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."