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Education Reporter

Massachusetts Judge Says Parents Can't Refuse Special Education 'Services'
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13-year-old Patrick Lewis of Cohasset, Massachusetts has received special education services since 1st grade. He received the services because he had trouble concentrating and processing oral and written information. Last year, Patrick's parents, Peggy and Kevin Lewis, challenged Cohasset Middle School over the way the school was dealing with their son. The school staff wanted to provide more extra help sessions and counseling and to formally assess Patrick's classroom behavior.

The Lewises believed the school was already harassing Patrick and exacerbating his problems by monitoring him too closely — for example, teachers recorded in his reports such behavior "incidents" as chewing gum at school and forgetting a pencil. Patrick's parents also opposed the extra help sessions, since they didn't see any benefits from the sessions he already received. After several disputes with the school, the Lewises decided to remove Patrick from special education altogether and arrange private tutoring and any other necessary services for him.

"Our son's behavior is like any other kid," Peggy Lewis told the Boston Globe (12-13-07). "He's a normal 8th-grader. . . . We will get any extra help we can away from the Cohasset school system, which has proven to be a negative and hostile environment."

Parents' Rights Take Another Hit

An elementary school in Glendale, Arizona suspended a nine-year-old boy for a "hate crime," alleging he had used the phrase "brown people" to refer to African-Americans. The school says he used the phrase twice, while the boy and his mother say he never used it at all until a school staff member questioning him used it first.

To the boy's mother, who complained that she was not informed of the first incident, Abraham Lincoln Traditional School principal Virginia Voinovich quashed the idea that a parent had any right to be involved in discipline for such behavior. When parents send their children to school, they give up the right to discipline, she said. "If you don't want that, you can take him out of here." (Arizona Republic, 11-28-07)

The story, however, did not end there. The disagreement between the Lewises and Cohasset Public Schools went to the Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education Appeals, and then to court. The school sought a court order to keep Patrick in special education against his parents' wishes. In December, Judge Patrick Brady of the Norfolk Superior Court ruled in favor of the school, granting the court order.

Cohasset schools Supt. Denise Walsh applauded Judge Brady's decision. "This is really about a student's rights," she said. "It's really as simple as that, what's best for the child." The school had argued that removing special education services would deny Patrick his state right to an adequate education.

But the Lewises don't believe the special education "services" at Cohasset serve their son at all. "Patrick has great grades, and it has nothing to do with the education plan or the student services office," said Peggy Lewis. "Now Cohasset has their grip on my kid."

Mrs. Lewis also said her family's story bodes ill for other students receiving special education. "This is truly devastating to all parents who have children on an IEP," she said. The IEP is the "individual education plan" teachers make for special education students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. "When you sign an IEP for your child, you sign away your parental rights. . . . Don't sign on the dotted lines," Mrs. Lewis warned.

The Lewises could file an appeal, but might not win. Under the judge's order, Patrick would still have to receive the services the school wants to provide until the appeal is won. Instead, the Lewises plan to send Patrick to a private school starting next fall.

In most court cases over special education, parents take schools to court for refusing to provide services the parents think their child needs. This case is remarkable for being the reverse, but the bottom line is: the courts decide for the schools and against the parents.

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