By Danny Schrafel
A federal court has denied a motion by the Northport-East Northport School District to dismiss a lawsuit over special-education services a mother alleges were denied to her son.
A District Court judge on Aug. 1 denied a motion by the school district’s attorney to dismiss the lawsuit, in which Mona Conway alleges that the district failed to provide her son, Kane Conway Goldgell, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), violated state and federal laws by failing to accommodate her son’s disabilities and violated her son’s constitutional rights by depriving him of adequate educational services.
Conway, an attorney with a practice in Huntington Station, filed suit Sept. 23, 2013.
Asking the court to dismiss the suit, the school district had argued that Conway failed to “exhaust the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) administrative remedies” during a yearlong dispute with the district. IDEA’s central mandate is that students are entitled to “a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive appropriate environment.”
The court, however, did not agree.
“This is not a case of a plaintiff ‘bypassing’ the IDEA’s administrative exhaustion rule,” Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein wrote in her ruling. “Rather, if the allegations of the complaint are proven, plaintiff was deprived of her administrative remedies by defendant’s purported violations of the IDEA.”
Attorney Christopher F. Venator, of the Hauppauge-based Ingerman Smith firm, which represents the school district, did not return calls for comment by press time Tuesday. Reached at her law office Oct. 7, school board president Julia Binger said she was unaware of the lawsuit, but added that she would be unable to comment on pending litigation.
Conway alleges her son’s junior-year education was sabotaged by missteps, foot-dragging and misdeeds by the school district that made it impossible for him to graduate high school on time.
“They take kids that aren’t completely in line with the norm and cast them out,” Conway said. “They don’t know how to deal with them. They don’t want to deal with them. And parents need to know.”
She alleges the trouble began soon after she registered her son for junior-year classes, shortly after the family moved from Huntington to Northport. According to court papers, when she registered her son on Aug. 7, 2012, she included documents indicating that her son was having “medical problems” that caused him to spend his final months at Huntington High School on home instruction.
Conway said she told the district her son was being treated for “chronic stomach pains, migraine headaches, insomnia, anxiety and depression,” and requested a conference with a guidance counselor before classes began. Eight days later, Conway met with Northport’s guidance chairman, who, according to court papers, assured Conway “appropriate accommodations” would be made for her son.
Those accommodations never came, Conway said. She claims district officials scheduled, delayed and canceled meetings during the 2012-2013 school year and ignored phone messages and letters.
A week into the school year, on Sept. 12, her son “lost consciousness” as a result of a panic attack at a Northport bakery, “collapsed into a bakery shelf” and was rushed to Huntington Hospital, according to court papers. After the incident, “an impromptu decision,” Conway contends, was made by the school’s guidance office to put her son on home tutoring until the school’s psychologist could evaluate him.
But tutoring did not begin until four weeks later at a local library, the mother claimed.
Soon after, according to Conway, the district threw another monkey wrench in Kane’s home tutoring.
According to court papers, during an April 30, 2012 meeting, the district began “discussing the importance” of having her son return to school. During that meeting, Conway said district officials said that her son only had 1.5 credits from Huntington High School, and was advised that the only way her son would graduate in 2014 was if he went to summer school in both his junior and senior years.
Conway said she and her son accepted the plan, so long as her son could complete junior year on home tutoring. The district agreed, she said.
“To suddenly put him in that situation would be cruel,” Conway said of returning her son to school with just a month left on the academic calendar.
However, on May 2, 2012, she said the district informed her that her son’s home tutoring was “immediately terminated” and that he was to return to school immediately.
“His home instructors had no idea,” Conway said.
Conway’s son did not attend school or receive home instruction between May 2 and May 20, when Conway was told home tutoring was being restored. However, when tutoring was reinstated, just two of her son’s five original tutors were available, and further correspondence between the district and Conway was fruitless, the mother said.
Kane has not attended classes or received tutoring during what would be his senior year, Conway said, adding she is exploring educational options for her son. Meanwhile, she said her fight against the district will soon intensify.
Conway said she has filed a notice of claim to sue the district for defamation after, during the discovery process on her initial suit, she said she discovered that “certain people at the school” were digging for dirt on her son and herself and included defamatory written comments about them in her son’s district files.
“The things they said were horrifying, and I said, ‘No, you’re not getting away with this,’” Conway said.