"I do a lot of work with children with autism, but the numbers of emotionally disturbed teenagers out there, as far as I'm concerned, is just unrecognized," he said. Klebanoff negotiates with Mooney, the Berchem Moses firm, and other school attorneys to get appropriate academic programs and counseling for students with special needs. He said most of the cases are resolved in an alternative dispute resolution setting.
"The problem I see now, is the schools just don't have the resources to deal with a lot of these children," Klebanoff said. "They don't have enough psychologists and social workers. I frankly think that many of these children just are pushed through" the system.
Under federal law, school districts are supposed to be backed up by a network of state agencies which can pay for the special education needs. The state's agencies for children, mental health, and education are supposed to cooperate and fund in-school and alternative placement, said Klebanoff, but it is very costly, and individual agencies jealously guard their shrinking budgets.
At the local level, school boards are required to pay for special education costs, to the extent those costs arise as "an educational need," Klebanoff said. "In many cases, the school will tell the parents, 'This is not an educational need, this is a personal family need.'"
He quoted a Washington, D.C., judge: "'Who plays Solomon, and cuts the child in half, saying these are the child's emotional needs, and these are the child's educational needs?' In almost every instance they're interrelated," said Klebanoff.