Education

Parents, Virginia Beach schools battle over special needs student's education

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) -- The Virginia Beach school district is taking legal action against a family to get their daughter back into the public school system. 

The school district and the Normans have been at odds over Marisa Norman's education since 2014. Marisa is a special needs student, born with more than 20 disabilities, including cerebral palsy, hearing loss and ADHD. She needs a lot of specialized help.

Like many military families, the Normans have moved around a lot. Marisa's mom, Michelle, says her daughter succeeded in other public school systems in Rhode Island and Northern Virginia.

But when the family moved back to Virginia Beach in 2014, she says Marisa immediately started to go backwards. 

"We tried working with the school district for over two years to come up with an educational plan that was going to meet her needs, explained Michelle Norman. "We came to an impasse, and so we had to file due process in 2016."

During this time, the Normans placed Marisa in the Chesapeake Bay Academy. At the due process hearing that September, the Normans won. 

A federal judge ordered Virginia Beach to pay for Marisa's private school tuition because their own system failed her.

The school district appealed, and in 2017, the Normans won again. In the summer of 2018, the school district tried again to stop paying for Marisa's education. Again, the legal system sided with the Normans. 

At the end of December, the school district sued the Normans to get Marisa back into public school. WAVY reached out to Virginia Beach Public Schools, and they sent us this statement in regards to Marisa's case, 

"We care deeply about the education of all children who enter the doors of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, including the Norman’s daughter, Marisa. We have not been given the opportunity to educate her with fidelity, as the family continues to refuse to approve and sign her new IEP, which we proposed in February of 2018. This new IEP addresses everything outlined by both the hearing officer and the federal judge and we believe it exceeds Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) standards. We are confident that given the chance to work with the family and implement this IEP, Virginia Beach City Public Schools would be able to fully attend to Marisa’s needs, and would very much like the chance to do so."

The due process hearing is scheduled for the end of March. Marisa's dad, Captain Cassidy Norman leaves in April for 15 months. He's the new commanding officer for the USS Mount Whitney. Michelle says the timing couldn't be more difficult. 

"So instead of preparing my children for their dad being gone for over a year, we're preparing for a hearing and a trial."


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