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Mother of deaf child files federal complaint

From: Peoria Journal Star, IL - Oct 7, 2003

Woman alleges girl's education was denied during school move

October 7, 2003

By ELAINE HOPKINS of the Journal Star

PEORIA - The mother of a deaf student at Sterling Middle School has filed a complaint alleging discrimination against her child by District 150 administrators.

MaLynda Smith, whose 4-year-old daughter attends pre-kindergarten special-education classes at Sterling, states in the complaint that the child was denied a free and appropriate education by the three-week move to Woodrow Wilson Primary School. The complaint was filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

She is asking the Civil Rights office to require the school district to make up the education that her daughter missed.

District 150 officials moved the program for the hearing-impaired children to Woodrow Wilson Primary School earlier this fall but moved it back to Sterling after parents protested.

In the complaint, Smith states that she was not warned in advance of the move and had no opportunity to challenge it, so she also was denied due process required by law.

District 150 spokesman John Day said school officials have no knowledge of the complaint and cannot comment.

Smith's daughter was unable to hear her teachers at Woodrow Wilson, the complaint states.

On Monday, Smith of Washington said she plans to speak to the School Board at tonight's meeting and that parents of hearing-impaired children at Sterling intend to picket at the meeting.

Her goal, she said, is to ensure that the hearing-impaired preschool and kindergarten children stay permanently at Sterling.

"The school was built for hearing-impaired kids, and that is what it should be used for. They're taking away from our kids to make their jobs a little more comfortable. That's not right," she said.

The district wanted to convert the rooms to office space.

Smith said her school district pays $28,000 yearly in tuition to send her daughter to Sterling.

"It's up to me," she said, whether her child continues to attend the District 150 program. "I want to make sure she's getting the best."

Administrators said they were preparing for a state review when they decided to move the children. That comprehensive compliance review by the Illinois State Board of Education is scheduled for March.

The district's last review was in 1996. The most recent amendments to federal special-education laws took place in 1997, board officials said.

State board officials did not tell the district to move the children, State Board of Education division administrator Jim Gunnell said Monday.

Other school districts have been told "to move students because they were not educating them in the least restrictive environment," he said, but they were not hearing-impaired students.

Barbara Sims, principal educational consultant with the state board, said: "We were aware of this (Peoria) situation after (the students) had been moved. We told them it would be appropriate because they would interact with nondisabled students in their age range."

The Office for Civil Rights will evaluate the complaint and seek to resolve it, according to its Web site at

If that's not possible, the agency conducts a fact-finding investigation and can move to terminate federal funds to the district or refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Copyright © 2003, The Peoria Journal Star Inc., Peoria, Illinois U.S.A. All rights reserved.



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