FISHERS — Fishers parents have filed new complaints alleging Hamilton Southeastern Schools discriminated against their children who have disabilities and retaliated against their families for speaking up.
The parents say HSE failed to provide certain services to their children, who have special needs, and allege the district is in violation of federal law.
Maddox O’Connor, 10, made headlines back in May for his mission to help the homeless with blessing bags.
Now it’s Maddox’s mother who is on a mission.
“He needs an education, and he deserves an education,” said Shawn O’Connor, mother of 10-year-old Maddox.
Maddox has a rare form of muscular dystrophy called mitochondrial disease.
"He requires a lot of care throughout the day,” O’Connor said. “His body can't regulate itself. Basic stuff like heart rate and blood sugar are things that a nurse has to regulate for him throughout the day.”
Maddox’s mother Shawn explains her son’s needs are so extensive, he needs a private nurse with him one-on-one at home and at school.
Maddox is a fifth grader at Fall Creek Intermediate school.
Shawn said Hamilton Southeastern Schools has been reluctant to provide Maddox a one-on-one nurse at school.
"It presents more of a safety concern than anything,” Shawn said.
She said Maddox has used a one-on-one nurse since he was three years old.
When Maddox doesn’t have a nurse at school, that means he’s at home instead.
He’s been in class only seven days this school year, according to his mother.
“It is the most heartbreaking thing in the world,” Shawn said. “I sit here many nights while he cries himself to sleep because he has no friends and he just wants to go to school."
When Maddox is home, Shawn claims HSE has regularly not provided Maddox a homebound teacher.
“You can't not provide him with a nurse to go to school but then have him stay home for weeks and weeks at a time and not provide a homebound teacher either,” Shawn said.
Concerned, Shawn told the district she planned to take legal action and file a formal complaint with the Indiana Department of Education.
Shawn said HSE’s executive director of Exceptional Learners threatened to cancel Maddox’s nursing contract.
Shawn’s allegation of retaliation is outlined in her complaints filed this month with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as well as the Indiana Department of Education.
She hired Fishers attorney Tom Blessing to represent her family.
“It’s violating federal law,” Blessing said. “The school has a duty under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide him with an education and his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) spells out what school is supposed to be doing.”
WRTV Investigates asked Hamilton Southeastern Schools about Shawn’s retaliation allegation involving a staff member.
“We strive to work with our students and their families to ensure compliance with all laws and appropriately respond to any changes or developments,” said Emily Pace Abbotts, Director of School and Community Relations at HSE in an email to WRTV. “Divulging more details on this matter could violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act."
Blessing explains schools receive federal funding to provide services to students that have disabilities, like Maddox.
Blessing also represents another mother, Erin Dague, who filed a complaint this month with the federal Office for Civil Rights also accusing HSE of retaliation and discrimination.
Dague said HSE failed to follow her son Dyllan’s IEP in several ways.
“They put a face mask on him which he's not allowed to wear because he has a respiratory condition,” Dague said. “He has a face shield accommodation in his health care plan in his IEP."
Dague told the school district she intended to involve her attorney, and claims that same day, the Indiana Department of Child Services knocked on her door saying a report had been made alleging Dyllan was dirty.
Her federal complaint against HSE alleges it was the school district that called DCS.
“This is my family,” Dague said. “We get the wrong social worker and we could have a ton of issues. That is scary."
Dague said DCS came to her home a second time after she went on Facebook to help HSE families navigate dyslexia testing.
“There's this intimidation and retaliation and blackmailing that's going on by HSE schools over us asking for our son to be treated properly and assisting other families with fair and appropriate educations,” Dague said.
The Indiana Department of Child Services can’t legally tell us the outcomes of the investigations into the Dagues, nor can they tell us who called about Dyllan.
“Information related to a DCS case, including the identity of the report source, is confidential and released only to those individuals permitted access by statute,” said Noelle Russell, Communications Director at DCS. “This is Indiana law."
WRTV Investigates asked HSE if they reported Dyllan to the Indiana Department of Child Services.
“Employees are required by Indiana Code to immediately report any suspicion of child abuse and/or neglect to the Department of Child Services,” Pace Abbotts said in an email to WRTV. “All employees are trained yearly on the reporting process. Divulging more details on this matter could violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act."
Maddox’s contract for his home nurse is still in place — it was not canceled, and the family’s insurance pays when Maddox is at home.
His mom Shawn is urging HSE to provide him with a nurse at school and a homebound teacher for when he’s home.
“Mitochondrial disease has taken so much from Maddox, but it wasn't supposed to take his education,” Shawn said. “There are supposed to be laws in place to protect him, so he doesn't have to give that up to. It's heartbreaking. He doesn't deserve that."
Shawn is asking the Indiana Department of Education to hold a hearing on Maddox's case, but because it was just filed on Oct. 15 no hearing date has been set yet.
HSE said it has received notice of Shawn’s complaint to IDOE, and the district is “actively working to respond and resolve the complaint.”
HSE has not received any official notification on the two complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
“If the said complaints are subject to further processing by the OCR, we will fully cooperate with any investigation and provide more feedback regarding the allegations after we have time to process the details, “ said Pace Abbotts in an emailed statement. “We comply with all state and federal laws to accommodate those with educational needs. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed in collaboration with families via a case conference to meet the needs of each student.”