Family fought Cobb school board for 4 years over autistic child's education
by Jon Gillooly
jgillooly@mdjonline.com
December 22, 2009 01:00 AM | 19636 views | 60 60 comments | 60 60 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Libby Beem, 13,  left, who has autism and other neurological disabilities, and her mother, Julie Beem, talk on the sofa in their west Cobb home. The Beems have had difficulty with enrolling Libby in Cobb County School District.
Libby Beem, 13, left, who has autism and other neurological disabilities, and her mother, Julie Beem, talk on the sofa in their west Cobb home. The Beems have had difficulty with enrolling Libby in Cobb County School District.
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MARIETTA - Julie Beem is done.

After a four-year legal battle to get Cobb County Schools to educate her autistic daughter, Beem said she will gladly assume full responsibility for her daughter's education. She just wants the district to reimburse her for the legal fees she has amassed in trying to get the schooling her daughter is entitled to.

"I want to make sure other people know this is going on, because it is such a waste and such a misuse of what needed to happen. They could have figured out how to educate this child and give her what she needed for at least the same amount of money, if not less, especially at this juncture," said Beem, 48, who gave up her job as a marketing consultant to ensure that her daughter was properly cared for.

"It's just crazy to me that they would fight parents to this degree," she said.

Leaders of the Cobb County Schools declined to comment for this article.

Julie and her husband, Dave, an industrial hygienist, have three other children, all of whom graduated from McEachern High School with honors. In 1998, they adopted Libby, who was then 20 months old, from an orphanage in China.

It was evident, Beem said, that Libby was underweight and malnourished from the orphanage.

Yet, "I don't think anybody predicted her potential level of disability at that point. She was a baby," Beem said.

Later, Libby attended Birney Elementary School, and was placed in a special-needs classroom. As she progressed to third grade, Libby's behaviors began to escalate to the point where she would throw temper tantrums, tear up books and knock over desks.

In 2006, the district called a meeting regarding Libby's Individualized Education Plan, and it lasted six hours. The dozen or so officials concluded Libby should attend H.A.V.E.N. Academy, a program for children with special needs that is housed at the former Fitzhugh Lee Elementary in Smyrna, Beem said.

Beem recalled that the school psychologist said he wanted to put Libby in a room and expose her to known triggers to see how quickly she escalated and what her behavior would be.

"He actually termed those 'experiments.' He said, 'We're going to conduct experiments on her.' And we're looking at him and saying, 'We don't understand what you're talking about.' We were stunned," Beem said.

She said the school psychologist told her he would be wearing "protective gear" while provoking her daughter. The Beems replied that Libby's physicians said she had autism and Tourette's syndrome, and that these neurological disabilities could not be dealt with by force.

"The model at H.A.V.E.N. is one of extreme behavioral modification. It's got a point system to it, and basically the kids earn their way back out of H.A.V.E.N. back into a Cobb school," Beem said. The points for good behavior model was a problem for Beem, since her daughter was not learning to modify her behavior.

"It's not a matter of her learning that when she hears a loud noise not to freak out. It's internal," Beem said.

Beem said Libby's psychologists warned the family that in such an environment, Libby is "going to end up being permanently hospitalized. She will not be able to handle this, and she will completely decompose."

So the Beems took Libby home, where she is now educated through the Georgia Virtual Academy. And they filed a lawsuit against the school district, first with the Office of State Administrative Hearings and then in federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Orinda D. Evans, who dismissed their case last summer, wrote that the IEP "was reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit" to Libby. The case is currently on appeal.

"We believe that the IEP as it was originally written would actually cause her psychological and emotional harm," Beem said.

Through an Open Records Request, the Beems learned that the school district's legal firm, Brock Clay, had spent $190,000 on her case through March. Again, the school district declined to comment. Beem said she is encouraging other families to request the legal fees Brock Clay has charged the school district in their cases as well.

"I think you will find a great deal of money going to attorneys to keep these kids out of their system, instead of paying teachers and therapists to actually teach these children," Beem said.

