Wake County Schools

Mom battles Wake schools, state over teaching disabled son how to eat

Posted January 19, 2016

— A Wake County mother says she's being forced to choose between helping her disabled son learn to eat and sending him to school.

Three-year-old Gavin Ainsworth has Down syndrome, and his mother said his skills are equivalent to those of a 9-month-old.

"Gavin has an oral motor delay, and that involves sort of how he chews food," Mary Beth Ainsworth said.

Until his third birthday, Gavin was enrolled in a public early intervention program, where he received food therapy in the classroom.

But when he entered pre-kindergarten at Frankie Lemmon School & Development Center, a private center for special-needs students that is funded through the Wake County Public School System, Ainsworth was told that feeding therapy was a medical need, not educational, and would no longer be offered.

"So, while they help him potty train and help him walk and help him learn how to hold a crayon and write," Ainsworth said, "they have a feeding team to help feed him, but for where he is now. No one on there is certified to help him progress."

Ainsworth is continuing food therapy at home, but Gavin has to leave the classroom to get it. She has filed a petition against the school district and the state Department of Public Instruction for what she calls a violation of her son’s civil rights.

"He has a disability. He’s being told he has to leave the classroom because he has a disability," she said.

Ainsworth said she isn’t upset with Frankie Lemmon School, noting that Gavin’s teachers are just as frustrated as she is, but their hands are tied.

Both the school district and state declined to comment on Gavin's case, citing privacy laws, other than to issue a one-sentence statement.

"The school is following the guidelines provided by the North Carolina DPI in regards to all students’ feeding needs," the statement reads.

Ainsworth is not seeking money in filing her petition, which is scheduled to go before an administrative law judge in February. She has even offered to pay for Gavin's food therapist if one is allowed to go to his classroom one day a week.


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  • Mary Beth Ainsworth Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    Perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court can clarify this issue for those who say this therapy is medical: In 1984, in the case of Irving Independent School District v Tatro, (486 U.S. 883), the court drew a bright line between medical and nonmedical services. The court affirmed the definition of medical services in IDEA's predecessor's reguations as those provided by a licensed physician and concluded that services that can be provided by a nurse or qualified layperson are nonmedical. Since a physician is not required to physically feed children orally or by tube, this activity is a related service that is the responsibility of the school districts. Furthermore, in its ruling, the Supreme Court drawing from the Rowley case stated that, "A service that enables a handicapped child to remain at school during the day is an important means of providing the child with meaningful access to education that Congress envisioned." Only the SCHOOL SYSTEM classifies it as medical.

  • Rebecca Caldwell Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    I know how hard it is to be a caretaker, so I feel for this mom. On the other hand, I question how schools are expected to be all things for all people, regardless of how specialized their needs are. Public schools exist because factories needed workers who could read and do basic math. Training future employees is the basic purpose of the system. Schools were never intended to be day care providers, and certainly not medical facilities. It's such a complicated issue. Certainly, if I were a teenager planning to be a pre-K teacher, I would expect to be teaching kids their ABCs, how to sit quietly, and how to play nicely. I would not expect to enter the profession and have to deal with extremely complicated medical needs in addition to everything else we expect from our teachers. This is a sad and complex situation in so many ways.

  • Windy Elliott Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    So proud of this mom! As a therapist that serves both sides, schools and private therapy, it saddens me that all of a sudden parents are being forced to choose between their jobs, their child, and their child attending school. Working parents cannot take off work weekly to take their child to therapy. They will loose their jobs. The schools are not required to meet medical needs. So what is a parent to do? If the private therapists are willing to travel to that student, then I do not understand the problem. We were invited on school campuses in 2000 and have been going ever since as private providers. The collaboration is amazing between school therapists, teachers, and parents. Why take they away????? What needs to be looked at are the private companies who contrac with the schools to provide SCHOOL therapy, but are billing Medicaid under private therapy! Maybe this fraud and risk of being caught is why private therapists were banned?

  • Tomma Hargraves Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    The parent may request release from school for private feeding therapy. It is done all the time. Private therapists are not usually allowed in the schools. North Carolina schools operate on an educational model, not a medical model. He is currently able to access his educational needs at his school.

  • Crystal Potter Jan 20, 2016
    user avatar

    The tammy lynn center is a great place for families with disabled children, both young and older.