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Parents want son out of special ed

Schools ask court to keep him there

Email|Print| Text size + By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / December 13, 2007

At a time when many parents fight school districts to provide special education for their children, the Cohasset School Committee will ask a Norfolk Superior Court judge this morning to prevent a set of parents from pulling their 13-year-old son out of special education.

The School Committee is trying provide the child his constitutional right to a free and appropriate education, said Mary Ellen Sowyrda, a school district attorney, in an interview yesterday.

But the boy's parents, Kevin and Peggy Lewis, who asked that their son not be named, counter that the school district is harassing their child by monitoring his behavior too closely - recording in reports when their son chews gum in class or forgets his pencil - and that additional services, such as one-on-one tutoring, are not helping him improve academically. The Lewises would rather spend their own money on a tutor.

The child, an eighth-grader at Cohasset Middle School, has been in a special education curriculum since first grade for a variety of learning issues, including an inability to focus in class and difficulty processing and understanding oral and written communication. More recently, behavioral issues have emerged.

"Are they doing a good job?" Peggy Lewis, a secretary at Cohasset High School, asked in a telephone interview yesterday. "He should be off the plan by now."

Later she added: "Our son's behavior is like any other kid. He's a normal eighth-grader. . . . We will get any extra help we can away from the Cohasset school system, which has proven to be a negative and hostile environment."

State education specialists and parent advocates consider the case unusual both because it is headed to court and because parents rarely withdraw their children from special education.

"Most of the fights we hear about are when schools don't want to provide services that parents request or schools are providing services that parents consider inadequate and the parents want more services," said Richard Robison, executive director of the Federation for Children with Special Needs.

In granting a School Committee request in September to allow the child to continue receiving special education while the case is being decided, Judge Patrick F. Brady indicated the school district will probably prevail today on the central issue of the case: whether the parent's program of regular education combined with private tutoring would deny a child an adequate education. Brady also said in the order "that there is a substantial risk of irreparable harm to the child if such services are not provided."

A hearing officer for the state Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education Appeals, which sided with the Cohasset school district in August, told school officials they needed to go to Superior Court to keep the child in special education.

The state Department of Education, citing child privacy laws, declined to comment yesterday.

The school district and the Lewises have been clashing since last fall, when Peggy Lewis met with her son's teachers because she was concerned he was not completing his schoolwork and wanted to get him back on track, according to court documents.

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