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Lawsuit alleges mistreatment of Bentonville autistic students

by Dave Perozek | April 15, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Four families have filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the Bentonville School District mistreated and mishandled its autistic students.

The district, the School Board, Superintendent Michael Poore and the Arkansas Department of Education are among those listed as defendants in the lawsuit. Little Rock attorney Theresa Caldwell represents the plaintiffs.

Special Education

According to state data, 1,648 of the Bentonville School District’s 15,478 students, or 10.6 percent, are classified special-education students.

Source: Staff Report

Four children -- all boys identified in the lawsuit by the letters L, A, G and S -- were "subjected to discrimination, punished for exhibiting disability related behaviors, and deprived of public educational services offered to children without disabilities," the lawsuit states. They also were subjected to physical restraints and abuses because of their disabilities, according to the lawsuit.

Parents involved as plaintiffs are identified as Ron and Lauren Parrish, Victor and Laura Craig, Casey and Chastidy Laws, and Rachelle Siverly. Their children were all in elementary school while they were in the district. None are enrolled in the district now, Caldwell said.

Paul Stolt, district director of communications, declined comment on the lawsuit and referred questions to Marshall Ney, a lawyer who represents the district. Ney, when contacted by email, wrote he was unavailable to speak at length on Tuesday. He noted the district has prevailed in cases involving some of these students in hearings before the Department of Education.

Those hearings were necessary before the families could pursue legal action, Caldwell said.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based upon disability and requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met just as those of the nondisabled are met.

The parents complain in the suit their children were subjected to physical restraint, "draggings" and seclusion or were forced to watch peers subjected to that treatment.

All seven School Board members as of early 2013 are named in the lawsuit because the board has refused to write or approve a policy on seclusion and restraint of students, Caldwell said.

"The state requires that," she said.

Travis Riggs, board president, didn't return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges one of the children was subjected to bullying by peers, and the district failed to adequately supervise him, which resulted in him being sexually abused by another student on the playground at Centerton Gamble Elementary School. The district took no action in response to the incident, the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs are requesting a jury trial and seek unspecified compensation for the injuries, damages and losses they claim. They also seek an order prohibiting the district from using methods "which are not research-based in teaching and supporting children with autism."

Caldwell, who specializes in special education law, said she would seek class-action certification for the lawsuit in order to achieve systemic change at the district.

NW News on 04/15/2015

Print Headline: Lawsuit alleges mistreatment of autistic students

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