Bettendorf parent Jeffrey Bittner addressed the Pleasant Valley School Board on Monday night, in the midst of a pending lawsuit against the district. His five-year-old son has autism, and his open enrollment request into the district was denied last year.
“It is our assertion that this school district is discriminating against my son on the basis of his disability,” he said.
The district’s legal counsel, Mikkie Schiltz said a district court judge had ruled in Pleasant Valley’s favor, but Bittner had appealed.
According to the minutes for the May 14, 2018 meeting, 12 open enrollment requests were accepted, while Bittner’s son was the only denial.
“We don’t know the disability status of the other 12,” he said. “… In our best judgment, we believe that it’s more probable than not that all of the students you accepted for open enrollment were children without disabilities.”
Superintendent Jim Spelhaug, Bittner said, had told him in an email in 2018 that the cause for the denial was classroom capacity, even though Bittner’s other child already open-enrolled in the district, and the district would typically prefer to keep siblings together.
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One option, Bittner said Spelhaug brought up, was that the family could move into the district, in which case the district would have room for Bittner’s son.
“Either this district has room for my son, or it doesn’t,” Bittner said, adding that he didn’t believe the district had presented proof that there wasn’t room. “Our place of residence has zero relevance to the issue of whether the school district has sufficient classroom space.”
Schiltz, reading from an email Spelhaug sent to Bittner, said, “As a rule, we do not accept open enrollment for students with special needs simply due to space restraints.”
The district's responsibilities to students living in the district are different from those wishing to open enroll from outside the district, Schiltz said.
“According to the law, you must educate every student that is in the Pleasant Valley School District,” she said. “… You have to accept open enrollment applications unless there is no room, and that’s true whether there’s a special education student, or whether it’s a general education student.”