Parents claim Kennewick School District didn't properly school son; seek $500,000

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 13, 2014 

The parents of an autistic teen are asking a federal judge to order the Kennewick School District to pay them more than $500,000 for not properly educating their son.

The 17-year-old student, identified as E.M., used sexually inappropriate behavior at school, had a record of fleeing school buildings and struggled socially and academically, said documents filed in U.S. District Court in Richland.

After several incidents where he crashed his family's cars, his parents put him in a residential treatment facility in fall 2011.

His parents claim school officials should have done more to properly evaluate their son's condition and needs. They say in court documents they were not properly notified of how he was doing behaviorally and academically when he was attending school.

An administrative law judge partially agreed with them and recently ordered the Kennewick School District to pay $50,000, mostly for his education while in the facility.

But Eldon and Stephenie Monson said Administrative Law Judge Anne Senter's order discounted their costs in getting their son the services he needs.

And they said Senter didn't properly estimate or consider other expenses of placing and keeping their son in a residential treatment center.

The Monsons' attorney Diane Wiscarson of Portland could not be reached Friday about the case.

School district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain said school officials could not comment on pending litigation.

Court documents show the district is asking the US. District Court Judge Ed Shea to throw out Senter's ruling, claiming it shouldn't have to reimburse the costs of private counseling, additional evaluations and the boy's placement in residential treatment.

E.M. began attending Kennewick schools in kindergarten. His parents and teachers noticed early that he had trouble with motor skills, with staying focused and with inappropriate sexual behavior.

He began receiving special education services in the first grade and was diagnosed as being autistic.

Problems escalated after he entered middle school in 2008. There were several incidents during the next few years were he left campus during the school day and took a bus to Columbia Center mall, injured other students including one incident when he "stabbed" another boy with a pencil and inappropriately brushed up against girls in the hall.

In the eighth-grade he began to drive the family cars, injuring passengers in at least one crash. His parents placed him in a residential treatment facility, but he returned to school for the first half of his freshman year at a Kennewick high school before being placed again in residential treatment when his bad behavior escalated.

"The mother explained they were in an emergency mode at that point, not knowing if the student would be alive from one day to the next with his risky behaviors," court documents said.

The Monsons filed a claim with the district in April 2012, saying their son was denied a proper education. The district, ahead of Senter's ruling in November, offered a settlement to pay some costs and part of the teen's placement in residential treatment as long as he returned to a Kennewick school by February 2014. The Monsons rejected the offer, according to court documents.

Senter found the district failed to properly evaluate the teen academically and for some of his behaviors, preventing him from receiving a proper education. However, she also said the district is responsible only for paying for the academic portion of any residential treatment.

His parents are appealing Senter's decision, arguing she didn't properly calculate their son's tuition during residential treatment and that the district should pay the full cost of his enrollment at the residential center and other expenses such as legal costs.

But the district maintained it did not fail to educate or evaluate E.M., or to meet his needs or keep his parents updated on his status. Officials contend his education was on track during his middle school years.

The district added that the fact that Senter determined that residential treatment wasn't necessary for E.M.'s educational needs means the district shouldn't have to pay for any portion of his placement in the program or continued stay there.

No hearings have been scheduled on the issues.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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