County appeals special ed cases

The Prince William school system is facing appeals on two cases of students seeking private tuition assistance — one case it has repeatedly won and another it initially lost.

Prince William won an appeal in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in May filed by Joseph and Jane Arseneault who alleged the school system put their son Peter, now 16, in an unsafe environment at PACE West school in 1999.

The Arseneaults lost two due process hearings, and, representing themselves, appealed a year ago the last hearing’s decision against them to the District Court. They are appealing the decision to the 4th Circuit Court, a court clerk said.

Schools Superintendent Edward Kelly said the school system won because it was able to prove it could provide the education and services to the student.

The Arseneaults, who had accrued legal bills of at least $60,000, could not be reached for comment.

The county is appealing a May decision by an independent hearing officer that ordered the county to reimburse another family for their son’s private tuition.

Nadine and Terry Hallums put their 15-year-old son T.J. in a private school after they said the school system misdiagnosed his learning disabilities for years and did not address his specific needs.

The hearing decision agreed: “Prince William has not demonstrated that it will approach T.J.’s primary deficit … the Benton program is inappropriate for T.J.”

The base tuition at the child’s private school is $16,000, with individualized services adding to the cost.

The Prince William School Board signed off on the appeal.

Board Chairwoman Lucy Beauchamp declined to comment on the appeal because it is in litigation, but she said “I believe our special education department and our special-ed teachers do an exceptional job.”

She said she wished she could talk about the case.

Thomas Carter, director of the county’s special education program, has not returned phone messages over several weeks.

“Will I tell you we’re perfect? Absolutely not,” Beauchamp said. While the system can always do better, she said, she is confident the school system provides a proper education.

Kelly called the potential cost for Hallums’ education “considerable.”

“It would exceed what it would be for us to appeal this case,” Kelly said.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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