Parents complain over Aspen School District actions |

Parents complain over Aspen School District actions

Tim Mutrie

Feeling as though she’s been placated by Aspen School District officials for too long, valley resident Tammy Pearce voiced her discontent with the district’s treatment of her son, a former Aspen Middle School student, directly to the school board Monday night.

Pearce, of Old Snowmass, along with her husband Rich, filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education against the school district in February 1999, alleging that the district failed to notify the Pearces in writing of a special education eligibility “staffing” concerning their son, Stephen, who was a sixth-grader last school year. Federal law requires districts to do so.

In April 1999, the CDE accepted the Pearce’s complaint – meaning the department found that the district did commit a violation. Nonetheless, Pearce believes the district hasn’t made appropriate attempts to resolve the matter with her family or guard against repeated violations pertaining to other students.

During the public comment period at Monday night’s school board meeting, Pearce said: “Child study team meetings were being held about my son without our knowledge or consent,” she said. “They were rather derogatory, inflammatory and misleading, and illegal.

“How are child study teams being handled now?” she asked. “Are parents being notified and included in the staffings? I want to know and I feel like I’m getting the run-around.”

Citing frustration with the district administration’s continued unwillingness to work with her, Pearce said she felt like she had no other choice than to go directly to the school board. `It was an oversight’ In the last five years, the Pearce’s complaint is the only one to be filed with the CDE against the Aspen district. District officials admit they made a mistake in this case, and that they apologized to the Pearces and have amended policies to avoid a similar oversight in the future.

Of the situation, Superintendent Tom Farrell said yesterday that district officials “met with [Tammy Pearce] last year and apologized, but there certainly wasn’t anything unethical about the staffing, it was an oversight. We’ve listened to her concerns extensively, and we sent her a letter saying that we’ll continue to monitor the district employees that she has concerns with.

“It appears to me that Tammy’s not going to be satisfied,” he continued. “I don’t know what else she’s asking for.”

Griff Smith, principal at the middle school, was involved in the “staffings” and “child study teams” regarding the Pearce’s son. He acknowledged that the district failed to provide the parents with written notice of the special education eligibility staffing.

“Our recollection is that she didn’t receive written notice of the staffing, but we feel that they were notified verbally,” Smith said. “And she received a written letter of apology from me, and an assurance that it would not happen again. I felt like I’ve addressed her concerns.”

The special education eligibility staffing in question took place Nov. 24, 1998. The Pearces, who thought they were attending a “parent-teacher conference,” were shocked to find a panel of several district teachers, administrators, special education personnel and counselors were on hand to brief them about their son – academically, socially and psychologically. Stephen had been having difficulties in school at the time; he has since transferred to another public school in the valley.

Beyond the special ed staffing, the Pearces voiced several broader grievances to the CDE about the district – such as whether the district was justified in testing and evaluating their son in a variety of ways dating back to the winter of 1998. The couple has also leveled accusations of incompetence at a school psychologist involved in the process.

Pearce says she wants the psychologist fired as a result, to which Farrell countered: “Her accusations have no merit. If they did, I’d address them.”

Officers with the CDE said the isolated special ed staffing was the only matter of interest to them. An isolated incident According to Charlie Masner, federal complaint officer with the CDE, the complaint filed by the Pearces was accepted after Aspen School District officials readily admitted that written notice of the “staffing” was never given.

“The federal complaint officer ordered that the parents be entitled to another meeting with the district concerning their son’s special education eligibility,” Masner said. “The complaint was handled as an isolated incident, and because it was an isolated incident, the type of corrective action was very specific.”

Over the next five years, the CDE will check up on the Aspen district to ensure it’s in compliance, though no site inspections have occurred to date, a CDE official said.

Smith said since the violation, the district has met with the Pearces numerous times regarding the specific special ed incident, as well as the peripheral issues regarding the school psychologist. While the district is satisfied with the result, the Pearces haven’t been, he said.

Smith explained that the district always notifies parents of special ed staffings, as it’s required to do so by law. Of the Nov. 28, 1998 staffing, Smith said district officials notified the Pearces verbally, but not in writing.

Furthermore, he explained that there’s a difference between a “staffing” and a “child study team.” The latter doesn’t require parental notification.

“When you’re dealing with special education cases, there are very specific regulatory procedures that have to be followed,” Smith said. “Other meetings, parent meetings, child study team meetings for instance, don’t fall under the same law.”

Child study teams are near-daily occurrences at the district, he said, involving classroom teachers, principals, counselors and other staff members.

“We talk about strategies for providing a successful program for a student, on a student-by-student basis,” Smith said. “If we identify some problems the student is having, sometimes that will lead to a referral to the special education program. And as soon as that happens, the parents are involved.

“We would then have a referral meeting, where a larger team is convened and further testing can be called for, and they’d be administered and then we see whether the student qualifies for the special education program and an individualized education plan,” Smith said.

“I think where Tammy [Pearce] and I disagree is in the significance of the child study team meetings,” Smith concluded.

Farrell, who said he will make staff members available to meet again with the Pearces, said he’s confounded by how the ordeal has played out, considering the numerous attempts he has made to reconcile with the couple.

“I can assure you that there was no malice involved,” he said. “There would be no reason for us to intentionally hurt a child. We make mistakes with kids, of course, but we never intentionally hurt them. And all the investigations that I’ve seen into this matter, beyond the staffing that we’ve apologized for, well there’s nothing that supports her claim.”

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