Woman's lawsuit says Fayette public schools 'failed to educate my daughter for six years'

kward1@herald-leader.comJune 12, 2014 

The mother of a child with special needs has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Fayette County Public Schools did not provide her daughter with a free appropriate public education.

Angela Southern filed the suit on behalf of her daughter May 29, stating that the school system failed to implement the girl's individual education program, which outlines goals and services for a student with disabilities, as it was written and "failed to educate my daughter for six years."

She is also suing because she claims the school system denied her child "special transportation," which Southern says put a financial burden on her to take her daughter to school.

Southern filed the handwritten lawsuit without the assistance of an attorney in U.S. District Court in Lexington. In addition to the school system, she names Superintendent Tom Shelton, special education director Kathy Dykes and the Kentucky Department of Education.

Fayette County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the district had not been served with it.

Southern says in the suit that her daughter has autism, epilepsy and "moderate mental retardiation (sic) with a IQ of 43."

"My daughter has not received a fair and free education and was discriminated (against) based on disability," Southern wrote.

Southern filed a formal complaint with the Kentucky Department of Education under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.

A report outlining the findings of the district's self-investigation into the complaint was filed in court along with the lawsuit.

The report indicates that the district violated Kentucky Administrative Regulations by failing to implement the IEP as written, because the child did not receive the amount of speech therapy called for in her individual education program, or IEP, during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

The district missed 17 sessions of speech therapy over those years, which resulted in the student being denied a free appropriate public education, according to the report.

The district said it would correct the violations by providing the child with 400 minutes of speech therapy by May 30, 2013, to compensate for the time she had missed and said it would train all speech therapists on the implementation of the IEP by Aug. 30, 2013.

If the child returned to school, the district said it would offer her extended school year services.

The investigation report found no wrongdoing by the district with regard to some of Southern's complaints, including allegations that the district had improperly disclosed information about Southern's child online and had failed to consider medical documentation stating that she needed special transportation.

Southern told the Herald-Leader in February 2012 that she wanted the district to send a "short bus" to her apartment complex to pick up her daughter, then 10 years old, and she wanted the bus to pick the child up at her door with someone on board to monitor her.

Southern said her daughter was prone to seizures if she was overstimulated.

According to the investigation report, a doctor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital had sent a letter stating that the girl needed "minimal students on the bus to better help minimize behavioral problems."

For the 2012-13 school year, there were 30 children on the bus assigned to Southern's daughter in the morning, and nine students in the afternoon. The bus had a capacity of 78.

The district said the committee responsible for developing and implementing the child's IEP "discussed the number of students on the bus and determined that there was a minimal amount of students."

In the report, the district said it would "train bus personnel on appropriate seizure protocol" if Southern's daughter were allowed to ride the bus again.

But Southern told the Herald-Leader in February 2012 that she had been driving her daughter to school rather than have her ride a regular-sized school bus.

She said the district had offered to pick the girl up at the street in front of the complex with a regular-sized bus with a reduced number of students on board. She said the district had offered to have her sit separately from other children to provide a quieter atmosphere.

Southern had declined, saying the bus stop on the busy street where they lived at the time was "dangerous" and that having the child sit separately would make her susceptible to being made fun of.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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