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Dothan, AL: District sues to REMOVE violent SPED student; Mom says IEP failure

June 22, 2023, 1819 News: Dothan City Schools failed to follow special education guidelines, attorneys say

Dothan City Schools (DCS) is suing a mother and her disruptive son to have him removed from class. The child's attorneys argue that DCS failed to comply with special education protocols and pursue legal remedies for the student's behavior.

The 16-year-old student, known as J.C. in court documents, is diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and a secondary math learning disability, which, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requires DCS to provide J.C. with an individualized education plan (IEP).

While in class, J.C. displayed "aggression toward others (minor), property misuse, disruptive behaviors, non-compliance to tasks, classroom rules." On Nov. 7, 2022, J.C. threatened to jump a substitute teacher, saying he had done it before to kids. In one stretch, from Sept. 13, 2022, through Sept. 29, 2022, J.C. had 10 incidents ranging from cussing at teachers to fighting, earning him multiple suspensions.

Citing his behavior, DCS expelled J.C. on Dec. 6, 2022. However, on March 23, 2023, a judge ordered that J.C. be reinstated, finding that DCS's IEP was inadequate for his needs, not followed by the school and not implemented in a timely manner.

According to J.C.'s attorneys, William Johnson and Caroline Pennington, DCS did not have a written IEP by the Sept. 1, 2022, deadline and failed to train special educators before the start of the school year. The law allows extensions for unprepared schools, but DCS "[f]ailed to intervene when it was legally required to do so."

Furthermore, under the IEP, J.C. was required to be accompanied by an adult at all times, but this was not always followed. When J.C. threatened the substitute teacher in November, he wandered the halls unaccompanied.

In addition to putting J.C. back in school, the judge ordered DCS to follow a more substantial IEP and appropriately train special educators. Following the court-adjusted IEP, J.C. finished the school year without any new behavioral incidents.

Now, after months of complying with the court order, DCS is appealing the decision in a higher court, a move that Johnson and Pennington find confusing.

"If you didn't like what [Judge] Cole said, why didn't you go and put the brakes on it [in March]? You've done everything he ordered you to do. What's your basis for appeal?" the attorneys wrote.

If DCS wanted J.C. out of school, Johnson and Pennington said they could have filed for a due process action to change the student's learning environment months ago.


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