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Parents file lawsuit over school placement of son with special needs

Lawyer Tom Killeen talks with Terrie and Christian

Lawyer Tom Killeen talks with Terrie and Christian Killoran before a hearing at Westhampton Beach High School about their son Aiden, 14, who has Down syndrome, on June 15, 2017. The Killorans are seeking to have their son placed in the district's middle school. Credit: John Roca

The parents of a teenager with special needs who have had prior legal battles with the Westhampton Beach school district over his placement have filed a federal lawsuit against the system and school officials, saying their son’s rights have been violated and he deserves to be educated within the district.

Christian and Terrie Killoran, of Remsenburg, are seeking a judicial order that the district educate their son Aiden, 14, who has Down syndrome, at Westhampton Beach Middle school.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Central Islip, they said the district has violated Aiden’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as in other ways. They also are seeking monetary damages.

Thursday, in a related action, the Killorans argued in a state hearing that the district continues to block Aiden from attending the local schools, and they questioned the findings of a school committee that had looked at placing him in nearby districts, such as Southampton and Hampton Bays. They believe the Westhampton Beach district can make arrangements to accommodate their son.

“At this point in time, to implement Aiden’s IEP [individualized education program] in-district remains the only appropriate relief,” Christian Killoran said at the hearing, held at Westhampton Beach High School before state-appointed hearing officer James Monk.

Kevin Seaman, a lawyer for the district, said in the hearing that the district does not have a program to accommodate Aiden and “we are not in a position to create one.”

Westhampton Beach refers special education students who require specific services to other nearby districts. Aiden had attended Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, which has kindergarten through sixth grade and contracts with the Westhampton Beach district to educate its children in the intermediate and secondary school grades.

Starting in 2015, the Killorans have sought to have Aiden attend Westhampton Beach Middle School along with his peers. Aiden is chronologically in the ninth grade, but has been left back a year and would enter eighth grade in the fall.

Last year, after the Killorans initiated a due-process case against the district, the Killorans and school officials reached an agreement in which Aiden was enrolled in the Westhampton Beach district, but only attended the middle school for services such as physical therapy. He was tutored at home in other subjects. That arrangement is continuing.

In February, however, a state-appointed hearing officer ruled that the Westhampton Beach school district had failed to provide an appropriate education for Aiden and had prematurely rejected the possibility of educating the teen in its own classes.

The officer ordered the district to formally enroll Aiden and said it also must hire a consultant to report on whether to include the teen in classes. Then, the officer ordered, the district had to convene a special education committee and, with the consultant’s input, provide an appropriate placement.

Thursday’s hearing, in which a special education consultant hired by Westhampton Beach testified that the district does not currently have classes that can accommodate Aiden, was a follow-up to the February report.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, the chair of the special education committee recommended that Aiden be educated outside of the Westhampton Beach district.

In the lawsuit, Christian Killoran disputes the findings, saying the committee was a “sham.”

“In allocating its special education and related services, Westhampton chooses only to administer such resources to a student body aligned with achieving Regents diplomas,” court documents say.

Michael Radday, the Westhampton Beach school superintendent, said, “The district does not comment on pending litigation.”

The Killorans initiated the due-process case following the dismissal of a federal lawsuit they brought against the Westhampton Beach district in August 2015.

That lawsuit requested that the court “mandate” the Westhampton Beach district to admit their son as a seventh-grade student and in accordance with an individualized education plan specifying his instructional needs. U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt, in dismissing that case, said the plaintiffs had “failed to exhaust their claims” before the district and the state.

Christian Killoran, who is an attorney and has a practice in Westhampton beach, said Spatt’s ruling required the legal pursuit of all administrative remedies — efforts that he noted have been made. “We are back at the federal level seeking relief,” he said.

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