REDMOND, Wash. — Lindsay Legg changes 6-year-old Noah Lopez-Legg's diaper and immediately sets a timer to begin the countdown.
"Five minutes. We're getting ready to go," she shouts over the repetitive sound of Disney movie trailers, as she grabs her son's shoes and the backpack he loves that’s adorned with a smiley face.
Never looking up from his iPad, Noah paces back and forth through an empty, unfurnished room in their new Redmond apartment. He runs into a wall, unfazed by the impact.
"Three minutes. Then, time for school."
But Noah's not really going to school. That's just what Legg tells him. Routine is essential for her non-verbal autistic child, and the 36-year-old mother is doing all that she can to restore the months of stability Noah lost while she fought, unsuccessfully, for him to have a chair in an Index, Washington classroom.
Noah should — and has the right under state and federal law — to be in kindergarten right now with a free education tailored to his special needs. Instead, he fell victim to an underfunded and outdated state special education system that has ultimately put Noah’s educational future in limbo. It forced Legg to uproot their lives to a new city and pay hundreds of dollars a month for a private therapy program because there wasn’t a spot for Noah in school.
Officials at Index, a tiny school district in rural Snohomish County, told the family that the district was too small to serve Noah, who has unique behavioral challenges such as biting and running away because of his severe autism. He would require a one-on-one aide to help him get through the day and complete most basic tasks, like going to the bathroom.
"It was just like, 'We can't help you. We can't help properly serve him,’ and then no backup plan,” said Legg, who was told the neighboring school districts couldn’t meet Noah’s needs either. "It was like pulling teeth."
Parents like her aren’t supposed to have to plead and fight for their child to be educated.
It’s the law.