Family Offered $86,000 to Remove Autistic Student from School

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.

Photo from Thinkstock


Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

I want to reiterate the comment Anne M. left: "they ought to put the $86,000 towards educating in Autism Awareness". He's just a person, after all. the Sandy Hook school shooter, Adam Lanza, had Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum. Of everything that was revealed about his life, what struck me most was that he didn't seem to be connected to anybody in his community, not even his mother. All people, especially the marginalized, need to be connected to some people (and animals.) dealing w/my own loneliness, I've often wondered: w/o some connections, are people really living?

June Lacy
June Lacy4 years ago

more and more I am disgusted by this great state of american educational system......

Helen Krummenacker

I feel for him, but I can also understand the difficulty of running a classroom with a 21 year old who needs constant medical care-- while teaching 15-35 other students in their teens. I think a private education probably would be better tailored to his needs, especially if they could perhaps bring in a retired special ed teacher who could do one-on-one work with him. It seems like his parents may be focusing on the social benefits of public education, but I wish the article had a quote from the young man on what he wants.

annie s.
christine s4 years ago

The interest of the pupil is the priority .

June Bostock
June Bostock4 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago


Lynne Willey
Lynne Willey4 years ago

I can't imagine the few posts here that seem so lacking in compassion or concern for the student in question. We didn't get this formerly great nation by only taking care of ourselves. e have what we have now, because of all of the work that so many millions of Americans did in the past. And I hope this age of people only thinking about themselves ends soon. Mean selfish people suck.

My family has served for generations now in the military, putting their lives on the line, in theory for the good of the nation, for ALL of Americans. And it really makes me angry and sad to see people being so self-centered that they can't see the value of doing right by this child.

I very often defend teachers. I realize they have a tough job and that many are really dictated and want to do a good job. But I went to school at a time when my parents could walk in any door they wanted and show up in my classroom anytime they want. Something is really wrong with teachers or a school system that worries the public will see what they are doing. And I hope the teacher had to replace the iPad. When that is the way this child communicates, it is abuse to take it away from him. If you have nothing to hide, the windows can be open and light can come in. These people clearly know they are doing things they don't want the public to see.

Ziv Adaki
Ziv Adaki4 years ago


Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago

thanks for sharing