A Virginia school district is suing to reverse the education plan for one of its severely autistic African-American students.
The Henrico County School Board filed a suit in February to appeal the December decision of a special hearing officer, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. That hearing concluded that the school system failed to provide Gregory Matthews with a free, appropriate education, and that Henrico must contribute financially for him to attend a private school that can provide the quality education he needs.
But the county contends that it has made progress educating 15-year-old Matthews, who is nonverbal.
Henrico is one of four state school districts that the Virginia Department of Education flagged for disproportionately punishing Black students with learning disabilities, compared to what it provides White and Hispanic students with similar challenges. School officials in the districts suspend their learning disabled African-American students at least three times more often than their disabled peers. Meanwhile, there’s also an ongoing U.S. Department of Education investigation into racial bias complaints against all four of the school districts.
Federal law requires public school districts to provide a free and appropriate education for students with learning disabilities. After collaborating with teachers and education specialists to develop an individualized plan for their child, parents can dispute how effectively the school is implementing the strategy.
Matthews’ parents exercised their right to dispute the quality of education that Henrico was providing their son. They complained that he was not making sufficient progress. The parents wanted to send him to a private school in the county that specializes in educating autistic children. The county, however, would have to contribute about $23,000 a year for the private school, which is about one-third of the full tuition. The parents contend that the school simply does not want to pay.