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Bobby's Search for Services - Part 4: Little progress made this week

Bobby’s story

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, one woman’s opinion based on first-hand knowledge.
This is a continuation of the series published to document the educational progress of 14-year-old Bobby.
This week there has been very little progress. Bobby is practicing with the King George High School swim team and doing well.  His mom, Jenn, is still toiling away, trying to get Bobby what he needs. She is finalizing her complaints to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).  On the school front, Superintendent Candace Brown came to Jenn’s workplace to speak to her about the situation.  At Lisa Gidcumb’s request, there were witnesses present.

Jenn was also contacted by central office employees regarding her complaint about Pat Nealon, Supervisor of Special Services for King George County Schools. She has declined to speak to them without her advocates being present. She put her complaint in writing and sent it to the superintendent. There’s not much to add that they can’t read in the paper and verify with their own recordings.  
I was personally contacted by Brown. She asked for a copy of the tape I made of the second meeting. I informed her Nealon had made a tape of his own. I have not heard back from her. My tape is being sent with Jenn’s complaint to the VDOE.
Filing a complaint is Jenn’s right as a parent; so is being able to invite and speak to any participant in the IEP meeting. That right is clearly defined in federal and state laws as well as King George County School policy. I didn’t know anything about the IEP process, but I knew the parent had rights and I read them before the first meeting.
Nealon has a copy of the parent’s rights. Part of his job is to monitor IEP compliance for the division. It is also his job to coordinate the IEPs for all middle and high school students. He is supposed to check them for accuracy and if necessary make the appropriate corrections to assist the teachers.  
The violation didn’t occur because Nealon refused to speak to me or answer any of my or Lisa’s questions. He didn’t have to. Treating us rudely is petty and childish but not illegal. Jenn had given the division written permission to speak to Lisa and me regarding Bobby’s IEP many times but Nealon declined to honor the mother’s wishes. That was his choice. Where he went too far was the moment he told Jenn she could only ask him questions and only after he had answered her questions without interruption would she be allowed to call a recess to speak to her advocates. He had no right by law to do that. It was her meeting. She called it to talk about her son. She has the right by law to invite anyone to participate, for any reason. She has the right to ask any participant any question.  You have to wonder why Nealon would violate such a basic right, on tape, in front of witnesses, one of whom is a well-known expert in the field of special education.  The VDOE will get to the bottom of it, I’m sure.
We as a community have started a much-needed conversation, and I encourage it to continue. Changes must be made.  
Here are some questions for y’all to contemplate.
1. Is it OK for Nealon, who is paid more than $90,000 of taxpayer money, to violate the rights of a parent and child this way?  He has a Doctorate in Education; he must know the basic rules of an IEP meeting, why would he choose to disregard those rules? Did he believe there would be no consequences? Is he right to believe that?
2. I keep hearing that the teachers are “overworked and woefully underpaid.” If that is true, why is our school board talking about spending $600,000 to pay someone else to teach them how to turn off the lights? Why didn’t they vote to give the teachers a raise instead? They could have. Despite what they say in their meetings, how they spend their money is up to them. You don’t have to believe me. You can Google the VA state code yourself. If they wanted to give the teachers a raise, they could do it. It’s written in law.
3. How much more of this educational neglect are we going to tolerate? Bobby’s is not an isolated case.  He is a human being; he deserves better.  We can’t claim we don’t know what’s going on any longer.
Regarding the process of getting Bobby’s IEP completed, we are starting over with a new case manager. I’ll keep you posted, I’m sure there will be more to report. I hope we will have better news to share.

Linda Davis
Special to The Journal

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