Sullivan County Schools Contribute Up to $ 225,000 to Settle Special Education Claims | Education

BLOUNTVILLE – Schools in Sullivan County are in the process of paying $ 225,000 to settle a claim alleging they failed to provide appropriate education to a high school student in special education.

The payments are to settle allegations that the system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Disability Education Act, as two attorneys for the student and his mother have indicated.

The school system left the student in a room with an untrained adult “guardian” for most of the school day and masked his academic progress, claims made in court documents before a settlement was made. concluded.

The student, now 19, was 17 when his mother sought redress from the Tennessee Department of Education. The student has autism and sensory integration disorder.

The Times News does not publish his name or hers. School officials have repeatedly declined to comment on the matter in recent months.

“Anyone can read the public records and judge this,” the mother said Thursday afternoon over the phone. “All I know is people will just have to read it and make up their own minds.”

Documents filed with the Sullivan County Circuit Court indicate the student was placed in a “break room” at the former Sullivan Central High School with an adult who has not been trained to handle students special education.

The student ate lunch in this room and spent much of his time sleeping on a sofa, one of the documents says. The school system also provided the adult with a sofa.

In addition, court documents indicate that the school system tampered with the student’s academic progress by giving him grades that were not achieved.

The student “is a challenge, but he is a human being. He has a soul, ”the mother told The Times News. “No matter what he does, he’s a human being. I can’t see people being treated like that.

Schools in Sullivan County have agreed to provide special education services to the student, but no amount is specified. These services include behavior analysis and vocational / transition assessment.

“What I started was not for money,” said the mother.

According to the regulations, the school system “does not constitute in any way an admission or a finding of responsibility on the part of SCS”.

The responsibilities of the school system will end if the student moves out of the district. Otherwise, these responsibilities will end at the end of the academic year when he turns 22, i.e. 2024-25.


Schools in Sullivan County contributed $ 37,916 in 2020 to a student special needs trust fund, according to federal 1099 forms obtained by The Times News via a request for records.

This corresponds to the monetary relief granted in an order signed on October 14, 2020 by Circuit Court Judge William K. Rogers and filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court on October 15.

In the minor settlement approval request, the agreement specifies $ 113,750 in three installments: $ 37,916 paid in 2020; $ 37,917 by September 1, 2021; and another $ 37,917 by September 1, 2022.

In addition, $ 61,250 in attorneys’ fees and expenses was paid to Gilbert Law PLC, who represented the student and his mother, his curator, pursuant to a September 25 order signed by Sullivan County Chancellor John McLellan III.

That makes a total of $ 175,000. An additional amount of up to $ 50,000 for “education and / or related services to be paid directly to the contracting agency” of the mother’s choice must be paid. The amount can go up to $ 10,000 for 2020-2021; up to $ 20,000 for 2021-2022; and up to $ 20,000 for 2022-2023.

Payments must settle violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in accordance with the order signed by Rogers and the petition for approval of the settlement of the case.

Chattanooga attorney Justin S. Gilbert and Jackson attorney Jessica F. Salonus represented the student and his mother. Murfreesboro lawyer Deanna L. Arivett represented the school system.

Gilbert and Salonus filed the “motion for approval of a minor settlement” on September 29, 2020.

The complaint says Sullivan County schools “denied [the student] proper education by placing him in a separate room without proper teachers or materials, so that he was denied free, appropriate and non-discriminatory education during his high school years. SCS has denied violating any laws.

After the mother surrendered to the Tennessee Department of Education, the case was referred to a mediator at the Office of the Secretary of State, Administrative Procedures Division, in July 2020. Shortly after mediation, Around September 21, 2020, the petition states that a settlement has been reached subject to court approval.


“[The student’s] the most recent IEP (Individual Education Program) indicates that [the student] will be educated in a “Special Education Institution” known as the “Comprehensive Development Class”, consisting of children with special needs, taught by a certified special education teacher. It has to happen seven hours a day, 35 hours a week. He was to be given breaks as needed, ”says the complaint.

“But in reality,” the document says, “[the student’s] the high school placement for the vast majority of his day has become a literal “break room”. SCS placed her in a room that says “break room” outside, with an adult babysitter inside.

“The room has two sofas, one for [the student], one for the babysitter. On the floor is a floor mat and an exercise ball. A blanket is based on [the student’s] sofa. There isn’t even an office. And educational instruction is rarely given. The babysitter is not a certified teacher and is not intended to be. There are no peers in the room with whom [the student] can associate.

The complaint states that lunch was usually brought to the student and that he “slept mainly on a sofa with the blanket inside the room with the lights off. The caretaker, not being a certified instructor, is inclined to leave [the student] rest or sleep for the day. The babysitter considers this to be the least resistance to getting through the day, even if it is not pedagogically appropriate for [the student.]”


The due process request also claims that SCS “masked” the educational progress of students. “Grades are assigned to [the student] by SCS, and are not actually earned, or even worked.

“The lady who gave him grades had never seen him in her class,” the mother said. “Everything in this document (a due process request) is gospel.”

“The whole situation denied him access to a teacher, peers, instructions, lunch with other students, the cafeteria, the library lab, extracurricular activities, outings on the field and the gymnasium, ”the due process request said. The prolonged isolation, as per demand, broke federal and state special education requirements.


A settlement agreement was signed on September 17, 2020 by the student’s mother, and then on September 21 by Sullivan County Schools Principal David Cox (now retired); assistant principal Angela Buckles, who oversees special education; and Chairman of the Board of Education Randall Jones. It describes payments to the trust fund and lawyers, then up to $ 50,000 in related services.

“This provision of compensatory services, while not an admission of liability, will operate as full satisfaction of any obligation to provide compensatory educational services set out as relief in the due process petitions complaint,” the agreement states.

The agreement states that the student has been granted a zoning exemption and enrolled in Sullivan North High School for 2020-2021 and that as long as they are in school at SCS, the school system will “contract with a private behavior analyst approved by the board of directors. », As well as a private professional / transition assessment provider.

No amount has been given for these expenses. The school system also had to pay its own lawyer, but no payment appeared in the 1099 list of 2020 provided by the system. There were also no payments for contracted special education services.


The seven-member Education Council approved the trust fund payment on November 5 in its consent agenda. The issue has never been discussed publicly. This only happened after school officials signed the regulations.

The board vote to “authorize the executive committee to negotiate terms of a settlement” came after an executive session, a rally closed to the public, earlier that year. School officials were silent on why the payment for a “student legal matter” was made or how the amount was determined, even after being informed that it was a public record in court records.

Executive sessions are permitted in Tennessee for public bodies to review pending or pending litigation.

Jones said he wouldn’t say anything about it and referred to the consent agenda and board minutes. Cox and interim manager Evelyn Rafalowski also declined to comment.

Cox and Jones were then part of the executive committee.

School board attorney Pat Hull also said he would not comment.

“I appreciate your persistence, but it involves a confidential matter and I don’t think the press has the right to have any information about it, nor do I think anything should be published about it. topic, ”Hull says in an emailed response Sept. 1 to questions about the trust fund payment. “Other than that, no comment.”

All four were interviewed again the week of September 13 and gave the same answer after being questioned about the court records and the settlement of the case.

None of the court documents indicated a nondisclosure agreement, although the student’s and mother’s last names were redacted but the first letter of their last names was given.

Images of the two pages containing the information, provided in response to the registration request, can be viewed in the online version of this article. The Times News redacted the name of the person receiving the trust fund.

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