Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Paris School District For Discrimination Against Autistic Student

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PARIS (KFSM) -- Cyndi Harter is the mother of 11-year-old Arianna, who was diagnosed with severe but high-functioning autism at an early age.

Harter said Arianna has been treated differently since she entered middle school. After several incidents Harter said she decided to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Paris School District Tuesday (Sept. 30).

"We went to the open house and all the others were in the halls opening their lockers, and we went to the front desk and they were like well, you won't be assigned one," Harter said.

Harter said Arianna was denied proper evaluations and a behavioral plan during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years, after they had been suggested by the student's behavioral analyst.

"A couple of the therapists had planned on working with her as well, so we had a feeling of some continuity that would allow her and support her with that move," Harter said.

Harter said that the school placed Arianna in an alternative learning class in the high school.

"It was kind of a collect all, but primarily credit recovery students. Students that had problems getting to school, truancy, drug and alcohol abuse, early pregnancy," Harter said.

She said it escalated to her daughter being physically retrained and being issued five legal citations, including terroristic threatening and assault and battery.

"You can't have one incident and say there's crime," Harter said. "Show me where you've provided her with the services that the professionals say should be in place to allow her a means to successfully navigate in the school, and they showed me nothing."

This all happened in October 2014, and Harter said the school recommended that Arianna not return to Paris Elementary School for classes. Harter soon after filed a Due Process Complaint against the school district.

"We received a final order and determination by the hearing officer in May, mid-May end of May, in our favor and a very outlined saying no later than August these things are supposed to happen," Harter said. "You are to contact, basically conference, IEP meetings, get these professionals on board and train the staff at school, and nothing's happened."

A plan suggested by an adviser to be tailored toward Arianna's needs was never implemented or adopted at Paris Elementary School, court documents state, and Arianna has still not been able to return to school.

Harter accused the district of subjecting her daughter to, "acts of excessive force, physical abuse, physical restraint and seclusions,...acts of discrimination because of her disability,...denied appropriate education services" and several more accusations, court documents stated.

A trial date for the federal lawsuit has been scheduled for 9 a.m. on August 1, 2016, before Judge P.K. Holmes III in Fort Smith.

The school district released this statement, "The Federal Education Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits school districts and school personnel from releasing any student information or making comments on privacy issues involving students."