A 13-YEAR-OLD St. Louis County girl whom we will call Susan -
is at the center of a very complicated court fight. The legal
arguments have to do with due process, and the definition of
"dangerousness," and the limitations of something called a stay-put
provision, and other legal questions beyond the ken of the
Stripped of its legal veneer, however, the case involves
questions that are easily understood but perhaps impossible to
To what lengths should we go to educate a child? Should the
rights of one child ever supersede the rights of others?
Susan suffers from mental retardation and behavior disorders.
Although she is not autistic, some aspects of her behavior resemble
Here is how her attorney described her behavior: "She does not
do well in social interactions because she does not read cues
accurately. Due to her disability, Susan will stimulate herself
tactically and because of her fascination with the faces of others,
and her lack of ability to read social cues, she may end up poking
or striking another person. Susan may unknowingly invade the space
of another person. If that person becomes threatened and acts
agitated or in a defensive manner, then `Susan' will respond by
poking or hitting."
She will also bite.
In September of last year, Susan was enrolled at a middle
school in the Parkway School District. She was in a Phase II
program, which meant that she spent most of each day in a classroom
with other disabled students - in this case, mentally retarded
youngsters - and a small part of each day with non-disabled
In addition to the regular teachers and staff, Susan had one
teacher and an aide assigned strictly to her. They stayed with her
in the classroom for the disabled children, and they accompanied
her when she joined the non-disabled students.
According to Susan's mother, the school years started off well,
and then began to deteriorate. According to an attorney for the
school district, things started off badly.
By all accounts, there were plenty of incidents.
Eventually, parents of four of the five other disabled children
wrote letters to the school district. The letters all had the same
plaintive quality. If they were lumped together, they would read
something like this:
"As a parent of a disabled child, I believe in inclusion.
However, Susan is a disruptive influence and I find that my child
is regressing. …