The mother of a 9-year-old Maize girl who has Down syndrome and other disabilities is suing a local school district and special education services provider after she says they failed to mainstream her daughter in a regular classroom.
The lawsuit claims that the Maize school district and staff with the Sedgwick County Area Educational Services Interlocal Cooperative failed to conduct appropriate behavioral testing on the girl and to follow her individualized education program. The girl ultimately was reassigned from the school she had been attending to another building with a special education classroom without her parents’ input, the lawsuit says.
“In a series of steps, the Defendants have kept finding ways to side-step the agreed upon IEPs (individualized education program) to have ... (the girl) moved out of the regular educational classroom,” according to the 22-page complaint filed Monday in federal court.
“They used these incremental, unilateral changes to ultimately move her into another school building” where a special education classroom is located, the lawsuit says.
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The lawsuit notes that federal law requires districts to place students in the “least restrictive environment.” That means that, whenever possible, students with special needs are in regular classrooms along with their peers. Many have aides, such as para-educators, who assist with lessons.
The lawsuit contends the school district and special education co-op’s actions denied the girl equal access to an education in a public school by violating laws that protect people with disabilities and “acted with reckless or callous indifference” to the girl’s rights.
The girl has Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, heart conditions, hypothyroidism and a mild intellectual disability.
The mother, who is an elementary school teacher in another school district, “believes the underlying dispute comes down to inclusion of (a) young girl with a disability in regular education with modifications and supports,” the lawsuit says. She has had students with disabilities in her classroom, the lawsuit says. The school district she teaches in “does not have a structure that segregates special education students in the way that (the) Maize School District does,” the lawsuit says.
Lori Buselt, spokeswoman for Maize public schools, said in an e-mail Thursday that the district “is not able to discuss pending legal matters and is unable to offer comments at this time.”
Messages left with the Sedgwick County Area Educational Services Interlocal Cooperative were not returned.
Samara Klein, the attorney representing the mother and girl, said Friday she could not talk about the lawsuit. The girl’s father isn’t a party to the lawsuit but has participated in his daughter’s education and has been in agreement with her mother about it, the lawsuit says.
The girl and her parents are identified in court documents only by their initials.
Students who qualify for special education services are entitled by state law to an individualized education program, or IEP. The written plan describes specialized educational programs the student will receive, and it is regularly reviewed and revised by a team that includes teachers, counselors, the child’s parents and others.
According to the lawsuit, the girl started attending Maize Elementary School at age 3 after she was identified as qualifying for special education services. Her parents were involved in her initial evaluations, education planning and the development of her IEP in 2013, as she was preparing to enter kindergarten. At the time they told the school that they wanted her in a regular classroom “as much as possible.”
But after that, the lawsuit contends, the school district and special education co-op conducted a behavioral analysis on the girl and developed a behavior intervention plan for her without her parents’ consent, knowledge or input. The Kansas State Board of Education later determined that the testing and behavioral plan violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to the lawsuit.
The parents wanted a new analysis and plan conducted over the next few years but the school district and special education co-op instead relied on the old one, the lawsuit says.
During her kindergarten year, the school district and special education co-op violated the girl’s IEP by not giving her regular hourly breaks, which “increased the problems with her behavior,” and put her into a special education classroom for most core subjects, the lawsuit says.
In February 2016, when the girl was in first grade, it was agreed that she would be in a regular classroom for all but 40 to 45 minutes of language arts each day. She instead was pulled out for 75 minutes of language arts and also for an hour of math without her parents’ consent, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the parents think that because they did not consent to the changes in the amount of time their daughter was spending in the special education classroom that the school and special education co-op “took retaliatory actions” against them, including scheduling the girl’s final IEP meeting that year at a date and time they knew the parents couldn’t attend. She was reassigned to a different school after that.
The girl also was suspended from school for the first time after her parents revoked consent for portions of the IEP, the lawsuit says. She “has at times been bullied by staff, including being poked in the head,” it says.
The girl “was a happy, energetic child who loved school” before being moved, the lawsuit says. She since has resisted going to school several times and “play acts school while at home with students constantly being punished and receiving negative feedback.”
The lawsuit seeks several remedies, including supplementary programs or services, training for all district and special education co-op staff members and unspecified monetary damages for pain and suffering. It also demands a jury trial be held in Wichita.
Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Eagle