for children with hidden disabilities who need evaluations for supports and services.
We have our second hearing, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, in two weeks -- there, we will argue that the school district deliberately discriminated against Kezzie, and the findings and legal conclusions set forth in last week's order strongly support that case. We have the same judge, thankfully.
We still have expert fees and costs, including a court transcript at our expense, but we are so thankful for all the assistance, support and good wishes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Although this is about our daughter Kezzie, please understand it’s never been only about Kezzie.
Two years ago, our then- 13-year-old was suddenly struck with the acute onset of a cluster of physical and neurological symptom: Crippling anxiety attacks, OCD, suicidal thoughts, agoraphobia, nausea, headaches, joint pain, vomiting.
Her medical team still doesn’t know the exact cause, but the symptoms are associated with infections like strep throat and swine flu, and can last for years.
Kezzie went from being an exceptional A student who loved school to someone who could barely attend her classes. (One time, she had a severe panic attack, fell, and suffered a concussion.)
We asked the school for help with class notes and homework, or even the possibility of using Skype to attend class. The school responded by dis-enrolling her. (Basically, they kicked her out.)
So we asked to have her evaluated for special needs under federal laws, but the school district refused to perform the necessary evaluations. She tried to return to return to school several times, but the district refused to provide her with even basic accommodations.
Under the circumstances, we decided to educate her through private resources, with lots of support from her health care providers.
We sued the school district. Last August, the judge ruled that the school district failed to properly evaluate our daughter, and ordered an independent evaluation at the district's expense. The evaluation found that our daughter had serious disabling conditions, and required specially designed instruction and accommodations. The school district again refused to find her eligible for special education.
Next week, after a second hearing held last month, the judge will make a final determination as to whether the district again failed its duty to educate Kezzie. We expect the case will be appealed to the District Court of Oregon, and perhaps even the Ninth Circuit.
Here’s why it's a watershed case: Our daughter is disabled, but also intellectually exceptional. School districts around this state, and even the country, have continuously refused to find students with emotional and other mental health disabilities eligible for protection if they are also academically or intellectually "gifted." We hope to change that—to create a legal precedent that requires school districts to serve all children with disabilities, not just the ones they deem worthy.
We’ve spent all our savings, mortgaged our house, and cashed in retirement funds to do this -- because schools get to use their own personnel as "experts", and parents have to hire their own, without reimbursement, even if they win. Parents can’t receive attorney fees, even if they are legally trained, like me. They can’t be reimbursed for costs associated with the hearings or discovery or depositions -- hours that I could have been making a living were spent writing briefs, motions and arguments for my kid -- and hopefully, yours.
To date, we've spent $4,470 on three expert witnesses and court costs (printing, mailing, exhibit binders, etc.) Believe me, we know money is tight for so many people, and especially for families raising children with disabilities— after all, we have three other children, all of them with autism.
But Kezzie has come a long way in two and a half years, and we hope that by continuing our pursuit of this case, other parents won’t find themselves in this same crazy predicament.
Thanks to those who help and those who wish they could.
For those who want to follow the outcome, the final order will be posted to the Oregon Department of Education's Due Process Hearing page. The case is DP 17-105.