A parent of an elementary school student with autism has filed a federal lawsuit against the Gresham-Barlow School District, alleging the district violated federal laws covering disabled students.
The suit was filed by Anthony Vos on behalf of his 9-year-old son, identified in the court papers as "S.S.V."
The Gresham-Barlow district declined to comment on Vos' allegations, saying, the "lawsuit is pending litigation and as such, The Gresham-Barlow School District does not provide comment to the media regarding active litigation."
Deputy Superintendent James Hiu's email did note, however, that "The Gresham-Barlow School District is committed to maintaining a safe, secure and positive learning environment with clear academic goals and high expectations for all of our students. We take the safety and privacy of our students, teachers and all District personnel very seriously."
The suit does not ask for specific monetary damages.
But S.S.V's lawyer Brenna Legaard said that the child was not supported in first and second grade and will likely need extra help to catch up.
"I don't know what the kid's going to need to get back on track," Legaard said.
In similar suits in the past, districts have paid for therapists, tutors and put funds in a trust account for future needs of the child. Districts have also been required to pay the family's legal fees.
The suit describes S.S.V. as "a bright, sociable boy" but notes that he becomes overwhelmed easily, which can lead to disruptive behavior.
S.S.V. has benefited from a type of therapy called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), widely used with people with autism. S.S.V. was successful at a private kindergarten with the help of his ABA therapist in the classroom.
But when S.S.V. went to West Gresham Elementary School for first grade, the district prohibited his therapist from aiding him at school, even though it would have been at no cost to the district.
"The School District refused to permit the ABA therapist to work with S.S.V. at school, telling S.S.V.'s parents that the School District's "policy" was to refuse to allow private ABA therapists to work in the school building with students. The School District provided no further explanation," the civil suit said.
During first grade, S.S.V. "struggled to focus, attend to work and complete required tasks, and he had frequent emotional outbursts," the suit said.
Things got worse for S.S.V. in second grade because of re-assignments of West Gresham staff, the suit contends.
"This re-assignment resulted in a significant reduction in the support available to the children at West Gresham Elementary, including S.S.V. S.S.V.'s disruptive behaviors increased markedly," the suit said. The district then moved him to a special classroom for kids with behavior problems at Kelly Creek Elementary School, where he still goes to school. The district again refused to allow the ABA therapist in the classroom.
The class includes children from kindergarten to fifth-grade and the teacher told S.S.V.'s mother "that it is impossible for her to teach appropriate grade level curriculum due to the wide range of ages and ability levels in the class and the constant disruption caused by the students' behavior problems. "
The Kelly Creek classroom teacher and an assistant told S.S.V.'s mother that "the aggressive behaviors exhibited by the PASS students overwhelmed their ability to provide a safe setting for S.S.V., let alone the grade-level instruction that non-disabled students receive," the suit said.
The suit said that, academically, S.S.V. falls farther behind every day.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Oregon, alleges that Gresham-Barlow violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
The next step is for the Gresham-Barlow School District to file an answer to the lawsuit or negotiate a settlement with the family.
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