Patricia Flint & Simmerah Cotton

“It means a whole lot that you can call somebody . . . to help you and your child.”

Simmerah has always been a good student. “In the first grade, she was already reading at a third-grade level,” according to her grandmother Patricia. However, Patricia saw the effects of a difficult transition to living with her father due to her mother’s substance use issues, along with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), beginning to take a toll on Simmerah.

As she began the third grade in the fall of 2016, Simmerah’s school began routinely suspending her. Worried that repeated absences from the classroom were impairing Simmerah’s education, Patricia asked the school to evaluate her for special education services. “They were constantly suspending her from school because she had issues and she wasn’t getting any services. If she had a problem, they’d sit her out in the hallway.”

While the tests confirmed Simmerah’s eligibility for special education services, by the spring of 2016, the school had yet to develop an individualized education program (IEP) to accommodate the symptoms of her disability. Instead, the discipline intensified. “It got to the point where they would send her home,” Patricia remembered. “They suspended her for 10 days.”

Patricia turned to Simmerah’s doctor for advice. Through a partnership with the hospital, Patricia was referred to the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. LASC attorney Patrick Clark contacted the school and was able to shorten the suspension because the school did not determine whether the behavior that led to the suspension was caused by Simmerah’s disability, notify her family, or provide them an opportunity to challenge the decision.

After getting Simmerah back in school, Patrick helped schedule a meeting to finalize her IEP, and successfully advocated for a plan that included appropriate services and supports to keep Simmerah in her regular classroom as much as possible. “We didn’t even know what an IEP looked like, first of all, and we didn’t know how to get one or what services she was entitled to,” Patricia said. “It means a whole lot that you can call somebody . . . to help you and your child.”

Without the help of Legal Aid, Patricia does not know whether Simmerah would have had to repeat the third grade. An avid singer and dancer, Simmerah is now in the fourth grade and hopes to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

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