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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoDISTRICT 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 reading impairment.

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 was struggling.

"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 impairment.

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 miscommunication.

"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 educating kids.

"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 happens."  


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