Ruling backs Fort Mill schools in special education complaint

FORT MILL -- A mother was denied a request to have the Fort Mill school district pay for a private institution for her special-needs son after she claimed it withheld an adequate education, according to a recent ruling.

Hearing officer Carl Ellsworth ruled the school district did provide a free and adequate public education as required by state and federal guidelines. However, he also ruled the district owes the mother $2,565.50 to reimburse her for counseling and software costs incurred while her son was enrolled in Fort Mill.

The mother, Janet Frazier, now of the Columbia area, said she plans to appeal.

"It's what I expected," she said.

Frazier had requested the hearing, held in mid-November, because she said the school district failed to provide for her son, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome. Her son attended classes in Fort Mill from 2002 through February 2007, when Frazier moved to Lexington County during her son's freshman year.

Frazier had said her goal was to force the Fort Mill school district to improve the services it offers special-needs students and to pay the cost of placing her son in a private school program.

Ellsworth largely agreed with the district's attorney, David Duff, in the ruling released last week. His ruling said the parent did not prove that an adequate education was denied.

He also concluded that the district was not liable for the cost of a residential placement in a private institution that specializes in educating children with Asperger's Syndrome.

Fort Mill schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt said Duff has asked the district not to comment on the case.

"We feel he made a fair ruling," Callicutt said. "We want what's best for all of our students, and we'll continue to work toward educating all of our students."

Frazier's next step will be to request an appeal through the S.C. Department of Education Board of Appeals. From there the case can go to federal courts.

"This hasn't been in vain," Frazier said. "I've gotten so many calls from other parents in similar situations thanking me for bringing this out in the open. A lot have said the services the school district provides have improved since this case came up."

Frazier also plans to start a foundation to help parents in similar situations, and plans to push for legislative changes to laws governing special education services on state and national levels.