Lakeland School parents file complaint

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published September 7, 2006, 11:08 a.m.)

A group of 120 parents whose children attend Walworth County's Lakeland School filed a civil rights complaint against Disability Rights Wisconsin for that advocacy group filing a lawsuit against the county.

In a U.S. District Court complaint, Disability Rights claims the county's plan to build a larger Lakeland School, a facility for children with disabilities, violates Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The parents sent complaints to the Office of Civil Rights in Chicago and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in Washington D.C.

"(Disability Rights) is going against our civil rights by trying to stop having this educational option for our children," said Christene Eggie, whose 7-year-old son attends Lakeland School.

The parents, who joined together for the effort, allege Disability Rights is attempting to deprive their children's civil right to receive educational services at a "special school," according to a news release. Both federal and state laws allow the existence of a school for children with disabilities, the parents contend.

The Week did not receive a copy of the parents' complaint.

Disability Rights attorney Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick agrees special schools are allowed, but said they are not a mandated option. He denied the lawsuit was a civil rights violation.

"(Lakeland supporters are) are painting our actions in whatever way they choose to demonize them," Spitzer-Resnick said. "They are saying things from that we're trying to close Lakeland School, which is not true, to that we're trying to make it impossible for kids to go to Lakeland School, which is not true."

Disability Rights, which advocates for the rights of disabled persons, would not have sued if the proposed new school was smaller than the existing Lakeland School. Going bigger promotes further segregation of children with disabilities from mainstream society, Spitzer-Resnick said.

In the complaint to the OSERS, the parents questioned the use of federal dollars used by Disability Rights to file a lawsuit against a school project they say is permitted by federal laws.

The lawsuit Disability Right filed, if upheld, would open up more options for children with disabilities by helping the less severely disabled children be educated in their neighborhood school.

"Lakeland drains resources from (neighborhood) schools," Spitzer-Resnick said. "We'd like to reverse that."

Lakeland School is the preferred option for the parents whose children attend there.

"We're hoping (the Office of Civil Rights) can help us in our quest to keep our school and educational options open for our kids."

Spitzer-Resnick felt the civil rights complaint was unwarranted when there is already a court case.

"Why the parents feel the need to find another venue to attack the work we're doing, I don't know," he said. "The county has a lawyer and has already moved to dismiss. We expected that."

"As our children's supporters, it's our job to make sure they get what need," Eggie responded. "We're their advocates."

The civil court case is still pending. Disability Rights and the county each get another round of arguments as to why the case should or shouldn't go before a judge and jury.

The filing of the parents' complaints is strictly the parents' prerogative, said Tracy Moate, Walworth County director of special education. The county is not connected to the civil rights complaint.

"It's an undertaking these parents have pursued," she said. "It is an issue they found relevance in and they are pursuing it."

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