School pays blind boy to stay away

4th May 2001 at 01:00
United States

District takes ultimate step to circumvent law that bans schools from disciplining violent pupils with special needs

. OFFICIALS of the Seattle school district didn't know what to do with the blind and developmentally disabled 16-year-old identified publicly only by his initials, IH.

So violent was he, they say, he had to be placed in a padded basement room, away from classmates. They paid $10,000 (pound;6,930) in one month to a private company to tutor him, and more than a tenth of that amount was to pay for van upholstery that the boy ripped apart on his way to school. He also injured a teacher aide and school bus driver, and allegedly attacked his mother with a knife when she visited the school.

Finally, administrators had enough. They paid the student's mother $180,000 (pound;125,000) - on condition that she no longer sent the boy to school. The school says he was impossible to educate, and a threat to other students.

The case has renewed controversy over the 1975 Individual with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which requires state schools to provide special education for eligible students until they reach 21.

The law effectively prohibits schools from disciplining or expelling students for disruptive behaviour. As a result, in the south-east Delco district in Pennsylvania, a student successfully sued his school for violating his rights after he was expelled for setting fire to the cafeteria.

A special education student in Richmond county, Georgia, went unpunished after urinatingon a classmate, and a student in Fairfax county, Virginia, got away with bringing a loaded gun to school because he had been diagnosed with "weakness in written language skills".

Also, the cost of IDEA has grown exponentially, partly because of the number of psychiatrists and lawyers willing to fight for students to qualify for special services. Today, six million students nationwide (11 per cent of six to17-year-olds in state schools) are in special education programmes, and in New York city alone, special education consumes a quarter of the city's school budget.

In Seattle, the situation was not clear-cut. An administrative officer who investigated the case said school officials improperly suspended the boy after months of not providing him with services, and had made no serious effort to help him.

"They treated him like a monster," the student's mother, Kathy Harris, told the Seattle Times. "For all the money they spent trying to get him out, they could have made a perfect programme for him. They never even tried."

In addition to being blind, the boy is autistic and suffers from intermittent explosive disorder, which gives rise to sudden aggressive behaviour. He has the cognitive age of a toddler.

Officials say it would cost more than $100,000 a year to send IH to a private institution because of the severity of his disabilities. The money the boy's mother was paid to withdraw him will be kept in an educational trust fund for him, and his family has agreed to take no further legal action.

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