"In watching this court case unfold over the years, what I have seen happen is the tactics are just to draw things out as long as they possibly can. From my perspective, they were drawing things out to make things cost so much for me so eventually we would back off," she said. "It's unreal that you would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight educating a child when you could spend pieces of that to actually educate the child. And I know that I am not the only one that has happened to."

As for Libby, she has thrived by being schooled at home through the Georgia Virtual Academy, her mother said. She enjoys her rock collection - her favorite kind is a geode, those with a hard exterior and crystals on the inside.

"It describes who I am. The bad behavior stuff's on the outside, but the good stuff inside me is the shiny stuff inside the geode," she said.

Responds her mother: "You are not bad. Are you a child that's got some challenges sometimes? Yes. It's nothing we can't get through."

Adds Julie Beem: "We don't know what the ending's going to be for her, but it's going to be much brighter now than it would have been."
Comments
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ttidw44186
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January 10, 2010
I am a mother of both a special needs child and non-special needs children. I am also a public school teacher. I think I have a little perspective on all sides of this equation.

1. Every parent should advocate for their children to receive the best educational experience possible. Criticizing parents for being their child's advocate whether sp.ed. or not makes no sense. All parents should be advocating for their children.

2. No child is more or less deserving than any other child regardless of circumstances. Children do not control their circumstances, some they are born with and others we impose on them. It behooves all of us to be part of solutions and not part of the problems.

3. Teachers do have a tough job meeting all the varied needs of students in their classrooms. Parents could make that job easier and so could the administrators.What are you doing to help your child's teachers?

4. Given the way parents on both sides of this argument have responded it seems that allowing parents the option to choose the educational setting for their own children would be a logical conclusion so why would anyone fight against that?

5. FYI for all of the parents speaking out here I beg you to be gentle with your attitude towards others because you are the mirror that your own child will look into. For the intolerant parents please remember that one day you to will be special needs if you live long enough. Let's hope your children do not shut you away from the world so that others are not made uncomfortable by your presence.
Proud Advocate
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January 09, 2010
I live in Barrow County(Winder, Georgia) and I have battled the school system here for many years. The school system took me to court, when I requested an Independent Educational Evaluation and he missed some days of which were all doctor excused. They all knew that we did not have the money to fight them legally. They also tried to have our son taken away. I ran a local organization that helped other families of children with autism.They argued ,that my child did not have autism and I should not be running a this group. Oh by the way, the judge here court ordered me to get a hobby----because I was too involved in advocating for my child. I am looking into a law-suit in which they attacked me in many ways.

To those parents who have children with no known disabilities:

-please know that, as a parent of a child with a disability, we have to fight for so many things on a daily basis(insurance, schools, neighbors, and sometimes doctors)

-the world can be a cruel place and some of you have proven that point by your responses

-the next thing, I have to say is that, thank GOD my son has me as his parent because it takes a strong person to live in my world

- children are a blessing, we teach them and they end up teaching us

LAST ONE-----A child with a disability never judges others, they just want a friend and some understanding and patience
Chris Vance
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December 29, 2009
The article is sadly not totally explanatory.

The administrative law judge and the federal district court ruled the proposed experiments on Libby were not appropriate.

How could this be omitted?

Chris Vance
Sam H
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December 28, 2009
thanks Trisha - for saying what many people think but are too afraid to be politically incorrect!
msmar301
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December 28, 2009
I've been fighting the Cobb County School system for 4 years myself. There are many, many comments I could retort to, and may in a later post, but in the meantime, here's a thought...just maybe the Least Restrictive Environment is a very small classroom where more one on one is available for the students who need it. Perhaps a combined classroom is far more restrictive than a small classroom for these students.
Special Needs Parent
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December 27, 2009
I am a parent of a child with special needs in the CCSD. This district does not teach/provide required services for the children. We have to fight like no one else. Maybe, if I were at the school volunteering all the time we would be privelaged like all of the moms of typical (regular ed children) speaking on this board. The system wants my child's test scores but they do not want to provide any services! During meetings with our advocate we say lets go to due preoess or court and then our child gets what he deserves. Not because we threaten but because the system is required and knows they would loose in court. We have been denied simple and basic services like OT, speech, etc. Until you fight for a child with special needs- do not put down or blame these parents.

