PORTLAND — A student with autism, his foster parent and the state are suing Regional School Unit 73 in Jay in federal court for separating him from classmates.

Disability Rights Maine is representing the plaintiffs in the civil complaint, which seeks to have the student returned to the classroom.

In court documents, the plaintiffs said that for much of the 2019-20 school year, the fifth-grade student, referred to only as M.L.D., was removed from an integrated classroom and isolated in a segregated tutorial setting when he was 10 years old.

“This removal denied him contact with his peers and access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by his peers,” according to the 28-page civil complaint filed last year in U.S. District Court. “And it denied him access to the positive behavior interventions and supports, related services, and specialized instruction he required in order to have equal access to educational opportunity.”

That action, taken by the school district, was a violation of the student’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, according to the complaint.

The student’s removal from an integrated classroom also constituted discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, the plaintiffs wrote.


In addition, they wrote, “Defendant’s unilateral removal of the student from his classroom and school to the segregated tutoring placement, without providing basic due process protections, violated the student’s constitutionally protected rights.”

The plaintiffs are seeking partial reversal of the administrative decision and an order requiring the provision of compensatory education services that will return M.L.D. to the place where he would have been had it not been for the school district’s violations of the IDEA, the complaint says.

In addition to compensatory education, the student is seeking compensatory damages, declaratory relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other relief arising from school district’s actions and inactions that took him out of his classroom and school, segregated him, and denied him access to necessary services in violation of his federally protected rights, according to the complaint.

In its response to the complaint, RSU 73 said in court papers that it “responded to the substantial threat of injury repeatedly presented by the student first by using structured interventions, then by moving him to a different location in the school, but with access to other students, and finally by moving his programming to a different educational setting within the district, all in response to repeated violent incidents that imposed injury on staff and caused fear among other students.”

The school district also said it “ultimately had to resort to special procedural avenues established by state and federal law in order to prevent further injury by the student,” according to court documents.

Further, the district said it provided the student and his family with “extensive procedural safeguards when relocating his educational program.”


In answering the complaint, the district filed a counterclaim requesting that a judge partially reverse a hearing officer’s ruling that the district had violated state and federal special education laws by failing to obtain parental agreement to change M.L.D.’s placement at the IEP team meeting on Oct. 29, 2019 and to declare that the district didn’t violate the IDEA by moving M.L.D. into the tutorial setting after that meeting.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs described the student as intelligent and creative, “someone who loves to teach people and enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge about turtles and dinosaurs.”

M.L.D. is a student with a disability recognized by federal disability laws, according to the complaint. He has been diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and an adjustment disorder, and he has social, emotional and behavioral needs related to the trauma he has experienced in his life.

As a result of his disabilities, the student struggles with reading his environment, understanding people’s reactions to him, and in reacting to others. His disabilities impact his communication, social, emotional, and behavioral skills and substantially limit several major life activities, including learning and communicating, according to the complaint.

As a result of his disabilities, M.L.D. has struggled significantly in school, both academically and with regard to social, emotional and behavioral domains, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs argued the hearing officer correctly determined that the district unilaterally removed the student to a tutoring placement in October 2019, in violation of the IDEA. They are seeking to have the judge reject the district’s counterclaim and send the matter back to the hearing officer to determine an appropriate remedy.

The district has asked that the court conduct a hearing for oral arguments on both the plaintiff’s motion for judgment as well as the district’s counterclaim.

That hearing is scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

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