In a landmark decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York City will pay for a learning-disabled student’s private school tuition. The courts upheld a previous ruling that the principal and teachers at her NYC school failed to stop or prevent her from being bullied, violating the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to the New York Post.
The student—who is not being identified—was bullied by classmates at PS 6 on the Upper East Side when she was in the third grade. It was found that the school’s principal, Lauren Fontana, “stonewalled” the girl’s parents, refusing to discuss the bullying or address it in her special education plan. In addition, teachers did nothing to stop or prevent the bullying, which included being pinched hard enough to cause a bruise, having her toes stomped on and being called “ugly,” “smelly,” “stupid” and “fat.”
The three-member appellate panel unanimously upheld a ruling by federal Judge Jack Weinstein that the city Department of Education violated the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
“I think it’s an important decision, not only for my family, but for all children with special needs who have faced these issues before,” the girl’s dad, Tracy Klestadt, a bankruptcy lawyer, told The Post.
The girl’s parents eventually pulled her out of PS 6, enrolling her in the private Summit School in Queens for children with learning disabilities. The parents sued for reimbursement of the $28,000 per year tuition, and even though the NYC DOE itself would be reimbursed by the state, it refused to pay.
During the seven-year court battle, Klestadt said he paid about $280,000 in legal fees, which he will now ask the courts to make the city pay. The family eventually moved to Long Island, where the school district agreed to pay for the girl’s tuition at Summit. Now a senior at age 17, she has “flourished.”
“Students have the right to expect they can attend school free from physical or psychological abuse,” said Gary Mayerson, the parents’ lawyer. “And parents can expect that if they raise or communicate concerns about bullying, that those concerns will be acted upon in a timely manner and addressed.”