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District: Autistic boy should be moved

(ran ET edition of TAMPA & STATE)

Pinellas County School Board attorney John Bowen tried Tuesday to persuade a federal magistrate to transfer an autistic child to another school.

If U.S. Magistrate Thomas McCoun does not decide this week, the boy will be returned to Osceola Middle School in Seminole when school reopens Monday.

The Pinellas district wants him at Paul B. Stephens, a school for disabled and autistic children.

The 12-year-old has a history of hitting, spitting and sexually touching teachers and other adults at Osceola, said Bowen and Charles Weatherly, a lawyer the school district brought in from Georgia for the case. The child, they said, should be moved to Stephens before he hurts someone.

"We're not seeking to expel or suspend this student. It's a transfer to another setting," Weatherly told the judge. "The older he gets, the more likely his behaviors are to injure other people."

Faced off against the school district was Linda Sue Miller, who wants her son to stay at Osceola until the end of the school year, about two months away. After that, Miller testified, the family will be moving to Dallas.

"My vision for my child, is to make him an independent, productive member of society," Miller testified. "I don't want him cataloged one step above an institution for the rest of his life."

Miller's testimony came at about 9 p.m., after a long afternoon spent listening to district witnesses _ from his teacher to an expert in autism flown in from California _ tell the judge how potentially dangerous her son is.

The witnesses described the boy's history in the district. His past problems with hitting others while in elementary school and his subsequent transfer to Stephens. After being there, the boy's behavior calmed down and Miller asked the district to transfer him to Osceola last September.

Problems began a day or two later. Miller testified.

"They came out shaking their heads, saying, "He did this. He did this,' " Miller testified, referring to the teachers at Osceola. "It was very negative. I said, "Oh, my god, it's deja vu.' "

Then the school tried to expel the boy in November for allegedly hitting a teacher's aide. That's when Miller hired a lawyer. They sat down with district officials and set up a behavior plan."

They all met again in January for another meeting after the boy had acted up. Miller blamed the misbehavior on a change in medication and because she was away for a week. No one said anything during that meeting about the boy being dangerous or uncontrollable. No one said people were afraid of her son.

Then, a week later, Miller got a notice saying the district wanted to move her son to Stephens. Miller's attorney notified officials she would fight to have her child stay at Osceola.

The next thing that happened, Miller said, was the district asked the federal court to order the boy moved while the issue over where he should attend school is litigated.