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7-Year-Old Whose Case Sparked Controversy Returns to Class : Schools: Battle over Jimmy Peters focused on mainstreaming special education students.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clad in a Tweety Bird T-shirt emblazoned with the words “I’m back,” 7-year-old Jimmy Peters boldly returned to school Friday, continuing the saga that last year thrust him in the center of the ongoing controversy over mainstreaming special education students.

Jimmy, who was taught at home for more than a year while his father and school officials wrangled over his education, enrolled in a regular, second-grade class at Circle View Elementary in the Ocean View School District. Circle View is the school Jimmy attended before he left in June, 1994, amid parent protests that he was prone to violent outbursts.

Jimmy’s return Friday appeared to go smoothly, without public protests. The boy, who has a communication disorder of disputed severity, seemed in good spirits as he dashed onto a school bus. After arriving on campus, carrying a “Sesame Street” book, he headed to his classroom surrounded by a mob of other backpack-toting children.

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At the end of the day, Jim Peters hailed his son’s first day back to school as a success.

“When the kids saw him, they started hugging him and holding his hand. It was such a joy to see,” said Peters, who stayed on campus for most of the day to make sure things went smoothly. “Jimmy was laughing, playing, giggling and just thrilled to death to be back at school.”

Supt. James R. Tarwater, the only district official who agreed to discuss Jimmy’s return, said teachers and staff have been well-trained to work with the child, who has been receiving one-on-one instruction at home at the district’s expense.

“We want his return to be as successful as possible,” said Tarwater, who declined to discuss the issue in detail to maintain the boy’s privacy. “All we’re releasing in terms of information is that he’s back in school in regular education and that we’re doing behavior assessments.”

Judy Rinker, president of Circle View’s Parent-Teacher Organization, said that so far, parents haven’t talked much about Jimmy’s return.

“Right now, it’s pretty low-key,” she said. “What I’ve heard from the principal is that we’re more prepared. I just think as long as we’re prepared, it can be done.”

The controversy over Jimmy’s schooling began in the spring of 1994, when school administrators claimed he was constantly disruptive and had several violent outbursts. In May, 1994, the district sued the boy in an effort to move him into a special class for disabled students, after his father refused to grant permission for the move.

But a month later, a federal judge ruled that the school district failed to prove that Jimmy posed a serious danger and sent him back to class, where protesting parents waited.

The saga continued in May, 1995, when investigators from the federal Office for Civil Rights found that the school district broke the law by failing to fulfill Jimmy’s Individualized Education Program, which outlines what services the district must provide. Investigators also denounced the district for implying that a friend of Peters’ might be ineligible for a job as a teacher’s aide because she is an advocate for special education students.

Investigators, however, rejected Peters’ allegations that the district discriminated against the child.

As a result of the findings, school officials agreed to hire Jimmy’s baby-sitter as an instructional aide and obtained special training for district staff.

Although many issues have been resolved, Peters said he now plans to file a federal complaint against the district over a visitation policy the school board adopted in March.

Under the policy, parents can only visit their children’s school for an hour every three months, with no more than 30 minutes per visit. The policy does not apply to parent volunteers.

“Everyone has talked about encouraging parent participation, and then they come up with a policy like this,” Peters said. “I know why it was done. It was done to keep me from seeing Jimmy. The problem is Jimmy can’t speak well, so he can’t tell me what happens at school.”

But school board member Tracy Pellman said the policy is in line with visitation rules implemented by other school districts, and that it was not targeted toward any particular parent.

“If you have 30 kids in classroom and have 30 parents show up on any given day, that can cause disorder,” Pellman said. “This was done to keep order on campus.”

Despite his protest of the policy, Peters said the district has said he can accompany Jimmy to school--at least temporarily--to help school staff come up with an appropriate educational program.

“It’s only for two to three months,” Peters said. “That’s why we’re filing a complaint because it goes against the whole policy of having an open-door policy.”


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