9 Investigates

9 Investigates: Blind student denied braille, judge says

An attorney for a legally blind Oviedo High School student is asking for a settlement from Seminole County Public Schools in order to educate the student privately, 9 Investigates reporter Karla Ray learned. 
The settlement request comes after an administrative judge determined the district failed to provide Alyssa Mendez coursework in braille or in large enough font, causing her to fail classes and fall behind.
Ray found out that the situation became so upsetting to the student, she’s now homebound while the legal battle plays out.


With help from a computer program and books she doesn’t need to read, Mendez has spent most of her fall semester at home, trying to catch up after two years of struggling inside her school.
“I miss being able to do good on my assignments, and getting a test back with a good grade on it.  I miss that a lot,” Mendez said.
Mendez is legally blind. She went on hospital homebound status just weeks after an administrative judge issued a ruling showing the Seminole County School Board denied her a legally-required free and appropriate public education.
Mendez’s individualized education plan calls for class materials to be provided to her in braille or in large print. 
However, the administrative ruling, which focused on her freshman and sophomore years, found "materials were presented in a fashion that was not accessible to her on multiple occasions, across multiple subject areas, all year long." That included "materials that were too fuzzy, without enough contrast, or not transcribed properly into braille." 
In one class, "the student did not receive the correct braille version of a textbook until well into the semester," according to the ruling.
“I was really hopeful that things would get better because the ruling was so clear that Alyssa hadn't been appropriately accommodated,” Mendez’s mother Kimberly Banks said.
As a result of the ruling, the family sought a settlement from the district for attorney’s fees, which attorney Kelly Hedum said resulted in a settlement offer from SCPS. 
However, the settlement amount is now in dispute, as Hedum works to secure monies for Mendez to be taught privately at home.
“There needs to be a plan moving forward for this young lady to finish out her last two years of high school, so that she is on track to graduate,” Hedum said.
SCPS does not comment on pending litigation.   

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.