September 16, 2019

Mother files countersuit against Lamoine schools

BANGOR – The mother of a special needs child has filed a countersuit against the Lamoine school committee, asking a federal judge to rule in her favor and require the committee to pay for her court costs and other expenses.

The mother, identified only as Ms. Z to protect the identity of her 15-year-old son, alleges in U.S. District Court records that the dispute over special education services for her child was caused because the school “failed to appropriately treat” the boy’s emotional and learning disabilities.

The school’s failure resulted in “further emotional disabilities and reactions,” the mother asserts in her Dec. 23 answer to the school committee’s lawsuit.

The committee filed the suit in federal court in Bangor in November as an appeal to a state administrative hearing officer’s ruling.

The state Department of Education hearing officer in October ruled that the school committee must reimburse Ms. Z for an adventure camp and boarding school tuition for her son.

The seven-week outdoor camp in North Carolina cost $17,825, and tuition to the Academy at Cedar Mountain in Utah runs $60,000 a year.

According to the hearing officer’s ruling, Ms. Z also is owed the money she paid to an out-of-state consultant who helped her locate the programs for her son.

Lamoine school Superintendent William Fowler could not be reached for comment Monday. The attorney for the woman and her son has said he thinks the lawsuit is confidential and declined to comment.

Fowler and the school committee have asserted that neither the adventure program nor the boarding school is approved as special education programs under federal and state law. They fear the case will set a precedent for Maine schools that would upend special education laws and allow parents to place their children anywhere they want at the public’s expense.

The school committee’s suit asks the court to confirm that the hearing officer erred in her decision and to vacate the ruling that the school must reimburse the mother for the out-of-state programs.

Although the school committee argued in court records that the school offered a special education program for the child that was appropriate and timely, Ms. Z disagreed.

“Testimony at hearing indicated that the program [proposed by the school] was largely unsuited for [the child] and, as noted above, most pertinently, the program did not exist at the time it was proposed, casting doubt on the underlying intentions of the school in making the proposal.”

According to the initial complaint, the school committee noted that the state Education Department had approved the special program for the boy, which was created for him at KidsPeace, a therapeutic day treatment program in Ellsworth.

The state’s hearing officer, however, later rejected the KidsPeace program and ruled that while the boarding school “fell short” of satisfying federal special education laws, “the placement was appropriate … since [the child] was happy and was attending school.”

The school committee filed its reply to the counterclaim on Monday. The two-page response did not contain any new information.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

comments for this post are closed

You may also like