YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Los Angeles

Principal Goes to Court Against Student

Van Nuys: High school chief gets a restraining order against a special ed student who made threats. Boy's mother says he's being shut out.


In an action characterized as highly unusual by school officials and legal experts, a Van Nuys high school principal has persuaded a court to grant a temporary restraining order against a special education student who told a classmate he'd like to punch the principal.

Birmingham High School Principal Doris Lasiter filed handwritten papers Feb. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that 14-year-old James Brochu told another student the previous week that he wished he had "socked me [Lasiter] in the head."

The court's order is at the center of a feud between the principal and the boy's mother, who says Lasiter is preventing her son from attending school because of behavior related to his disability, causing him to miss 19 days since Feb. 15.

"They don't have the right to keep my child out of school," Olivia Brochu said.

The boy is a special education student who is emotionally disabled and diagnosed with severe attention deficit disorder, his mother said. His disability has posed a disciplinary problem for the school, records show.

Some records evaluating James' disability and disciplinary history were released by his mother to The Times; others were not made available by the district, which said they are confidential.

The available records include an assessment of James by a team of Birmingham High School teachers, an administrator and the school psychologist dated Feb. 21, the day after the restraining order was issued.

The assessment indicates that the boy has a history of verbal threats toward teachers and fellow students but makes no mention of violence.

The records also indicate James was struggling to overcome his father's death several months ago.

Since the court order was issued, Brochu said Lasiter has barred James from attending school, even though court records indicate that the restraining order "does not prevent defendant's peaceful and lawful attendance at school."

Such action "is really a crime. It's an outrage," said Valerie Vanaman, a legal expert in special education law. Vanaman said federal law prohibits a school district from preventing a student from coming to school as a consequence of behavior related to his disability.

Vanaman, who has represented disabled children for more than two decades, including with the nonprofit Children's Defense Fund, said if behavior related to the disability is recorded in the student's individualized education program, drafted to meet the needs of those in special education, the school is prohibited by federal law from preventing the student from attending school.

James' individualized education program records provided by his mother describe behavior related to his disability, stating that the boy "has threatened students and staff--often."

On Thursday, Brochu took James to Birmingham and was met by Assistant Principal Idelle Thaler, who informed her that James had been transferred to Aliso High, a continuation school in Reseda.

"Oh, no, you're not," Thaler said as James entered the Birmingham attendance office Thursday.

Lasiter has declined repeated requests for an interview.

Her supervisor, District C Supt. Bob Collins, said Wednesday he could not remember a previous incident of this kind and didn't know why James hadn't been attending Birmingham.

On Thursday, Collins said James was being transferred to Aliso High and would be attending the school soon.

A court-appointed mediator failed to resolve the issue Wednesday in a closed-door session with Lasiter, James and his mother.

Until Lasiter and James appear at a hearing April 2, the court ordered the boy to stay at least 10 yards away from the principal and avoid speaking to her.

Generally, according to the district's disciplinary code, if a school superintendent or principal determines that a student "threatened to cause physical injury to another person," the student may be suspended or recommended for expulsion.

"I think we support the actions taken by our staff" in James' situation, Collins said. "There are guidelines regarding student discipline cases, and staff members also have the ability to take their own actions."

Collins said he is unsure if the district's student disciplinary system would be fully capable of handling an incident such as James' alleged threat without the help of the courts.

Los Angeles Times Articles