Public School Offers $86K to Keep Autistic Boy Out

PHOTO: David Swanson is autistic and diabetic. He cant speak, but he can communicate with an iPad.
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Public school officials offered a California mother $86,000 to settle complaints about the previous treatment of her autistic, mute and diabetic son , to move him to a private school and to keep her from filing any further complaints about his care.

Heather Houston alleges that her 21-year-old son, David Swanson, was force-fed and discriminated against at school. She previously filed a complaint with the office of civil rights and says she plans to sue, but she still wants him to attend class because he's entitled to free public education until he turns 22.

David's education plan, which includes learning to write his name on a piece of paper, may not seem like much, but he has a right to it, Houston says.

"The law says he's allowed access to education," Houston told ABCNews.com. "I don't want their money. I never wanted their money."

Houston says she received the settlement offer two weeks after Yuba City, Calif., school officials turned David away on Aug. 15, the first day of classes.

"I don't get it, because he's a wonderful child," said Annette Armstrong, the private duty nurse who accompanied David to school that day to monitor his diabetes. "David had a desk in there. We were where we were supposed to be."

Read about the problems autistic children face after high school.

According to the federal Department of Education, public school districts are required to provide free appropriate public education, or FAPE, to students with disabilities until they age out of the system. If a district can't handle a particular students' needs, it can refer that student elsewhere, but the district is still responsible for paying for the alternative education, ensuring that it is appropriate for the student and providing transportation.

The unsigned settlement offer letter, obtained by ABCNews.com and dated Aug. 27, offers Houston $86,000 in exchange for waiving David's right to attend public school, for which he is eligible in California until he turns 22 in spring 2014. The letter also explains that if Houston accepts the money, she must drop her complaints against the school district and county superintendent's office and not file any new complaints or lawsuits against the school district or the county superintendent's office.

Yuba City School District's lawyer, Kim Bogard, acknowledged the existence of the settlement agreement offer, but would not comment on specifics regarding David's care or education.

Armstrong has cared for David for five years, helping him communicate with his iPad, monitoring his diabetes and administering his insulin as a nurse employed by the school district, Houston said. But Armstrong and Houston said the district found a reason to fire her after she complained about a teacher force-feeding David last year.

"They don't like me because they know I'm going to tell the truth," Armstrong said.

So Houston hired Armstrong as a private nurse for David because she was so good at caring for him and understanding when he was uncomfortable. Since David can't speak, Armstrong knows what's ailing him when he hums, puts his fingers in his ears or hops up and down.

The trouble began last school year, Armstrong explained. Even though helping David eat is one of her nursing duties, she says one teacher decided to teach David table manners. David didn't respond well because the teacher was forcing him to eat with a metal fork instead of a plastic one, Armstrong said. But they say David's autism renders him extra sensitive to metal, and he becomes agitated by the way metal forks feel against his teeth.

When Armstrong said she tried to intervene, the teacher ignored her, she said. When David spit the food out, she says the teacher pushed it back into his mouth and he eventually vomited.

"She would push his head in the bowl, make him spit in the bowl and stir it up and make him eat it," Armstrong said. "Her methods are bizarre."

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