Cobb should use Marcus for children with autism/asperger's rather than using the emotional/beavior disorder techniques. They are completly different techniques. If you use EBD techniques with an autistic Child the problem only esculates. Marcus is top-notch and work with other systems around the country. This will not happen because Cobb School District knows what is best and how to handle everything or so they think.

Should we have the institutions of many years ago? Many responses in the comment section sound that way.
peaceful21
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January 14, 2014
I so agree with you my have special need son and Cobb County can do much more to assist us parents.
EagleFlyBoy172
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December 25, 2009
Education is mandintory in the US. We are supposed to receive free and appropriate education for children. Yet I see all the negative comments written here about a parent working toward that goal.

I have had neighbors and associates who have had special needs children in Cobb. They all had to fight to have the needs of their child met. One child I knew of would get upset sometimes during the school day and the teacher's solution was to lock him in a supply closet. Another child who did not speak in sentences was grabbed by the arm by his teacher so hard that when his mother was helping him into the car at the end of the day the child screamed out in pain a whole sentence telling his mother it hurt.

One of my own children is Dyslexic and Cobb's response was to try to drug him along with other inappropriate measures. My child has an above average IQ, has graduated from high school through an accredited home school program and is beginning college.

Yes, there are good and great teachers in all schools. But the system that they and the families are forced to work through is really impossible.

I'm glad that Julie Beem fought and I'm glad that she is not going to let Cobb 'handle' her child anymore. Children (and all of us) are individuals and assembly line education doesn't work for anyone.
LIMom
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December 24, 2009
Homeschooling an autistic child is ideal and definitely achievable. Just being able to gear it specifically to the child without all the red tape makes it so much more effective.

The only way the public school system is going to get fixed is if the bureaucracy component (the administrators) and the lawyers are cut out of the picture. Let that funding go directly to training teachers to deal effectively with this disorder. Measures have to be put into place to stop the abuse at the hands of "professionals", like the psychologist conducting his own Skinner box experiments on a little girl. SICK!!
LRE
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December 24, 2009
I hate that the "Least Restrictive Environment" for some children ruins the education of other children in the classroom. My son had to sit next to a kid that had no control, he hit my child everyday and cursed the entire class period. The school did nothing, because the child was "special." There is nothing special about a kid that has a behavioral disorder that makes another child dread going to school. The kid needed to be in a small classroom environment not in a room with other kids that he could abuse. The kicker when my child had enough and punched him back he got suspended. How is that fair?

Now on day 1 of school, if my son comes home and says the class is "team taught" (code for overload of Sped kids) I demand a schedule change. His education will NOT be ruined we pay taxes too.
trisha - West Cobb
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December 24, 2009
We do teach tolerance and we have a ton of it believe me - if you attend public school you have to have tolerance.

No one should have to endure the violence and mis behavior that exists at these schools. It would not be tolerated at a store, an office, any where... but we have to tolerate it at school.

The documentation to get the troubled kid out of the school takes over a year of constant documentation by a cobb county teacher, principal... time taken away from teaching and dealing with other kids.

It is entitled-loving people like you that is wrong with this country. You expect the rest of us to tolerate and support you. Yet you call us names instead of tolerating us for differing with you.

Bottom line: You and your child(ren) do not deserve or "have the right" to anything that any other child in that school system has or deserves.
West Cobb
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January 17, 2014
Trisha from West Cobb - As I read your note, I just got angry, and then I realized that your opinion is not worth my time or effort to even begin to explain to you how to love kids that are different. Lord knows we would not want to take your time away from other children to offer it to a child with special needs.

I actually feel sorry for you that your heart is so hard.

I hope one day if you are ever in a situation where you need special understanding from others that there is someone there to help you and not someone to lecture you on how you are taking too much of their time.

Consider it
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December 23, 2009
Come on, MDJ. You're going to have to a little more research if you want to prove that the Cobb system's treatment of special needs students is really that bad. Citing one family's struggles, in a district of 107,000 students just doesn't cut it.

