Carmel mom wins lawsuit in fight for autistic son’s rights

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CARMEL, Ind.-- After a mother decided to take legal action, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) found Carmel Clay schools denied a student with autism a free, public education.

“I had a choice. It was to either move forward with the process or withdraw him from school,” said mother Brandi Wetherald.

Wetherald is standing up for her 17-year-old son with autism.

“There was a point in time where I didn’t think I could continue with the process,” she said.

However, she kept fighting. She says her son wasn’t receiving necessary services in the Carmel Clay school district.

“I decided that my child deserved the appropriate education and I decided to move forward with the process hearing,” said Wetherald.

After Carmel Clay schools suggested Wetherald’s son seek treatment in a residential facility, Wetherald and her attorney, Catherine Michael, requested a legal hearing in May.

“Rather than saying let’s just all come together, let’s look at other placements, let’s look at other options, they came to her and said this is all we are willing to offer you. Take it or leave it,” said Michael.

An independent hearing officer with the Indiana Department of Education found Carmel Clay failed to consider placement options for the teen.

“This shouldn’t have happened in this situation and it shouldn’t happen in any situation,” said Michael.

Wetherald didn’t give up and she won the lawsuit. Carmel Clay schools were ordered in October to provide training to all its special education staff.

She said this win in court was for all families that have children with special needs.

“I have been flooded with messages and comments from other parents who either didn’t make it through because it’s difficult, it’s not an easy fight to go through. I received one comment one day that was, 'I needed to read this today,' it’s very intimidating when you’re going through this with the school system. So, it’s nice to know this also gives other parents hope,” said Wetherald.

As a mom, she wants parents to know they have the right to speak up.

“Reach out," she said, "Know your rights."

The school district could potentially appeal the decision. However, as of now, the orders remain in effect through federal court.

Michael suggests if parents find themselves in this situation, to look up resources and information before making any decisions.

“If they have a child with special needs they are protected under what’s called Article 7 of the Indiana Code," she said. "Any parent with special needs, needs to read the procedural safe guards and they need to get a basic understanding of Article 7 and not be afraid to ask for what’s appropriate for their child.”

Carmel Clay schools issued this statement:

As a school district, we are required to protect student confidentiality, so we cannot speak to specifics. Generally, parents have a right to request a due process hearing with a Hearing Officer appointed by the Indiana Department of Education if they disagree with the recommendation of a case conference committee made up parents and a multi-disciplinary team. It is the job of the hearing officer to review and make decisions on the appropriate educational setting for a student. Once those recommendations are made, we review and meet with the family regarding future programming and next steps.

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