Even in these hard economic times some area school districts are shelling out thousands in tax dollars to wage legal battles against parents of special needs students.

"We knew what he was able to do here at the house and they were telling us something different that was happening at school," said Bill Steinhoff, whose 5-year-old son is autistic.

Steinhoff and his wife who are both teachers said they asked Clear Creek ISD for documentation to prove the progress teachers claimed their son was making.

When special education administrators refused that request the Steinhoff's hired an attorney to fight the district in a legal hearing.

"We are going to do anything we can to fight for our son," Steinhoff said and so are lots of other Houston area parents.

But when it comes to funding these legal battles over what's best for special needs students, parents have to dip into their own pockets to fight school districts

"The schools have almost a virtually limitless pool of money they can use to battle these parents," Doreen Phillpot said.

Phillpot is an attorney who represents parents of special needs students who decide to wage a legal battle with school districts. That limitless pool of money Phillpot refers to is your tax dollars.

So how much are school districts willing to spend on these legal battles?
According to figures obtained through public information requests, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FOX 26’S Randy Wallace reports

Special Needs Student Files Bullying Complaint
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009, 9:35 PM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 19 May 2009, 6:38 PM CDT

RANDY WALLACE Investigative Reporter

Levi Lunsford, 16, has Asperger's Disorder and that form of Autism makes social interaction extremely difficult for the teen.

"Because I think a little bit differently than they do," Levi said.

"He's got his little quirks" Ronny Lunsford, Levi's father said.

And those little quirks, Ronny said caused his son to be a walking target for bullies.

Torture. That one word levi said describes his last five years at Tarkington Independent School District.

"I was constantly looking over my shoulder in the hall to make sure somebody wasn't about to do something to me," Levi said.

The Asperger's causes Levi to have a big problem with being touched.

"I can't even really touch him unless he knows it's coming" Levi's father said. "A bunch of people started flicking my ears," Levi said and his reaction to it, his parents said caused the bullying to escalate.

"I think that made it get a lot worse the reaction he gave when they touched him," Ronny Lunsford said. "And it wasn't even just the boys doing it; the girls joined in too" said Veronica Lunsford, Levi's sister.

Ronny lunsford said he couldn't believe the state he found his son in on one of his many trips to Levi's school.

"He's in a corner pulling his hair out, just curled up rocking, pulling his hair out," Lunsford said.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the Liberty County Sheriff's Department Levi was assaulted last year in the high school locker room.

"I saw several of the varsity guys come into the J.V. locker room and they closed the door behind them," Levi said.

"Five boys cornered him and filmed with their phones while one boy jumped him," Levi's father said.

The attack sent Levi to the hospital and another student to jail.

Levi's parents filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency. It alleges Tarkington I.S.D. "failed to stop the bullying of this student and allowed it to continue for several school years"

Due to a pending legal hearing Tarkington I.S.D. Superintendent John Kirchner said he couldn't discuss Levi's case but told FOX 26 Investigates, "Our purpose is to take care of the kids any way we can and as time goes on we learn more about the best way to meet the needs of kids"

Levi no longer attends Tarkington II.S.D. but his parents say they hope the action they are taking will help other bullying victims in the future.

Mother Sues Fort Bend ISD, Claims Retaliation
Updated: Thursday, 07 Aug 2008, 7:28 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 07 Aug 2008, 4:39 PM CDT


Revenge. That's what Kelly Davis believes is driving Fort Bend County ISD's effort to deny her special needs son the services she asked for.

Revenge. That's what Kelly Davis believes is driving Fort Bend County ISD's effort to deny her special needs son the services she asked for.

In 2006, Davis told Fox 26 News that within hours of her decision to appeal the denial of services to the state, the school district terminated her contract as a special needs therapist for the district. Davis claims she asked for therapeutic services valued at $3,700.

Fort Bend school officials denied the termination was retaliatory.

Instead of settling, the district has waged a two- and half-year legal battle at taxpayer expense.

Special needs advocate Louis Geigerman estimates the cost at "more than $100,000."

"If I were a taxpayer I would get on the horn to the superintendent and all the board members and express your outrage about how they are spending your tax dollars," Geigerman said.

Next week, a hearing officer from the Texas Education Agency will decide the issue in what could be described as Special Education's version of a full blown trial.

A spokesperson for the school district is refusing comment.

Davis, however, is talking.

"They are targeting me for whistle-blowing," Davis said.

Is There a Place for Special Ed in Charter Schools?

BH board affirms not rehiring teacher
The Baytown Sun - Baytown, Tx
Tuesday, 24 Apr 2007

Barbers Hill trustees voted on Monday to hold firm to their decision last month not to renew the contract of a special education teacher at the intermediate campus...

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An Interview with Louis Geigerman: College Students with Special Needs - Eastern New Mexico University
Wednesday, 9 May 2007

I started my advocacy career by assisting a family member with a disability in 1995. Over the years I have attended numerous training opportunities in special education law conducted by COPAA, The ARC, Advocacy Inc. and the Learning Disabilities Association of Texas. In addition, I have undergone mediation training approved by the State of Texas and have been certified as a 504 hearing officer...

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Parents don't need lawyers to fight for special-ed help
Houston Chronicle - Houston, Tx
Thursday, 5 July 2007, 12:40 AM CDT

If Friendswood mother Louise Baker had extra money, she'd spend it on tutoring for her dyslexic son, not on legal fees to fight her school district for extra help. Though she thinks she'd have a strong case, Baker, like most parents of Texas' 500,000 special-education students, can't afford a lawyer to take on a school system.

>> Read Full Story

Hope for autistic students
Houston Chronicle - Houston, Tx
Thursday, 10 February 2008, 11:20 PM CDT

Parents of Texas' roughly 20,000 autistic students hope that recent changes to state law will resolve one of special education's more contentious areas by clearly spelling out considerations that must be made for their children.

>> Read Full Story