I'm guessing the reason the district did not comment to this reporter's questions is because it is against the law for educators to publicly comment about a specific child's case! And as journalists, you should know that, MDJ.
Response Been Where
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December 23, 2009
The school district is required to provide your children with an education. Special needs department provides your specials needs children with more support than ANY other child receives. One on one parapro's, classroom sizes of 4 students, not to mention more money spent on them than ANY other child. My experience is that nothing is ever good enough for these special needs parents. They want to red carpet rolled out because their child has special needs. We have to endure the specials needs children screaming, shouting, and totally disrupting the classroom because they are "Special". As a parent, I think it is cruel to make your special needs child attend a regular school setting where they will never funstion like other students. I would be embarrassed to take away the learning process of the other students. I am sorry your children have special needs but you should be doing what is BEST for your child. It is all about wanting people to bend to your demands. Every school system provides special needs programs. Those teachers do their best with the situations but when they have 4 students who are out of control, please don't criticize them. I AM TIRED OF SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTS THINKING THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DISRUPT MY CHILDS LEARNING. Please take your student elsewhere if you are not happy. I can not request anything special for my child and you shouldn't either!
Been where you are..
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December 23, 2009
Ok Trisha...just in case you weren't aware, there is such a thing called FAP "Free And Appropriate Eduation" which every child is entitled too regardless of there abiilty or disability. If you don't like what your child is witnessing during the school day - voice your opinion at the school, or to the teacher OR better yet, take yourself to a school board meeting and let your voice be heard. Contact your distict school board member and let them know how you feel. As far as the children with special needs are concerned they are entitled to a free and approciate education provided by the school district. CCSD sucks...why don't you recognize that? Honestly, if we could reasonably afford to remove our son and daughter from this non-sense that CCSD calls education, we would and place them in another setting that is more condusive to her higher learning style and his learning style. I'm really sorry if your kid is having to witness things that maybe he should not have too, but it's what is being forced upon them by the district. As a parent, would I want another child witnessing inappropriate behaivor or a meltdown by another child-NO! But again, your child is being forced into that setting. And judging by your response, your child will have little or no tolerance for people that are different...nice job Mom, good example you are setting! And Amy, with your Kennesaw Charter comment, same thing goes for you!
Amy spears
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December 23, 2009
Great idea Kennesaw Charter... wish my school could refuse too.

Too much time and energy spent on too few children.

No wonder we are going down in test scores, schools cannot teach they are spending too much time documenting and caring for a few.
trisha - West Cobb
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December 23, 2009
How sad "been there" - you expect the teacher to take time from all the other children in her/his class and focus on your child. That is just selfish. There are sometimes 28 other kids that need to learn in that class. the principal has 1000 kids in some cases that they are responsible for, expecting your child to have all the attention day after day is again selfish.

I'm tired of my kid having to witness the things that are going on in these school. Kids getting poked in the eye with a pencil, having a shirt being cut with a sissors, the cussing, pushing, calling out, running down the halls and hiding in a closet. These are just a few of the things that I know of that my child has witnessed in 2 years with 2 separate "special needs" kids in the class.

Why as a parent do I have to stay with the other 27 kids while the principal and teacher and a special needs teacher search for a child who decided to take off and run and hide? They then had to coax this child out of the closet. For 25 mins or more there was no teaching going on.

This is not acceptable to a teaching environment and your attitude is to document and sue. What a shame!! Why aren't you in there monitering your child's behavior helping out so that your child and the other children can learn.

