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Archive for Saturday, December 29, 2001

discrimination countersuit to be decided in U.S. District Court

December 29, 2001

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Mediation failed to produce the hoped-for settlement of a lawsuit involving the Lawrence school district and parents of two children with disabilities.

"It was unsuccessful," the district's attorney, Joseph Hatley, said Friday of the mediation effort.

The next round in the legal squabble will occur in U.S. District Court, where parents Patrick Palcher and Diane Long-Palcher filed a countersuit against the district. A judge will decide whether to let the Palcher suit proceed or send the matter back to state court, where the school district has a pending suit against the Palchers.

Sue Morgan, Lawrence school board president, said a negotiated resolution of the disputes remained a goal of the board.

"We're trying to get it settled," she said. "It's been complicated, like all legal things get."

Neither the Palchers nor their lawyer, Herb White, could be reached for comment.

The Palcher children no longer attend Lawrence schools.

This dispute began two years ago when then-Supt. Kathleen Williams accused the Palchers of lying about their residency status so their two children could attend Lawrence schools and participate in special programs for students with disabilities.

Williams hired a private investigator to gather evidence to prove the Palchers officially resided in Kansas City, Kan., instead of an apartment they maintained in Lawrence.

When the Palchers declined to transfer their children out of Lawrence schools, Williams authorized legal action against the Palchers. In April 2000, the district filed its lawsuit in Douglas County District Court.

Williams didn't inform the school board before initiating the litigation, but the board voted 4-1 four months later to press ahead.

The Palchers responded to Williams by submitting a discrimination complaint to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights in May 2000. Their federal lawsuit was filed in September 2000.

In the wake of Williams' action, the school board voted to amend district policy to require prior board consent before lawsuits are filed.

A trial in Douglas County on the district's suit was set for September, but it was postponed until March because of the pending federal court case.

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