Parent challenges Fort Mill schools

The Fort Mill school district is facing criticism over how it educates children with special needs.

The parent of a former student, now living in Lexington County, has requested a hearing that requires the district to defend its practices in front of a mediator.

According to the parent, Janet Frazier, from 2002 through February 2007, while her son Derek was a student in Fort Mill, the district did not provide Free Appropriate Public Education as required under state and federal guidelines.

Derek has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a mild form of autism, and Frazier alleges the treatment he received in Fort Mill schools -- including punishment for what she contends were manifestations of her son's disability -- has exacerbated his condition.

"My child's future is at stake here," Frazier said. "He does not stand a chance if I don't take these measures."

Frazier retained attorney Elizabeth Robinson of Lancaster to represent her at a due process hearing that begins at 9 a.m. Monday at the Fort Mill school district office at 120 E. Elliott St. The hearing, which is open to the public, is expected to last three days.

Frazier wants the school district to pay for Derek to attend school in 'an appropriate education setting.' She also wants the district to upgrade its services for special needs children.

Fort Mill Superintendent Keith Callicutt declined to comment on the case as did district counsel David Duff of Columbia.

Barbara Drayton, deputy general counsel for the S.C. Department of Education, said it is unusual for a dispute to go to a full blown due process hearing. Most are resolved within the school.

She said that under federal law, parents have three options beyond that: an impartial mediator tries to work out an agreement; a due process hearing in which each side has an attorney and a trained hearing officer makes a decision after hearing evidence; and a state complaint investigation resulting from a parent's written request.

Most due process hearings are resolved in a preliminary resolution hearing. Last year, the state had 14 such requests, and only four went to full due process hearing, Drayton said. The year before, there were 29 requests and six went to full hearing. In this case, both sides were still far apart after the resolution hearing.

If the hearing officer determines the district did not provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education for the child, the district could come forward with a variety of options. Drayton said that in this federal district, the officer rarely approves public dollars to pay for private schooling.

Either side could appeal the hearing officer's ruling to the state education department. If either side disputes the state decision, it can be appealed to the federal district court.