Private school student wins requested special ed services.


Byline: Barry Bridges

A hearing-impaired student should have access to special education services in a way that protects his parents' choice to enroll him in a private school, Superior Court Judge Netti C. Vogel has decided.

Vogel held that the Lincoln School District is responsible for furnishing a teacher of the deaf to assist the student during his academic day at The Gordon School.

The outcome hinged on the interpretation of G.L. 16-24-1(b), which requires a school committee to afford private disabled students "the same free and appropriate education as it provides to children in public schools."

Because the district would not have administered one-on-one teacher-of-the-deaf or TOD instruction in its public schools, it maintained that under that "clear and unambiguous" statute, it was not required to provide those services in a private setting.

But Vogel found the law to be less than clear and looked to its legislative history in stating that the Legislature intended to preserve a parent's choice to place his or her child in private school and concluding that "16-24-1(b) must be interpreted to allow a child with a disability to continue attending his or her private school while receiving the necessary special education services at the school district's expense."

In affirming the decision of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education that the student is entitled to TOD services at Gordon, Vogel recognized that state law lends stronger protections for parentally-placed disabled private school students than the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

As part of her ruling, the judge also ordered the district to reimburse the student's parents for costs they had previously incurred in personally hiring a TOD.

The 26-page decision is Lincoln School District v. Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 61-106-18. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

Representing the plaintiff school district was Michael J. Polak of Providence. Paul V. Sullivan of Providence and Amy R. Tabor of South Attleboro represented the defendant council and student, through his parents. The attorneys did not respond to requests for comments prior to press deadlines.

Private school enrollment

Eleven-year-old D. Doe resides with his parents in Lincoln and has suffered severe hearing loss since birth, which has resulted in delays in his language development.

Under an agreement between...

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