The Woodbine School District has agreed to re-evaluate a student, who was allegedly targeted for bullying, to see if he can be transferred to the Cape May County Special Services School as his father has requested.
Attorney Eric Harrison, representing the district’s insurance carrier, told Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez in Atlantic County Civil Court in Atlantic City on Tuesday that the district Child Study Team would review Sebastian Scheeler’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP, and make a recommendation.
The court hearing was in response to a discrimination lawsuit filed last year by Harry Scheeler on behalf of his son. Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez on Tuesday gave the district 30 days to complete the evaluation.
“You have to get this done,” Mendez said. “If the placement is satisfactory, fine. If not, we will have a hearing. We have to get this student back in school quickly.”
Scheeler’s attorney, Michelle Douglass, said they would agree to the re-evaluation with the hope that the district will recommend the new placement.
“We want to get him into Cape May Special Services,” she said.
Scheeler said his son, who has severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, has been bullied at school to the point where he was depressed and afraid to go to school. He said school investigations determined there had been no bullying, and that in one case where his son defended himself he got suspended.
The New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools’ 2009 report, which led to the state’s tougher anti-bullying law, said bullying among youth with disabilities is a critical problem because they are twice as likely to be bullied, but less likely to be identified as victims.
Scheeler said he believes the school has not been able to provide the services his son needs, which has contributed to the bullying, and he would be better served at the Special Services School. He said he did not want to file a lawsuit, but felt it was the only way to get the issue addressed.
“I would get complaints from the teachers about his behavior, but the Child Study Team would say everything was fine,” Scheeler said. He said because his son’s IQ is high, he does not get a lot of extra help, even though his grades have suffered.
The state anti-bullying law allows for complaints to be made to the local Board of Education, the county Office of Education, law enforcement and civil court. Scheeler said he has filed a police complaint against a student who assaulted his son.
Sebastian, 12, now a sixth-grader, attended Lower Township Schools as a choice student in third and fourth grade, but transferred back to Woodbine in fifth grade because the district was no longer providing transportation to Lower Township and his father was unable to drive him there every day.
Scheeler said the bullying began in September 2012 and reached the point where at his doctor’s advice, Sebastian was put on home instruction in December 2012. He remained on home instruction until December 2013. In January, under a tentative settlement, Woodbine provided an aide to stay with Sebastian during the school day, which Scheeler said he hoped would resolve the problem.
But, according to Scheeler, his son was was still bullied in incidents that included threats to snap his neck and kill him. He said a district investigation said the bullying could not be verified by witnesses. In another incident, the school report found that Sebastian precipitated the alleged bullying by doing inappropriate/unsafe swinging of his laptop cord that struck another student.
Scheeler said he understands that his son’s behavior makes him stand out and can be misunderstood. He fidgets a lot, and has trouble keeping still. But he said, he believes the Woodbine school has not provided the services that might allow his son to safely learn in that school and he believes he will be better served in a Special Services School.
Sebastian said after he returned to school from his suspension, his homeroom teacher told the entire class he had been suspended, and they laughed and made fun of him all day. He said he wants to go to the Special Services School.
“There will be kids just like me there,” he said. “They’ll understand what I’m going through.”
Scheeler said he was upset that the homeroom teacher revealed what should have been confidential student information, reported the incident, and was told the teacher was reprimanded.
Sebastian remains on home instruction, which he receives 10 hours a week. His father said he would like the district to better acknowledge the issues there so that bullying can be addressed.
“I think the bullies are victims, too,” he said. “All these kids need help, and they are not getting it.”
Harrison referred questions to district officials. Superintendent Lynda Anderson-Towns said she could not comment on the case because of student confidentiality requirements.
The preK-8 Woodbine school district, which has about 220 students, reported five incidents of bullying each year in 20011-12 and 2012-13, according the annual Violence, Vandalism and Substance Abuse report filed with the state.
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