Parents' suit claims Big Beaver school ignored disabilities

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A former student of Big Beaver Elementary School and his parents have sued the Big Beaver Falls Area School District alleging that it had a practice of not recognizing student disabilities.

The child, identified in the complaint only as J.P., started with the district in the 2007-08 school year, and did well for several years, even enrolling in the gifted education program, the lawsuit filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court said.

In the second half of third grade, the child was harassed by classmates, and one student made a notebook of "highly offensive" writings and drawings about J.P., it said. Later J.P. was involved in a fight on a bus.

Efforts by the parents to have J.P. evaluated for special services met with resistance from the district, according to the suit. A teacher later "testified credibly that she feared outright reprimand by the principal if she voiced support for investigating or evaluating a student's need for special education services," it said.

The parents got an independent evaluation done, and it found that J.P. had Asperger's syndrome, which is a social impairment on the autism spectrum disorder. J.P. later left the district.

The complaint by attorney Jeffrey J. Ruder seeks to be a class action representing victims of what it calls "a building-level practice of prohibiting the evaluation and identification of students" with disabilities.

The lawsuit seeks damages for J.P.'s family, and measures by the district to improve staff training and practices in regards to students with special needs.

District Superintendent Donna Nugent could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord.


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