A legal fight over school placement of a teenager with Down syndrome, whose parents want him to attend classes with his community’s peers at Westhampton Beach Middle School, is headed to a hearing before a state-appointed officer next week.
Remsenburg residents Christian and Terrie Killoran want their son Aiden, 13, who attended the Remsenburg-Speonk school district throughout the elementary grades, to go to Westhampton Beach schools, which are under contract to provide intermediate and secondary education for Remsenburg’s children.
The Remsenburg-Speonk district consists only of an elementary school serving kindergarten through sixth grade. It had an enrollment of 158 students in the 2014-15 school year, the most recent state Education Department data available.
The Westhampton Beach school district has sought to refer the child to the Eastport-South Manor system for the special education services he requires, as it does other children who need access to programs that it doesn’t offer.
The Killoran family contends the district’s arrangement amounts to segregation and will separate their son from other children in his community.
A year ago, they filed a federal lawsuit, alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, and protested outside Westhampton Beach Middle School at the start of the 2015-16 school year. U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt dismissed the lawsuit in May.
This summer, the family filed a due process complaint with the Education Department’s special education office, and a hearing is scheduled Monday at 10 a.m. at Westhampton Beach High School.
In Westhampton Beach, “they have never educated an alternately assessed student for post-elementary education in the history of the school district,” said Christian Killoran, 46, the teenager’s father, who is an attorney with a practice in Westhampton Beach. “Aiden’s case would represent vindication for everyone who came before him and lost the war of attrition that the district fights. It’s beneficial for Aiden and for all the kids who would come behind him.”
School district officials have largely refrained from comment, citing legal issues and privacy concerns.
“Since the inception of this matter, the Westhampton Beach School District has acted in the child’s best interests in seeking to ensure that he is placed in a program that will appropriately meet his educational and developmental needs,” said Michael R. Radday, Westhampton Beach school superintendent, in a statement Wednesday. “Out of respect for the child’s privacy rights and the pending legal process, we will not comment any further at this time.”
The Education Department did not comment.
Spatt, in a memorandum accompanying the lawsuit’s dismissal, agreed with the Westhampton Beach district’s contention “that the plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their claims” requiring administrative review by the district and the state under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. He concluded that “the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action.”
The Killorans have kept their son in the Remsenburg-Speonk school instead of sending him to Eastport-South Manor. Their hope, the father said, is that when the new school year begins Aiden will rejoin his former classmates, now in the eighth grade at Westhampton Beach Middle School.