Disability group sues over Lakeland School
(Published August 2, 2006, 11:00 a.m.)
By Mike Heine/The Week
Disability Rights Wisconsin has made good on its promise to sue the
Walworth County Board because of the county's plan to build a bigger
school for disabled children.
Expanding the school size promotes segregation of students, said Attorney
Jeffery Spitzer-Resnick, who represents the disabled persons advocacy
Spitzer-Resnick mailed the lawsuit against the county Friday to U.S.
District Court in Milwaukee.
The lawsuit alleges the building of a bigger Lakeland School violates
Americans With Disabilities Act standards that require school boards
to educate children in the most integrated and least-restrictive environment
In April, the county board approved financing for a $22-million school
to be built on county land off County NN. The proposed 105,000-square-foot
building would be about 42,700 square feet bigger than the existing
"If Walworth County had chosen to build a smaller school, we would
not be suing. That's the bottom line," Spitzer-Resnick said.
"Children throughout the county have the right to be in the least restrictive
environment. Walworth County is so far away from that," he said.
Supporters of Lakeland School say the facility offers another choice
for parents of disabled children. Lakeland School educates "high-cost,
low-incidence" students who are more severely disabled physically, mentally
"I don't believe we are" segregating children, Principal Greg Kostechka
said. "I think it's apparent that this school is a choice. We do some
mainstreaming activities that try to get the kids involved in the community
as much as possible."
Some parents have moved to Walworth County so their child can be at
Lakeland School, Kostechka said.
"They feel their children are in more of a school setting," he said.
"When the kids walk through the door, it's like they have ownership
of this (school)."
Diana Rodgers-Adkinson, chair of UW-Whitewater's special education
department, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that special schools
have disappeared and school districts have moved toward inclusion of
students with special needs.
"If I'm at a separate school, then I'm also not around typical children,
I'm not in the hallway with typical children, I'm not in the lunchroom
with typical children," Rogers-Adkinson told the Journal-Sentinel. "When
I'm in a different building, I'm in a different society."
Christene Eggie moved to Genoa City from Streamwood, Ill., because
of Lakeland School. Her son, Jaxon, 7, has autism, cerebral palsy and
"My son would flounder at a regular school," Eggie said. "It's a tragedy
to think this (lawsuit) is a possibility.
"What this is doing is going against my civil rights and my child's
civil rights to have an education," she said. "Meet my son, and you'll
know that (Lakeland School) is the least restrictive environment he
can be in."
Walworth County Special Education Director Tracy Moate said Lakeland
School is a legal choice for parents. At least two legal analyses have
shown that, she said.
"The parents have the choice. The parents have the option," Moate said.
"If a parent feels they are not given an option, I haven't heard about
The legal opinions regard the existing school. They did not examine
a school expansion, which Disability Rights Wisconsin questions.
Eggie, a former special education teacher, said a separate school for
students with disabilities is a necessity.
"In Illinois, inclusion didn't work for everyone," she said. "For kids
like my son, you'd be doing a great disservice by trying to include
them in the classroom."
In the meantime, planning for the new Lakeland School will continue.
The county executive committee will likely examine the lawsuit when
it meets in later this month, County Administrator David Bretl said.
He had not read the complaint and declined to comment on specifics.