CARMEL — A Carmel family is celebrating after winning a lawsuit against Carmel-Clay Schools for their special needs son’s right to a free and appropriate education.
Brandi Wetherald says administrators with Carmel-Clay schools told her back in May that they could no longer provide an education for her 17-year-old son with special needs, and that she would need to send her son to a residential facility in order for him to receive an education.
Wetherald says her son’s healthcare providers thought a residential placement program was inappropriate.
The family petitioned for alternative arrangements and when they were denied, they decided to take legal action.
“I thought they would rather me withdraw him from the school system or move, rather than stay and provide the appropriate services that he needed,” Wetherald said.
In Indiana, schools are required to pay for outside “day program” facilities for students. But they don’t have to foot the cost, if the student’s family chooses to pull them from the school and put them in a residential program instead.
Education Attorney Catherine Michael says parents with special needs students face these types of situations across the state.
She says schools can be intimidating, but they have unlimited resources that some parents don’t have access too.
“Parents don’t know their rights,” Michael said. “They think the school is just going to tell them, and in reality, the parent has that obligation to learn their rights and advocate for their child because sometimes they are their child’s only voice.”
Carmel-Clay Schools said they could not speak about the specifics of the Wetherald’s case, but they did say that parents have a right to request a due process hearing with a hearing officer appointed by the Indiana Dept. of Education if they disagree with the recommendations made by a case conference committee. They say it is then the job of the hearing officer to review and make decisions on the appropriate educational setting for a student. The district says they review recommendations and meet with the family about the next steps after that process is complete.
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