Parents: School failing special-needs kids
Two parents of special-needs children enrolled at Ross Montessori have hired lawyers to get the school to follow legally required standards.”We had a hellacious year,” said one parent, who asked not to be named. “They are faltering on special-education needs.” Another parent, Stacy Clapper, said her son, who is autistic, is not receiving the daily care required by law. “They’re failing my child,” Clapper said. She said the school has left her son without the care he requires on numerous circumstances when the special-education teacher was absent or otherwise unavailable. Administrators at the Carbondale charter school, in its first year, say they’ve been trying to meet requirements. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all students are ensured a “free and appropriate public education” designed to individualized needs. So students with disabilities have an “individual education plan” that mandates certain actions.Clapper says her son’s plan calls for daily attention. “Come 10:05 he’s expecting someone to come sit with him,” Clapper said. “He’s all about routine.”But Mark Grice, the head of Ross Montessori, said no students at the school have an individualized education plan that specifies daily requirements. “If the teacher is not there on the first Monday of the month and the child needs two hours a month, then they can make that up the next day,” Grice said. “It’s not like a doctor’s appointment.”Laura Freppel, a dispute resolution consultant with the Colorado Department of Education, said, “under the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], if the child should get X services per week, unless the [individual education plan] states differently, there would have to be a substitute or the time would have to be made up.”With an autistic child, however, it’s not so simple. People with autism depend on a routine. Take that away and an autistic child can become withdrawn, even fearful.Special education requirements can be wide-ranging, from mandating time spent one on one with a special education teacher to work with speech language pathologists or psychologists.Every student’s case is different, and every school, from rural to urban, is different, as well. So the requirements of learning aids, testing modifications and other educational accommodations to children with disabilities are more complicated than they seem on the surface, Freppel said.Some community members in the fall aired concerns about racial segregation at Ross Montessori and the ability of the school to help children with special needs to the extent required by law. One part of the recent difficulty stems from the need for an occupational therapist, required by a disabled student at the school. The school has been unable to hire one. “We’ve tried, certainly,” said Lu McDaniel, the director of exceptional student services for the Charter School Institute who oversees special education for Ross Montessori. “If this article could help us find somebody, that would be really great. It’s not money or the lack of willingness. It’s not finding someone.”Public schools in the valley are able share professionals such as occupational therapists and speech language pathologists who may not be needed at any one school for 40 hours a week. As a charter school, Ross Montessori cannot borrow a special education professional from a public school in the valley, even though both are publicly funded.”It’s a lot easier to hire a part-time person who will work in five buildings than to hire a full-time person,” McDaniel said. “The same problem exists with other charter schools in the state.” Further, Grice and president of the board Tami Cassetty said it has been difficult arranging for special-education services in a rural valley. “I’ve looked into going to Grand Junction with some of our kids to provide services,” Grice said. “How many people live in this valley? “When we opened the school we didn’t have a Xerox, we didn’t have phones. Getting everything in place has been a challenge.”Parents did acknowledge the difficulties a new school faces, though that doesn’t change how important they feel their child’s education is. “It was [Ross Montessori’s] first year of school and I don’t think they made [special education] a priority,” said a parent who asked to not be named. “It’s pretty important. It’s federal law. I think they’re beginning to realize. But it took a lot of pressure and energy. It cost me money to finally get what I needed to get done.”The parent said Ross Montessori is trying to compensate for lost special-education time with summer tutoring. “It’s taken a lot of emotions, a lot of fights and it’s ridiculous that it’s come to that,” the parent said. “It better happen next year.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail is email@example.com
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