Reporting Joe Shortsleeve
WEYMOUTH (CBS) – A Weymouth sixth grader hasn’t been to school in nearly three months. He’s not sick; he’s afraid, scared to face the constant teasing he has endured in school. His parents want him moved to a different school, but the school department rejected the request. The result is a standoff that has left a young boy’s education hanging in the balance.
Scott Kattell has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Back in November, he left school in the middle of the day after he says he was relentlessly taunted by other kids during lunch. A police report called it bullying and sexual harassment. His mother says the language the students used was shocking. “[They were] saying awful things about him, his body and in great detail and the description was quite vulgar,” she said.
Scott’s parents, Lori and Scott Sr., blame the school for failing to properly address the issue and this wasn’t the first time. “In the third grade… a child threatened to murder him,” Lori said.
Now Scott says he’s afraid to go back to school and his parents say the administration has done little to reassure him that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. “They can’t leave him at a school where he doesn’t feel safe,” Lori said.
A licensed psychologist who treated Scott agrees. She wrote in a letter “…It would be detrimental to his health to return to public school… Scott requires a private school with a curriculum that is based on the needs of children with Asperger’s syndrome,” she said. According to the Kattells, some of the staff at Scott’s school agreed. “It seemed like everyone agreed on the outplacement,” Scott Sr. said.
Ultimately, the administration refused to send Scott to a private school. They wouldn’t say why, but one reason may be the skyrocketing cost of special education. In Weymouth, those costs already make up 25% of the total school budget.
Special education costs are a growing burden in communities across Massachusetts. “It’s a huge problem,” explained Geoff Beckwith of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. As those costs rise, there are fewer education dollars for everything else. That means cuts that are felt system-wide, according to Beckwith. “You might have a higher class size. You might have fewer other program offerings,” he said.
The Weymouth Superintendent wouldn’t go on camera and wouldn’t say if cost was a factor in the decision.
In a statement Kenneth Salim said:
The Weymouth Public Schools are committed to ensuring the safety and success of every student. To protect student privacy, we do not comment publicly on the details of any child’s educational program. Our approach in all cases is to work collaboratively with families to meet their children’s educational needs. In this case, we have taken a number of actions at the school level, and I have met personally with the family on several occasions. For students with disabilities, we take very seriously our legal obligation to provide a safe and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.
The Kattels insist Scott’s needs are not being met. “We’re just asking them to do the right thing this time and they won’t do it,” Laurie said.
The Kattell’s are determined to keep up their fight. In the meantime, cities and towns across Massachusetts are expected to spend more than two billion dollars next year on special education.