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Disabled student denied entry into Piedmont schools

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
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'They had no right' to 'pick and choose,' mom says

OKLAHOMA CITY – Piedmont school officials refused to admit a 17-year-old disabled student into the district even though his mother was an employee at the time.

However, school officials did admit the teen’s two siblings – one of which graduated in May 2016. District officials told the boy’s mother, Tammy Shelton, that her disabled son was a “liability case.” District policy allows children of employees to attend Piedmont schools.

Piedmont Superintendent James White did not return a telephone call for comment.

The teen’s disability includes partial focal seizures, severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and sudden outbursts.

“It’s not right that you can pick and choose. The school said his disability was too severe,” Shelton recalled.

The teenager previously attended U.S. Grant High School when the family lived in south Oklahoma City. However, the family moved to Yukon and Shelton, then a bus driver for Piedmont schools, wanted to keep all of the siblings in the same district.

Unable to find a suitable caregiver for her son Christopher, Shelton was forced to bring him along with her on the bus routes. That didn’t last long. On one occasion, the teenager experienced a seizure and Shelton was cussed out by her supervisor because of the boy’s medical condition. Shelton identified the supervisor as Tony.

After that incident, Shelton was told by her supervisor that her son was not allowed on school premises.

“He should never have been denied [entrance into the district],” she said. “They had no right. They pick and choose who they want in the district.”

Shelton was fired from her job before the 2015-2016 school term was over, but her oldest son was allowed to graduate from Piedmont High School. She later transferred her daughter and Christopher to Yukon Public Schools.

This isn’t the first time parents with disabled children have encountered problems gaining services or entry into Piedmont schools.

Lindsay Thanscheidt, a physical therapist, has a 3-year-old child who is eligible for special education services, but she said Linda White, the district’s director of Special Services, was less than cooperative.

“Getting past her was the problem,” Thanscheidt said. “She was trying to keep me from getting him tested. I’m a physical therapist and I know what he’s entitled to and I insisted he get tested. Speech was our main concern and when the testing had not happened and I questioned her about it, she said the speech therapist was busy.”

After several confrontations and telephone calls with White, Thanschedit finally received approval for speech therapy.

“Once I got past her, everything was fine. The gatekeeper wasn’t letting the professionals do their job,” she said. “I’m assuming she’s doing that to control costs. Our situation made me feel bad for other parents who aren’t therapists and don’t know their rights. That’s what’s scary to me.”

Special education services is now the target of a federal investigation by the Civil Rights Office of the U.S. Department of Education. The case involves Piedmont parent Melanie Berry and her son who she alleges was discriminated against. Berry claims her son was denied services because he maintains high grades, yet suffers from ADHD and has problems processing information given in class.

“His working memory is at the top of the charts, but his processing speed is at the bottom of the charts,” Berry said. “His brain is working so fast he can retain it all, but then he tries to write it out and the brakes go on.”

Berry also alleged in the federal complaint that district officials retaliated against her by ending her employment as a substitute teacher. Prior to her dismissal, she had asserted her son’s right to special education and related services, which must be provided under federal law.

In a letter dated November 29, 2016, Maria North, a U.S. Department of Education civil rights attorney, wrote the agency will investigate Berry’s allegations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance. Piedmont schools receive federal money to operate several of its programs, including special education.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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