- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

A boy genius who transferred seven years ago from a California public school to college and his single mother are seeking compensation from the state for having to pay for university and other special schooling since 1997.

Leila J. Levi and her son, Levi M. Clancy, of Venice Beach, Calif., say in a civil lawsuit that state public schools failed to meet their statutory obligation to provide a “free and equal educational opportunity” to Levi, now 14 and described in court documents as “highly gifted.”

The case has turned reluctant heads among public-education officials regarding the treatment of highly gifted children and also could aid the cause of school vouchers by enshrining the principle that public-school funding is an individual benefit that travels with the student.

Since Levi was removed from public school in 1997, he passed California’s high-school graduation equivalency exam and made top grades at Santa Monica College and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), according to court documents.

Levi is now a junior pre-medical student at UCLA.

“I am going into cancer research,” he says on his Web site, www.levilevi.com.

The complaint filed with a California superior court in Sacramento points to the state’s compulsory-education law requiring “a free and equal education” for all minors until age 18.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to the education of a child,” said Richard D. Ackerman, Miss Levi’s attorney.

The complaint says the taxpayer-funded public-school system owed Miss Levi and her son other school options and should have paid for his college costs under state law, or at least paid as much as the public-school district’s yearly per-pupil expenditure.

Mr. Ackerman said the yearly expenditure for regular students in California public schools is $6,800 to $7,200, and for special-education students, it is $10,000 to $11,000.

He said he expects a court decision within six months.

“[Levi] Clancy has a fundamental constitutional interest in receiving an education that is non-discriminatory and provides for his individualized needs,” the complaint states. “UCLA is capable of providing the education for him. However, neither he nor his mother can afford to pay for this education.”

Allan H. Keown, attorney for the California Department of Education, has asked the state superior court in California to dismiss Miss Levi’s claims and to order Levi returned to a public secondary school.

But Mr. Ackerman called that solution “absurd” and said it “is just not going to work.”

“What are they going to do with a kid like this?” Mr. Ackerman asked about his client. “What kind of education do they propose to give him? The kid is tutoring in university-level math.”

Miss Levi, a part-time arts teacher in Los Angeles-area public secondary schools, said she has lost more than $1 million in wages and expenses in the past seven years because the public-school system transferred her son to college at age 7 as a “profoundly gifted” student that they could not accommodate.

“They made me sit with him for five years. I couldn’t work. They were so mean to us. It’s unconscionable what they did,” Miss Levi said.

However, Levi has excelled in college mathematics and computer- and life-sciences courses and now is earning pocket money as a university-approved math tutor for other students, Mr. Ackerman and Miss Levi said. He also is in an advanced UCLA writing program, but still needs therapy for visual-spatial problems that he has had since infancy, Miss Levi said.

Mr. Keown told the court it was Miss Levi’s “parental right” to have “her highly gifted son” placed in college instead of regular public school, “but that voluntary set of decisions on her part did not trigger some constitutional duty for defendants.”

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