Parents assail CUSD over moving kids with special needs The Chandler Arizonan

Parents assail CUSD over moving kids with special needs

Parents assail CUSD over  moving kids with special needs
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BY KAYLA RUTLEDGE
Staff Writer

Several dozen parents last month told the Chandler Unified Governing Board that district officials are transferring special needs students too often and jeopardizing their well-being.

Many shared personal stories of the chaos that ensues once their children are uprooted and placed in a new environment.

The protest came after the district notified 55 parents of new school reassignments for their children with special needs.

The parents complained this was not the first reassignment in their schooling career — and for some, not even their first reassignment in the school year.

Harry, an 8-year-old second-grader who has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, was among those reassigned students.

It was his fourth reassignment since he was in kindergarten and his second in the 2018-19 school year.

“When Harry started kindergarten, we were told continuity was a chief priority. Clearly, it is not. Enough is enough,” said Harry’s father, Kevin Morriss, whose son will be moved from Navarrete Elementary to Weinberg Elementary next year.

“Harry’s world runs on the currency of trust. Teachers, aides, five different therapists. Each of whom must spend time with my son to gain his trust, understand his speech impediments and pick up on his unique needs,” Morriss said.

“Such trust takes time to develop. It’s extremely difficult for Harry to start fresh with new people in a new environment and start new routines, especially all at once,” Morriss added.

The parents complained during a period of the meeting when board members cannot respond to speakers.

In an email to the SanTan Sun News, district spokesman Terry Locke said the “reassignments are necessary in order to meet the needs of the students in the least restrictive environment with available staff for the provision of students’ free and appropriate public education.”

Locke noted the adjustments are imperative due to an increasing number of students in CUSD.

He added a manageable and ideally sized class for students with special needs consists of nine students.

Projections showed classes could have reached 14 or 15 students next school year if students had not been reassigned, Locke added.

Other factors affecting reassignments include a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), program proximity to a child’s home and transportation.

School districts are required to work with parents of students with special needs to develop an IEP, which tailors their instruction to achieve better educational outcome, depending on their disability.

“Parents included in the IEP teams are involved in the decision regarding placement, meaning what level of service the student needs to receive a free appropriate public education,” Locke said.

“The location of where those services will be provided is up to the district to determine,” he added.

But parent Amanda Rivas said parental involvement is greater when it comes to district decisions involving gifted students.

Rivas’ daughter, Vivienne Kissler, 7, has Down syndrome and has been reassigned to different schools four times in the last four years.

“We ask that the district invite the parents and caregivers of children with special needs to any meetings that involve rezoning or moving of specialized programs. Just like the parents of the gifted children were invited to do during talks concerning the Weinberg Gifted Academy,” Rivas said.

Rivas added IEPs are reviewed and adjusted annually. Changes in IEPs allow the district to determine if there are adequate resources for children, and if not, the district can move them.

Rivas was not satisfied with the district response after the parents complained at the May 22 meeting.

“The school district came back and told us that the kids would not be moved any more than two times during their K-6 elementary education, with the exception of a change in programming to a different school. Well, that’s exactly why our kids have been moving and moving and moving. So really, this does not solve anything,” Rivas said in an email.

There are currently 5,477 Chandler Unified students with IEPs and of that number, 893 require specialized classrooms and programming.

The district does not currently track the number of students that have been reassigned two or more times.

Officials will be taking that into consideration when the next reassignment occurs, Locke said.

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