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October 20, 2002

Family, RCS battling over proper education

From: Richmond Palladium Item, IN
Oct. 20, 2002

Richmond: Mother wants to transfer son to Indiana School for the Deaf

By Pamela Isaacson
Staff writer
Bryant Robinson is a typical 15-year-old.

He loves playing video games and he dreams of becoming a Hollywood star.

Among the things that make Bryant different is he's profoundly deaf and he doesn't realize that $1 isn't enough to rent a video game or a movie.

For the past two years, Bryant has been caught in the middle of a battle between his mother, Tammy Winget, and Richmond Community Schools about the quality of his education.

"I appreciate everything Richmond has done for my son with an interpreter but it isn't working anymore," Winget said. "It almost feels like a tug-of-war over your own child."

Winget has fought to transfer her son from Richmond schools to the Indiana School for the Deaf, a state-funded institution in Indianapolis. Richmond Community Schools has rejected her request. A hearing officer appointed by the Indiana Department of Education upheld that decision.

"I know as a mother this is what's right for my son," Winget said about the deaf school. "I don't think it's right that a school system has more of a say in the life of a child than a parent."

Lou Dickman, director of exceptional student education for RCS, could not comment on Bryant's case because of federal confidentiality laws. But she said schools must provide a free appropriate public education for all special needs students. She believes Richmond has fulfilled that responsibility in this case.

"That's the standard all schools are held to," Dickman said. "In our opinion, the Indiana School for the Deaf is a restrictive placement because all of the kids there are special needs kids. We consider that to be the most restrictive placement any student could be in."

Bryant's special needs

Winget said she didn't know Bryant was deaf until he was 15 months old. Bryant had been receiving physical therapy at Green Acres Rehabilitation Center when therapists noticed he wasn't responding to sounds.

Bryant had a cerebral hemorrhage at birth. He had seven seizures before he was four months old. One side of Bryant's body was weaker than the other so he received physical therapy to offset a delay in motor skills.

Fifteen years later, Bryant has no usable hearing and barely speaks, his mother said. His reading skills are at a mid-third- grade level although he's in eighth grade.

Bryant's first and primary language is American Sign Language. He attended the Indiana School for the Deaf as a preschooler through first grade until Winget enrolled him in Richmond Community Schools.

"I felt like he needed to be home with his family," Winget said. "Now I regret making that decision. I've come to accept my son belongs to a different culture than mine."

Bryant attended Garrison Elementary School through fifth grade and then Test Middle School. Richmond Community Schools has provided an American Sign Language interpreter who accompanies him throughout the school day.

Winget said Bryant started to show aggression about a year after he returned to Richmond as a first-grader.

"He was mainstreamed in regular classes," Winget said. "He never had any friends. His best friends are his video games."

Winget said Bryant made the honor roll in sixth grade at Test but his grades and behavior slipped in seventh grade, which is mother said she believes is because of puberty and an inability to express himself.

Bryant passed seventh grade with two Fs, four Ds and two Cs.

Winget said that's not acceptable.

"My son is not learning from that," she said. "Why should I have to settle for that?"

Winget has decided to home school Bryant because he communicated with her that he was teased for being deaf.

But home schooling isn't working. Winget knows she's not meeting his needs but she doesn't think it's a good idea to return him to Test Middle School.

"At the deaf school, he might get teased for what he wears, but that's different from getting teased for something he can't control," Winget said. "As long as he's here, he'll never feel normal."

Winget said, although she knows sign language, she's not a certified teacher and his behavior is erratic.

"He's been fighting with us at home," Winget said, adding that Bryant has two younger siblings, both of whom can hear. "Our home life is disruptive because of his behavior."

Last week, Bryant was held at the Henry County Juvenile Detention Center after Winget called the police when he assaulted her. Winget said she was afraid for her other children, a 12-year-old and a 3-year-old.

"He's been violent with his 12-year-old sister," Winget said. "They're terrified of him. There's tension when he's here because you don't know what's going to happen next."

Cost not an issue

Money doesn't seem to be the force behind Richmond Community Schools' denial of Winget's request to place Bryant in the Indiana School for the Deaf.

If a Richmond student were to attend ISD, Richmond is responsible for paying for transportation. There is no cost for tuition.

Winget said Bryant would attend the deaf school as a residential student and he would return home on the weekends.

One other Richmond student attends the Indiana School for the Deaf, Dickman said.

Dickman said keeping Bryant in Richmond doesn't benefit the school district financially. She said the bottom line is providing a free appropriate public education.

The $8,246 RCS receives as reimbursement money from the state for a severely disabled student would remain with the state. Dickman said that's not enough money to compensate for the services provided.

"The reimbursement we get would cover only a percentage of the total cost," Dickman said. "That reimbursement helps, and the state is generous from the standpoint that they don't retain much of a percentage of federal dollars, but in no way does that $8,246 meet the cost of meeting those needs."

Winget, a full-time student in the education program at Indiana University East, said her son is still missing out on education and socialization.

"He's at a crucial time in his life and his life is passing him by without him participating in it," Winget said. "Even if his educational needs are being met, what good is it if he doesn't know how to function in society?

"My son is being written off and someday he's going to end up in prison because he can't interact with other people. His life is just passing him by."

Copyright © 2002 Palladium-Item.