How to Avoid Special-Ed Lawsuits

Mon Jul 21, 2008 at 10:08:35 AM

Last week, I reported on how parents  of special education students in the Lee’s Summit School District were ready to picket a state education conference on autism because they were upset that Lee’s Summit’s Director of Special Education, Jerry Keimig, had been selected to give a presentation.

I was never able to confirm this, but as near as I can tell, the last time Missouri school administrators heard a presentation on autism was ten years ago. The point of that program? To help them avoid lawsuits filed by parents who are angry about their autistic children’s education.

Back in 1998, the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) annual law seminar included a section titled “Special Education for Early Childhood Autistic Students -- How to Avoid Parent Demands for LOVAAS/TEACH Methodologies.” (In this case “TEACH” is a typo; it’s supposed to be TEACHH, an acronym for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children.) That program and LOVAAS (named for the doctor who invented it) are now considered among the best methods for teaching young autistic students. The notes on the pictured copy of the law seminar’s program were written by Kansas City attorney Kim Westhusing, who has represented several parents of autistic children in due process cases against metro school districts.

After a page and a half of running down what LOVAAS and TEACHCH are – and noting that students in early childhood special education programs can have their services 100 percent reimbursed by state funds instead of individual school districts – the document goes into detail about increases in litigation over special education, test cases in which parents won, and how a district can deny education services while avoiding litigation.

Even though this seminar program is ten years old, it is the last time MASA chose to address the issue of special education for autistic students, according to Stephanie Sappenfield, an administrative assistant with the group. She told me there had been no other programs on autism education in the past decade.