Could a public school district be so set on ridding itself of a student with numerous challenges that it offers to pay a family to take him out of school?
21-year-old David Swanson is autistic and does not talk; he also has diabetes. His mother, Heather Houston, says that school officials have offered her $86,000 to take him out of the public schools in Yuba City in Northern California, to place him in a private school and to agree to drop her complaints against the school district and not file any in the future. The letter (according to ABC News) is unsigned and also calls for Houston to waive her son’s right to attend public schools.
$86,000 is a lot of money. Tuition for some out-of-district schools for students with disabilities can amount to that much in some places in New Jersey where I live. When I saw that the school district had offered Houston that amount, my thought was that the funds were to be used to educate Swanson in a home program or another school as the school district is legally required to pay for one more year of his education.
Students With Disabilities Can Go to School Until They’re 21 (or 22)
Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities are eligible for a “free and appropriate education” that accommodates for their needs until they reach adulthood. In California, they can receive services until the age of 22. In other states such as New Jersey, the cutoff age is 21.
Should a school district’s public schools prove unable to offer an appropriate education for their unique learning challenges, it is still obligated under the law to provide for the student’s education, whether at an out-of-district school or in a home program. Other accommodations that a school district can be required to provide can also include adaptive equipment (such as an augmentative communication device) or an aide to facilitate the student’s learning. Under IDEA, school district personnel and parents work out all these accommodations for a child’s education together and specifics are documented in the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Mother Says Yuba City Schools Discriminated Against Her Son
As WUSA 9 relates, Houston says that the Yuba City Unified School District and Sutter County Superintendent of Schools have not followed her son Swanson’s IEP and have discriminated against him.
Back in June, Houston says the school district offered her $50,000 to “keep Swanson out of school”; the payment was “unsolicited.” Then, when the school year began on August 15, school officials “turned [Swanson] away” and, two weeks later, sent the letter offering $86,000
A private duty nurse, Annette Armstrong, has helped to care for Swanson for the past five years by “helping him communicate with his iPad, monitoring his diabetes and administering his insulin as a nurse employed by the school district,” as Houston says to ABC News. Last year, a dispute arose when a teacher “decided to teach David table manners,” though such was not specified in his IEP. The teacher ended up, says Armstrong, forcing Swanson to eat. After Armstrong complained to her supervisors, Swanson “stopped eating with the teacher.”
While Houston wanted Armstrong to be present at an IEP meeting for Swanson, “her bosses told her to call in sick that day.” Armstrong described other incidents to ABC News which suggest that school administrators were uncertain about the extent to which Swanson could communicate using his iPad; some even allegedly thought he might be recording school personnel via the iPad (so that “someone at the school eventually broke David’s iPad by forcing him to leave it out in the rain”).
Sadly, Disputes Between Families and School Districts Are Not Uncommon
These might sound like small disputes, some over minute details about what is specified in a child’s IEP or not. Having dealt with five different school districts in three different states about my severely autistic son’s education, I can say that such disagreements are not uncommon. I’ve known of teachers and aides who’ve been fired on the grounds that they did not carry out what was specified in an IEP. A lot of conflict can arise amid school administrators, teachers and aides and families, who often feel their child’s very future is at stake.
Swanson is described as “mute.” As the mother of an older child with disabilities with very limited means of expressing himself (my son Charlie can talk a little but only with a very few words), I know the added challenges of teaching someone with little language. Based on news reports, Armstrong has been key to informing Houston about what was really going on in her son’s Yuba City classroom. Though a doctor has said that Armstrong’s presence is medically necessary, the school district could still possibly be wary of her. Schools are often extremely wary about any “outside personnel” on school grounds.
School districts won’t say it outright, but sometimes they simply have no idea how to educate a student and sending them out of district becomes the preferred option. The news reports do not note whether the Yuba City district has proposed any alternatives for Swanson’s remaining year of education. Might the district is just trying to let time pass till Swanson ages out and it is no longer responsible for him?
If that’s the case, it’s a sorry statement about what families, like Houston’s and my own, face as older children with developmental, intellectual and other disabilities enter the final years of their IDEA-mandated education after which there are limited options for day programs, employment and housing. Rather than showing Swanson the door, the Yuba City school district should be working with his mother to figure out a transition plan to help make the huge adjustment he very soon faces, once school ends for him forever.
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