he didn't need the
high-tech testing the district can provide.
So Tommy's parents took him to a private specialist for testing
and paid $640. The diagnosis was a receptive language
The Sullivans are now in litigation with the schools to force
them to provide services for their son's disorder. The
litigation is pending.
Oakland Schools said it can't discuss the specifics of the case
because of the ongoing litigation, "but there's more to the
story than that," said Shelley Rose, school spokeswoman.
While the school district has helped thousands of students, she
said there are waiting lists for some services the ISD provides
learning-disabled children. She added that the months of delay
in seeing Tommy Sullivan were also the result of
"It's my understanding there were real communication problems
with the parents, and a lot of phone tag going on," said Rose.
Brighton attorney John Brower, who has represented dozens of
families in their battles to get services for their disabled
children, including the Sullivans, said intermediate school
districts are sometimes not hands-on enough when it comes to
"The Oakland ISD has more PhDs per square foot than any other in
the state," he said. "All that money is supposed to ostensibly
go to kids, but you have to question whether that really
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