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Flagpole mom starts 5th day at her post

No early settlement in battle over needs of her disabled son

Friday, September 01, 2000

By Janice Crompton, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As the vigil of Deanna Lesneski enters its fifth day, no resolution to the matter seems to be imminent, and an opportunity to press her case before U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich may not come before next week.

Lesneski, a Washington County mother, tied herself to a flagpole at Blaine-Buffalo Elementary School Monday to protest the way McGuffey School District officials are handling the education of her son, who has special educational needs.

Lesneski, 47, pulled up a lawn chair and launched her protest after she said she was told the school would not administer Max's medications this year. Ryan "Max" Lesneski, 7, has Down syndrome, asthma and a hearing disability.

Lesneski has maintained that the school has not cooperated in providing him with medications or a qualified sign-language interpreter -- allegations that the district denies.

The Lesneskis took McGuffey to federal court in March claiming it had violated a 13-point agreement ironed out with the family in February. The case was heard by Cindrich, who never ruled on the matter.

Under federal law, school officials must offer several types of service for students with medical problems or other disabilities while educating them in "the least restrictive environment."

The list includes transportation, speech therapy, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, some medical services, testing and counseling.

While the law has been challenged in courts and the language debated by districts and parents, it also tells districts to provide "such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child to benefit from special education."

For deaf or hard-of-hearing students, the law says districts have a responsibility for "preparing personnel to be qualified educational interpreters."

Parents and school officials must devise and agree upon an individual education plan for each student who gets any sort of special services from the district.

Lesneski filed another complaint Tuesday, prompting a conference with Cindrich Wednesday. During the meeting, the judge told district officials to provide by yesterday the name and training details of the sign-language interpreter it said it was training for Max, plus other information.

A clerk from Cindrich's office yesterday confirmed Cindrich had received the documents he requested.

But, the clerk said, Cindrich's schedule was full yesterday and today, meaning that unless an emergency conference is called, the judge may not hear the matter again until at least next week -- dashing the hopes of representatives from both sides, who'd hoped for a quick resolution in the dispute.

And, because Cindrich refused to order Lesneski to end her vigil, citing her First Amendment right to protest, Lesneski said she will continue until a contract is signed between the district and the aide and she is satisfied that the person is proficient in sign language.

Lesneski said she will maintain her post this weekend, even if it rains, and she will not be alone. Along with a contingent of supporters, including local parents of other special needs children, and several representatives of Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living, a disability rights organization in Washington, Pa., Lesneski was joined Wednesday by four van loads of parents and other supporters from Washington, D.C.

More supporters from Lawrence County and members of the Association for the Deaf also joined the protest yesterday. The groups traveled to Washington County in a show of solidarity after hearing of the demonstration, she said.

Staff writer Torsten Ove contributed to this report.

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