Page 3 of 7
The Missouri Department of Education does not keep records detailing the progress of autistic students. Instead, it tracks the performance of special-education students as a whole.
In choosing Keimig to lead the special session in August, Lieberman says, she relied on informed friends. "I asked people who were very knowledgeable about autism education, and they all said Jerry would be great," Lieberman says. "I don't think I'm really at liberty to identify anyone I talked to."
The announcement of Keimig's special session infuriated some members of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, a collection of parents that includes Joyce Lindsey.
"If he's going to be there, we are picketing that conference," Lindsey says. "There's no way that he should be in that position."
In Missouri, if a parent decides that a school district isn't meeting its obligations, the parent has several options for complaining to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The most common method is filing a "due process" lawsuit against the school, which is then moderated by hearing officers assigned by DESE. That's costly for parents of special-ed students, who are already spending extra money on therapies and doctors. And the lawsuits are almost impossible to win, says one Kansas City lawyer who has a history of dealing with such suits.
"I don't even want to take them anymore because it's so hard to get anywhere," Kim Westhusing says. "The challenge is, you have to determine whether the child is receiving what the state refers to as 'free and appropriate education.' And the standard, as written, is 'Did the child receive some educational benefits?' OK, now what does that mean? What an educational benefit is depends on who you talk to. A student could go through a whole year of school, only learns to tie his shoes, and they could say that's an educational benefit. You almost have to show that their program has harmed a child."
Last year, Regina Yaros filed for due process because she wanted to keep her son Josh, 10, at Woodland Elementary School. Administrators wanted to move him to a Life Skills program at a different school.
Yaros argued that keeping him at Woodland was better for him because of his social interaction with children he'd known since kindergarten. She also believed that he already had capabilities exceeding what he would learn in Life Skills, which focuses on basic day-to-day activities such as getting dressed, going to see a movie and buying groceries.
"At his first IEP [Individualized Education Program] meeting, his teachers said they wanted to move him. But his IEP shows he's actually making progress. So we didn't understand why you'd put him in a class where he won't learn the things he's proven he can learn now," Yaros says.
"They explained that academically, he was too far behind the other students to stay. But that doesn't seem to be a reason to put him in a Life Skills class where all he'll learn is how to shop and dress. I can teach him that myself right now. Maybe later, if he doesn't progress, I can see it, but he's in elementary school, so why give up on him now?"
Yaros claims that during his IEP meetings, administrators told her that one of the reasons they wanted to move him was because, under state guidelines, they could waive his MAP scores if he was listed as a Life Skills student.
Yaros won her due-process suit based on her argument that Josh's current school was the "least restrictive environment for education" — under the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a "least restrictive environment" means that a disabled student should have the greatest possible opportunity to be educated with his or her nondisabled peers. As part of Yaros' settlement, Josh was to stay in his school for the academic year.