Before Lindsay Legg rented a place in Redmond, she moved to Index last summer in search of a fresh start.
It was a blow for the single mother and full-time nurse to be priced out of her Kirkland apartment — especially since Noah was making great progress at his Lake Washington School District preschool. But it was also a blessing, she thought, because it was a chance for the two to finally have their own place in a community Legg could afford.
"This is my dream. I'd never bought my own home. We were so excited, and I was so ready to move out there," she said.
She found the perfect home above the Skyokomish River — an idyllic place for Noah's unique sensory needs. She would no longer have to worry about Noah disturbing neighbors at 3 a.m. with his loud and unpredictable outbursts. And she could put up a fence and special locks to keep him away from harm.
The Index, Washington home Lindsay Legg bought. (Photo: Provided)
But before she even put an offer on the house, Legg's first call went to the Index School District. Could they educate her autistic child?
"I was told 'Yes, we'll figure this out. We'll get him schooled. It shouldn't be a big deal," she said.
She sent the district Noah's IEP so the special education teacher and superintendent could familiarize themselves with his unique needs. Then in August 2017, Legg packed up and headed 43 miles north to start their new life.
But after she’d closed on the house, district officials admitted in e-mails that it wasn't going to be so easy to support Noah in a full-day kindergarten program after all. They would have to contract with neighboring districts to give Noah an education. They cited their own transportation constraints, “toileting issues” and “limited areas for time out.” But by late August, they still didn't have a plan. They even suggested to Legg that she send Noah back to the Lake Washington School District.
"It looks like all the other surrounding districts are full up," wrote Arlis Clarke, the Index special education teacher at the time, in an Aug. 22 e-mail to Legg. "I do not want you to think we are not working on this."
As Legg went back and forth with the school district for months to come up with a solution, Noah sat at home with no place to learn. That went on until November.
Noah Legg-Lopez finishes a snack at his Redmond apartment on April 4, 2018. (Taylor Mirfendereski | KING 5)
Fed up and out of options, Lindsay decided to enroll Noah in the closest specialized therapy center to their Index home – 42 miles away in Kirkland. Instead of a free education for her son, Legg got a second job to pay hundreds of dollars a month for the therapy program and the gas to get him there.
They spent three hours a day traveling to and from the Kirkland therapy center. It's a long time for any child to be stuck in a car — let alone a child with severe autism.
"There were points where we just had to pull over and run around at a park on our way because he couldn't be in the car anymore," Legg said.
Noah Legg-Lopez, a 6-year-old non-verbal autistic boy, watches a video on his iPad during a car ride to his Kirkland therapy center on April 4, 2018. (Photo: Taylor Mirfendereski | KING 5)
By early 2018, Legg said the drive became too much. She decided to sell her home just six months after she bought it in order to move closer to Noah’s therapy center.
"That was really hard to have our own space finally that was really perfect for both of us and then it just vanishes," she said.
Legg hired an attorney to fight for services. On Feb. 28, she settled with the Index School District for $1,760 and 50 total hours of compensatory instruction time for the child. The money, the agreement states, is reimbursement for Noah’s “private service expenditures” last fall.
“That didn’t even cover my lawyer fees,” Legg said, adding that she doesn’t plan use up the compensatory instruction time because it would once again require Noah to be in the car for hours more than he can stand.
Brad Jernberg, superintendent of Index, declined to discuss Noah's case or speak generally about the school's resource constraints, so it's unclear whether the cap played a direct role in their inability to serve him.
We work hard to serve all of our students, regardless of any resource limitations that must be overcome to meet student needs," Jernberg said in an e-mailed statement. "And I know that every school district across the state would likely tell you the same thing."
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