NH mom, school district find temporary fix for her autistic son's education plan
ROCHESTER — A mother's ongoing effort to find an education solution for her autistic son has reached a turning point following a meeting with school officials Wednesday.
Samantha Battis, who has taken her issue public in a series of published news accounts of her dealings with the city's school officials, says though her son Ben has an individual education plan, he has had a myriad of difficulties in obtaining a stable plan to get an education.
"If he had something they could see visually, we would not be going through this," Battis said.
Battis attended a meeting Wednesday with representatives of the city's school board to work through issues that have come up regarding her son's schooling, his behavior, and other issues that have affected his attendance at various educational programs.
In the agreement reached this week, Ben will attend a program in Beverly, Massachusetts, which he has attended in the past, for another three months. His plan will be reevaluated in December.
She said he has not been in school regularly for almost a year.
"They do not believe Ben has a neurobehavioral diagnosis," she said. "That has been the whole culture of his school experience."
Instead, they believe Ben is "acting out," Battis said. "They do not validate it whatsoever. That's the root of it."
Calls from NH1 News to the Rochester School District have not been returned.
Battis said a contributing factor to her son's problems settling in to an appropriate educational program is an alleged sexual assault by other students that occurred when he was younger.
He was in a program for behaviorally challenged students ranging from age 5-11 when the alleged assault by another student took place.
"He has had so much trauma happen to him in a school setting, it’s like PTSD,” Battis said. “In school building, all of those memories come back.”
She said she did not file a police report. She has, however, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education saying the school has not followed Ben's IEP in June through August 2016 and has not provided "interim educational services."
Ben was eventually directed him to the Hopeful Journeys in Beverly. Battis said she thinks that a recent story about her dealings with the Rochester School District prompted a temporary stop to his attendance there. Battis said she received an email from the program saying services were being suspended due to "financial obligation issues with your district" according to an email sent to her by the school.
She said part of this week's temporary agreement includes the district encouraging her to consider placing Ben in a residential program, which she adamantly refuses to do, saying it would not provide an effective solution.
"We feel that having him in a residential home would be to satisfy convenience, not for safety and feel it's inappropriate," Battis said.
She admitted her son has acted out in school settings, something that has led to a lawsuit filed against the school district when he began Kindergarten.
"He has reactive aggression. When his anxiety kicks up, that’s when he reacts. He hasn’t in a few years, but he can. If he has a panic attack, he can," she said. "He is not unsafe by any means, but for our family, the only time we'd ever consider a residential placement is if safety was a paramount concern; public safety, Ben's safety or safety in the house."
She said she has tried other avenues, such as tutoring and home schooling.
Battis said that recently "the school district, out of frustration, provided a tutor. They didn’t provide a plan to put that tutor in place. Where they led the tutoring was in the same room that Ben was previously sexually assaulted in by a peer, she said.
"I did home schooling for one year. He did wonderfully,” she said, but because she is a single mom and trying to live on $140 a week, it isn’t sustainable.
“Personally, I feel it all revolves around the budget. I get it. I’m a taxpayer. I’m also a single mom. I can’t work. He’s with me full-time. At the same time, I’m a mother. I see a child with so much possibility. We need to get him back at school.”
She admitted Ben has a “history of very poor placement,” but she wants the town to give him “a significant amount of behavioral services or counseling.”
The Beverly program was his 12th placement in 10 years.
"I've got medical reports, and I have had medical experts weigh in in IEP meetings. Their opinions get discounted," she said.
She made a claim with the Office for Civil Rights and the Rochester School District in August 2016, saying that Ben was not being appropriately educated "within the confines of the law."
"They would never take a ramp to a school and build it halfway up," Battis said. "That's preposterous. That is what they've done with my son."
"It's a halfway ramp and they're mandating that he gets himself up the rest of the way alone, without assistance."