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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoEducation Ruling to be Appealed
by Tiffany Lankes, Herald Tribune, June 22, 2004
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The School Board is appealing an order to provide special education to a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, arguing that it could open such services to thousands of other students with ADHD.

The ruling could also set a precedent for counties across the state, costing districts millions of dollars.

"That's why it's an issue, not just in Manatee County but statewide," said Superintendent Roger Dearing.

But some parents of children with ADHD say these students are entitled to special services.

Manatee County now offers special education services to about 9,600 children, about 23 percent of students in the district. These services cost an average of $5,600 per student and account for 20 to 25 percent of each school's budget.

There are about 2,500 other students in the district who could qualify for special education services with the judge's ruling. The district could end up spending an additional $14 million on disability services each year.

The state pays for most of school districts' special education costs. Manatee County also receives a $7 million federal grant for disability services.

Dearing estimated that the appeal will cost the district at least $50,000. At its meeting Monday night, the School Board approved a contract with Gregory Scharff, a California-based attorney, to handle the appeal. The board must file the appeal by July 2.

ADHD is a brain disorder that makes it difficult for children to control their behavior and pay attention. It can also negatively affect a child's organization, social and handwriting skills. The illness is most commonly seen in children, but can also affect adults.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3 to 5 percent of children have ADHD.

Federal law states that children with ADHD and attention deficit disorder can qualify for special education services if their disabilities affect their educational performance.

"Of course the question here is the interpretation of the administrative law judge on this," Dearing said.

The school district determines this based on a variety of measures, including classroom observations, psychological evaluations, IQ tests and academic performance. The district's evaluation showed that the child involved in the case, who is identified as T.D.-F., does not qualify for such services.

But the child's mother, Joanie Derry, is arguing that it's unfair for the district to her deny her son services because of his strong academic record.

"Just because he can academically meet the standards doesn't mean he is performing to his ability," said Timothy Weber, the family's attorney.

Derry said she will file a countersuit, accusing the district of discrimination against her son because of his disability.

Several parents showed up at Monday night's meeting to support Derry when she spoke to the board. Some later said that they also had problems with their children's special education evaluations.

"These people aren't going to help any child with ADHD," Derry said.

Derry's son attended third and fourth grades at Stewart Elementary School. He previously attended school in Milton, Mass., where he was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade.

Although the Manatee district drafted a specialized learning plan to accommodate his disability, his mother said teachers did not follow its guidelines.

Teachers also repeatedly penalized the child for misbehavior, which the judge's ruling states was a symptom of his ADHD. They frequently denied him recess, physical activity and social time, according to the judge's ruling.

The student is now enrolled at Stewart Elementary for next year. Derry, however, said she'd like to move him to a private school.

Students with disabilities can qualify for a special scholarship to a private school if they are dissatisfied with the public school system.

"You're looking at a kid that was discriminated against," Derry said. "And nobody's ever taken these people to task."


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