Wake County Schools

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

Posted January 19, 2016 5:47 p.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2016 6:50 p.m. EST

— 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.