Parents win 2005 suit stating Dobyns-Bennett did not provide proper education, learning environment for child

Matthew Lane • Sep 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

GREENEVILLE — A federal judge has upheld a ruling that found a behavior plan for a former special education student attending Dobyns-Bennett High School was “grossly insufficient” and failed to improve the student’s interaction with his peers.

The family of the student made a claim in March 2005 that Kingsport City Schools had not complied with an individualized education program (IEP) for their son.

Court records state the student was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADTD) in first grade and “learning disabled” in 2003. When the student entered D-B in the fall of 2004, the school system developed an IEP for the student that included consultation services, preferential seating and a behavior plan.

The behavior plan called for the student to stop calling other students names, avoid contact with students with whom he’d had prior incidents, and to report threats against him to school officials, court records state.

After beginning school in the fall of 2004 as a freshman, the student became involved in numerous altercations, including fights and being threatened. The student was also accused of making derogatory comments to other students.

In February 2005, the parents of the student removed him from D-B for homebound instruction. However, his grades began to drop. KCS proposed using “shadows” to follow the student around during the day, and once back at D-B the student’s grades improved and no other incidents were reported.

The parents requested a hearing in March 2005, claiming KCS had not complied with the IEP and maintained a hostile, dangerous and harassing environment that prevented their child from receiving a free, appropriate public education.

Hearings were held in November and December 2005 and in January and February 2006. Administrative Law Judge Marilyn Hudson ruled in favor of the parents.

Nearly two years ago, KCS appealed Hudson’s ruling in U.S. District Court in Greeneville seeking two reversals:

• That the IEP was not implemented and the behavior plan was insufficient.

• The ruling that the parents were the “prevailing party” for purposes of awarding attorney’s fees.

In its appeal, KCS argued administrators and teachers testified that each of the requirements of the behavior plan were implemented, including preferential seating, the modification of the student’s class schedule and the use of “shadows” — something the parents of the student demanded.

U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan issued a ruling earlier this month upholding Hudson’s ruling. “The administrative law judge set out in her opinion the testimony of (KCS’) own expert regarding the use of shadows, the reporting burdens in the behavior plan and the need for regular counseling,” Jordan wrote in his opinion.

Jordan also upheld Hudson’s ruling that the parents were the prevailing party for the purpose of awarding attorney’s fees.

“Although they did not prevail on all the issues they had before the administrative law judge — the bullying and request for a transfer to another school — they prevailed on issues concerning the behavior plan and use of the shadows,” Jordan wrote.

Amy Greear, community relations coordinator for KCS, said the school system is considering appealing the case.

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