Parents: Wyoming Valley West failed our autistic son

By Geri Gibbons - [email protected] | March 7th, 2016 7:39 pm - updated: 9:41 pm.

EDWARDSVILLE — A local Latino family says the Wyoming Valley West School District is shirking its duty to provide an education to their son, who has autism — an accusation district officials deny.

Fernando Leduc and Dorca Salaman said their son, 10-year-old Jeliel Leduc, has not attended school since Feb. 26 when they were asked to pick him up from Fairview Elementary School in the Crestwood School District.

Jeliel Leduc had been placed in a special needs program in the Crestwood School District by the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, but his education continued to be overseen and funded by Wyoming Valley West, according to Chuck Suppon, district superintendent.

“At no time was he expelled,” Suppon said, “he is just not in an appropriate placement at this time.” Suppon did not, however, say whether Jeliel would be offered a more appropriate placement.

According to Salaman, the day Jeliel was released from the school program found her with no hope her son would be successfully educated and provided opportunity to reach his potential.

Further complicating matters, Leduc and Salaman said, Luzerne County Children & Youth Services came to their home recently, apparently investigating allegations they failed to send their son to school.

They believe those allegations have also landed them in court on Tuesday to answer charges of truancy, which they deny.

No-show truancy officer

The couple, for whom English is a second language, said when they requested the worker come back at a time when an interpreter was available to them, the worker made an appointment for the next day but never showed up.

Diego Perez, who has interpreted for and supported the couple, said he was at the house for three hours, waiting for the worker.

He said the failure of the worker to appear reflects the general disrespect with which the couple has been treated since they filed a lawsuit alleging abuse and neglect by the Crestwood School District.

Perez said he had recently met with Barry Rogers, director of elementary special education for Wyoming Valley West, on behalf of the family because of the language barrier.

According to Perez, Rogers said, “I don’t want to talk to those people.”

“I asked what he meant by ‘those people,’” Perez said. “They’re the parents of a child they love very much.”

In correspondence to the parents dated Feb. 15, Rogers, referring to their request to interview support staff working with their son, said, “Please do not contact the LIU (Luzerne Intermediate Unit), Fairview Elementary or the district with any future requests.”

Attempts by a Times Leader reporter, both direct and indirect, to reach Rogers for comment have been unsuccessful.

Correspondence between the district and the family, copies of which were provided to the Times Leader, indicates the district had an expectation that Jeliel would continue to attend school.

A difficult history

The family’s recent history with the district has been a difficult one.

Salaman said Jeliel has been a student in the Wyoming Valley West School District since 2012. At that time, she said, he was enrolled at New Story in Wyoming Borough, a school geared to children with academic, intellectual and behavioral problems. She said Jeliel had done well for several years.

Copies of medical and educational paperwork shared with the Times Leader indicate that, throughout that time period, Jeliel had behaviors consistent with autism but did not present any behaviors that would exclude him from the classroom.

During third grade, while at New Story, Jeliel came home from school with bruises and scratches, his parents said.

Originally, they said, they voiced their concerns to the staff at New Story. After getting what they felt was an insufficient response from the school, they took their concerns to the Wyoming Valley West School District.

The couple said that instead of providing relief from an intolerable situation, the district responded in a retaliatory manner.

At the beginning of the 2015 school year, fearing once again their son would not be placed in an appropriate educational environment, the family filed a lawsuit in federal court that alleges the district failed to provide their son with safe transportation to and from school, thereby denying him access to education.

The suit dated Sept. 8, 2015, details Section 405 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal law that requires school districts to “provide a free appropriate public education to each qualified handicapped person, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s handicap.”

‘No problem’ in class

Early this year, when Jeliel was enrolled in the special education program at Fairview Elementary, his mother said the principal and teacher’s aide told her he was doing well and was “no problem in the classroom.”

The couple said they have asked for, but have not received, documentation indicating why their son was, in effect, expelled from the school.

They provided the Times Leader visitor identification badges they were issued on Feb. 22, 25 and 29, to show that Salaman had visited the school several times during that week.

Her goal was, she said, to re-enroll her son in the school.

Fernando Leduc said the experience has been a difficult one for his family, which includes his older son, who often assists in caring for his brother.

Leduc said Jeliel has been exhibiting difficult behaviors at home because he doesn’t have opportunity for the stimulation and education school provides.

Both Leduc and Salaman said they simply want their son to have a consistent, stable education.

They said they hope to send Jeliel to NHS School, Scranton, for which they have not yet received approval and funding.

Fernando LeDuc’s sons. Jeliel, on the right, has autism. LeDuc’s sons. Jeliel, on the right, has autism. Pete G. Wilcox | Times Leader
Fernando LeDuc says his son, who has autism, was expelled from school. LeDuc says his son, who has autism, was expelled from school. Pete G. Wilcox | Times Leader
Fernando LeDuc’s sons. Jeliel Leduc, on the right, has autism. LeDuc’s sons. Jeliel Leduc, on the right, has autism. Pete G. Wilcox | Times Leader
Jeliel LeDuc kisses his mom. LeDuc kisses his mom. Pete G. Wilcox | Times Leader
Family says WVW failed their autistic son, superintendent disagrees

By Geri Gibbons

[email protected]

Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons.