The Sherrard school district in Western Illinois has already cost taxpayers $100,000 in legal cost fighting the family of a 9-year-old girl and her service dog Jasper.
Kelsey McGuire suffers from epilepsy and her dog Jasper helps her deal with the condition.
Under disability laws Illinois school districts are supposed to be open, welcoming, and accommodate service animals for students with needs.
The McGuire family went to court against the school district because they were doing none of those things.
Recently a hearing officer ruled against the Sherrard school district finding that they were hostile towards Kelsey and Jasper.
In recent days the Sherrard school district has decided that they will appeal the ruling saying that the hearing officer errored in ruling in favor of the McGuire’s.
That hearing officer ruled that the district must pay the McGuire’s two years of tuition for a private school for Kelsey and Jasper. The McGuire’s are also seeking to have the district pay their more than $60,000 in legal costs. The district has already spent $100,000 fighting the McGuire’s, all on the taxpayers dime.
Sherrard district superintendent Dr. Samuel Light told WQAD TV Wednesday about why he and the district are appealing the ruling:
Light says there’s been a rush to judgement in the court of public opinion in the case. He says the district tried to settle the case as per a state hearing officer’s ruling, but says the other side rejected its offer.
“If they don’t accept the offer, then we have to appeal. We totally agreed to pay what we were told to pay by the hearing officer, and that was denied”, said Dr. Samuel Light.
Supt. Light says the district was willing to do that, but the McGuires want more. They are asking that their 65-thousand dollar legal bill be paid by the district, as per law. They also want the school to implement a service dog policy.
The school says federal law is sufficient.
“The law strongly supercedes any policy we would put in place, a policy is totally unnecessary. Why would we put a policy in place to say what the law is already saying? That’s ridiculous”, Supt. Light said.
The McGuire family and their attorney John Doak are incredulous at those statements by Dr. Light and issued the following statement Thursday,
The statute clearly states that if the McGuires win the due process hearing with the IHO, then the court SHALL award atty fees to them as prevailing parents. The McGuires won. The school district took a horrible risk. They lost and now they don’t want to accept the consequences of failure. At some point in this process the school district, administrators and governing board must learn that there are financial consequences for violating student’s rights. They have been so horribly recalcitrant that we are now exploring avenues to go after the District for the additional retaliation they took against the McGuire family. We told the District in May 2014 that the McGuire family did not want to litigate. Our hand has been forced by dumb decision after dumb decision by the school district. It is apparent that the school district wants a battle. Since that is what they want, we will oblige.
To be perfectly blunt the Sherrard school board and Superintendent Dr. Light are up S#@& Creek without a paddle, and appear to have absolutely no legal leg to stand on.
If all of that wasn’t enough this case has also caused months of dread and worry for long-time conservative Republican political activist Joh Zahm who helped the McGuire’s challenge the nominating petitions for two school board candidates for the just concluded April 7th consolidate election.
The McGuire’s with Zahm’s assistance got one potential school board candidate’s nominating petitions invalidated by the Mercer County Board of Elections, a second challenge to an incumbent board member wasn’t successful. Following that board meeting the Mercer county States Attorney, who sits on the county Board of Elections filled criminal charges against Zahm contending that he falsely represented himself as a lawyer during the board hearing. The Mercer county states attorney is seeking thousands of dollars in fines against Zahm, and wants summary judgement, i.e no trial or presentation of evidence. Thankfully the presiding Judge noticed the clear conflict on interest in the Mercer County States Attorney leading the prosecution and made him recuse himself and allow others in the States Attorney’s office to takeover the case.
Zahm, with the aid of a lawyer being paid for by the McGuire family, is attempting to get the criminal case thrown out at an April 30th hearing. An ethics complaint against the Mercer County States Attorney is pending.
Dennis Cattoni, coordinator of the Illinois Tea Party, is urging anyone upset by the Sherrard school districts behavior towards the McGuire’s and Jasper to contact the members of the school board and Superintendent Dr. Light and give them a piece of their minds. Contact info can be found on the districts website.