You are exactly what is wrong with this system. You want it all without considering anyone or anything else.
Been where you are..
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December 23, 2009
We have child in the CCSD that is Autistic as well. What they do to these children is unreasonable and should be heavily monitored. NO every child does not learn the same way and should not be treated the same when they have disabilities. They suggested HAVEN for our son and instead we chose the Marcus Autism Center to help modify his behavior. Did any of you know that the CCSD refuses to work with Marcus Autism on helping these children be successful in the classroom? They will not allow a specialist from Marcus to come in offer suggestions, teach these un-educated special ed teachers on how to effectively work with these children. Instead they say they have thier own Autism Specialist/Behavior Specialist. What we experienced was whenever our son would have a bad day at school, the teacher or principal would call us and tell us to come and get him! Can someone tell me what that solves? It eases the teachers day - that's all! Our son gets to come home and play the remainder of the day! Not to mention we had our son at Kennesaw Charter - which by the way they out right refuse to educate special needs children and the CCSD is well aware of this and allow this happen! I am not the least bit impressed by CCSD and how they handle special needs children cases etc. Our son is represented by counsel and it will remain that way as long as he's in the CCSD. TAKE MY ADVICE PARENTS OF SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN....WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN, KEEP LOG OF EVERY INCIDENT AND TRY AND COMMUNICATE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE WITH THE TEACHER THROUGH WRITTEN COMMUNICATION. THAT WAY YOU HAVE IT WRITING.
More attorneys fees
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December 23, 2009
Calling "HAVEN" a school is like calling the big chicken one of the 7 wonders of the world. Go look at Fitzhugh Lee or the original "HAVEN" (formerly Hawthorne School in Smyrna) and you'll see the two most run-down, inadequate, resource-free "schools" in the county. The staff are saints for doing so much with so little and genuinely love the kids. But HAVEN's mandate from the all-knowing county office and their over-priced arrogant attorneys is to simply maintain students at HAVEN and Fitzhugh Lee and under no circumstances refer students to residential or hospital settings where they might actually get the kind of treatment they need. Sure, you can make any student's data look like they are being less aggressive if the staff members are wearing pads. See, if a child is too violent for HAVEN, Brock Clay's job is to spend as much money as it takes to prevent that child from accessing adequate education in more expensive residential placements the Cobb County schools would have to pay for. If your child's at a HAVEN school, it's the end of the line and Cobb County will fight to the death to keep him there whether it helps the child or not.
Silent Majority
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December 23, 2009
One other thing...the problem is No Child Left Behind and LRE(Least Restrictive Environment.) I understand that a mother or father wants to mainstream their child who might have Aspbergers or Autism to get the best education for their tax dollar. Most people have no idea the environment and patience in the classroom needed to help a student of this magnitude. When you place a student of this calibur in a room whereby you have AP students, Honor students, college prep students, tech prep students, ESOL, hearing impaired and just your regular average student, the needs of the one autistic student could exhaust all the necessary energy to operate and teach the entire class. When you combine all these levels in the class, you are bound to have problems. Parents demanded to have equal opportunity for every type of students to receive a equal education in the Least Restrictive Environment. LRE basically means the same as other regular students class setting. Now we are seeing when we bunch all these types of students in one class the problems it creates. The Honor student is bored to death because he/she is not challenged enough and the special needs student requires all the attention. The average student is the one who honestly struggles in all of this which is the majority. But according to the law of the IEP, it must happen. Change the laws and let teachers just teach. Parents can't soley depend on education to meet every single need. Just impossible...But you have to go back to creating a class just for Autistic students. The question is, are their enough to justify a class for the resources that are available?
Silent Majority
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December 23, 2009
The threat of lawsuits from parents is a continuing problem for many teachers and school systems. There is so much pressure particularly in special education. I couldn't teach special education in this day and age. I see both sides. Parents wanting what is best for their child's needs and the teachers frustrated up to their necks doing the best that they can with the resources they have. I do notice that parents of special needs children tend to be more demanding, emotionally distraught and lawsuit minded from the get go. If they don't get their way, they will sue the teacher and school system. If I were a teacher, that would definately motivate me not to teach.
a teacher
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December 22, 2009
Answer to the last person's post:

Because parents want their kids with peers and to teach seperately is not giving their child an equal opportunity and second to have schools/classrooms seperately meeting every kids need we would need a million classes and the taxes would be MUCH higher!

Step back parents and look at the reality and if you don't like it BECOME A TEACHER IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS and do the job you are asking so many to do and see how unrealistic your expectations are and then see if you feel the same way! I promise you your view point will change and you will realize your ideas are not reality!
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