Fri08012014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Bobby starts classes at new school

Editor’s note: Linda Davis has served as coach for the King George Little League Challengers and is coordinator for King George Special Olympics. Her years of experience working with children in the special education program gives her a unique perspective on how the program is serving children with special needs. This is not a traditional news story — this is one woman’s perspective of one child’s situation.
On Jan. 24 an IEP meeting was held at the central office to determine the appropriate placement for Bobby. The IEP team determined because of the regression Bobby had suffered and the inability of the division to offer a remedy, it would be best to send him to a place that was better equipped to educate him. On Monday Feb. 7 Bobby headed for ERI in Fredericksburg. ERI is a private day school for kids with special needs. They specialize in intense instruction and transition. The division is required to pay all costs for this accommodation for as long as it is deemed necessary or until Bobby reaches 22

years of age.
The staff at ERI will evaluate Bobby for 30 days and develop an effective plan to get him back to where he needs to be and give him every opportunity to be a successful and productive adult. For the first time since this journey began, we are hopeful.
Private Day Placement is one of the more expensive solutions available, but all other attempts by Bobby’s team to offer cheaper alternatives were rejected or ignored by the administration. Jenn (Bobby’s mama), Lisa Wilson Gidcumb and I have spent the last four months trying to get the division to assess Bobby’s needs and develop an IEP that was both legal and effective.
Here is a brief recap.
On Sept. 25, Jenn sent an e-mail to Bobby’s teacher asking for an IEP meeting and stating in part “Since this is Bobby’s first year in high school. I feel it is important that we work together to give him the best experience.”
On Oct. 6 a meeting was held and we were given test results indicating regression, primarily in reading. It was also determined Bobby’s IEP was not being followed. He was not being integrated with Gen Ed for art and there was no plan in place to integrate him for PE. We all agreed this needed to be fixed. We walked away from that meeting feeling encouraged that the problem would be corrected. What happened after that boggles the mind. You can find most of the story at www.journalpress.com/king-george .
Here are a few things you may not know:
Nine state complaints were filed with the VDOE regarding Bobby’s IEP and the aftermath. In actuality there were 27 violations we identified but we felt filing nine would suffice to have the VDOE review the case file. They are reviewing the complaints and have contacted the division. The division requested and received an extension of time to respond. That investigation is still ongoing and we will post those responses when they are received.
Superintendent Candace Brown launched an investigation in response to Jenn’s complaint regarding the Nov. 16 IEP meeting. Jenn was informed no policy existed that specifically addresses bullying by administrators, but they looked into it. Not surprisingly, they determined Nealon’s behavior did not violate School Board policy. Jenn appealed the decision and requested a hearing in front of the School Board. Brown has not responded to that request and no School Board member has ever contacted us regarding the situation.
On Dec. 21 Bobby was placed in a Gen Ed art class; he had been receiving art in his self-contained classroom, a violation of regulations and his IEP. Lisa Gidcumb forced the issue at the December IEP meeting by asking, “Are you going to continue to break the law?” The answer given was “no,” but getting Bobby moved required several more e-mails and phone calls to the division.
On Jan. 19, several months after the initial IEP meeting, a reading evaluation and report was completed by the reading specialist at the high school. The following are quotes from that report: “Bobby appears to be motivated to read.” “He tried hard during the assessment,” and “Bobby may benefit from intensive phonics instruction.” At the end of the report, several free websites were listed that could help Bobby practice reading. Apparently those resources have always been available. We do not know why they weren’t utilized prior to Bobby’s regression.
Since this all began we have made several suggestions to the division for cost-free services; they were summarily rejected. For instance at the first meeting I suggested “Peer Mentoring.” Many school divisions use peer mentoring to help encourage kids with special needs to interact more freely with their non-disabled peers. This type of mentoring is widely recognized as beneficial for all participants. The non-disabled kids can volunteer to read to a fellow student or help them get to classes. They form a bond by establishing a peer support group. Nealon responded to the idea by saying “We can’t have students providing services.” Upon reflection my response is, “Why not?” They established a gardening class to help take care of Hunter Field; I’m pretty sure those kids aren’t being paid to maintain the field. Isn’t gardening a service?

We offered to have volunteer tutors come to Bobby’s class to work with him when the teacher was busy. We can’t do that either because of “privacy issues.” Apparently privacy is important. We are not supposed to be able to look in a SPED class and identify those students as special education students. However, if you walk into the cafeteria to have lunch with your ordinary kid, you will see the SPED students sitting at their table, they are not rendered invisible to you. Additionally if you drive to any school in the afternoon to pick up your ordinary kid you might see a group of SPED students, with their handlers, waiting for the SPED bus. They are not camouflaged and can be seen clearly from the street. Please do not tell anyone they exist or I suppose you will be violating their privacy. Personally, I don’t buy the privacy excuse.

The long and arduous journey
In the four months since Jenn’s first e-mail, the school division has spent thousands on lawyers; the SPED department has received notice of systemic non-compliance. No corrective action plan for the noncompliance has been submitted. The division superintendent has announced an early retirement and now the citizens of King George will pay for Bobby to attend a private school.
I know Bobby will flourish. He is on his way.
Godspeed, Bobby.

It ain’t over
The rest of us still have work to do. There are more kids who are being left behind. We have to keep pushing the School Board to get involved. We need a SPED Department that is compliant and effective. The VDOE will continue to monitor the division but that is not enough, we need more. I would like to urge readers to ask their school board members what is being done and to demand changes. It is budget season and soon you will receive your annual e-mail asking you to come to a meeting to ask the Board of Supervisors for more money. I would encourage you to seek answers before you do that.
This ain’t about money. Money will not buy compliance nor will it force the administration to make better decisions. It’s just money.

- Linda Davis

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