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Pocatello mom says advocating for her child with disabilities has been a ‘daunting’ task

Kendra Scheid disenrolled her son from kindergarten due to her concerns about the quality of his education: “I am handing over the entirety of my heart and soul and implicitly trusting the people that I leave my child with, and I didn’t feel comfortable with what was going on over there.” | Carly Flandro, Idaho Education News
POCATELLO — On the first day of school last August, Kendra Scheid was shocked by the state of her son’s special education classroom.
 Students were screaming, one dumped a bin of sand on the floor, others were trying to run out of the classroom and bolt upstairs, she said.
“There were kids having complete, full-scale meltdowns, there were teachers restraining children,” she said. “I can’t adequately describe how unprepared this classroom was for the amount of students there were and the level of care they needed.”
Her 6-year-old son, who is autistic and nonverbal, was to start kindergarten at Pocatello/Chubbuck School District’s Washington Elementary School. But Scheid didn’t feel comfortable leaving her child in such a chaotic environment, so she spent three days at school with her son to see if it got better.
It didn’t, so she withdrew her son. 
“I am handing over the entirety of my heart and soul and implicitly trusting the people that I leave my child with, and I didn’t feel comfortable with what was going on over there,” she said. “It’s been an absolute nightmare, and my son hasn’t been able to go to school.”
Since then, Scheid has gone back and forth with the district to remedy the situation — as verified by months of email correspondence, which she shared with EdNews.
But Scheid felt the district did not respond adequately or quickly enough. 
In February she filed a formal complaint with the Idaho Department of Education. Officials investigated, and in mid-April issued these findings: The district was out of compliance with federal special education law on four of five allegations. 
The consequences for the district — staff training and some required meetings — are “less than a slap on the wrist,” Scheid said. She’s now considering enrolling her son in a local charter school in the fall. 
Pocatell0/Chubbuck spokesperson Courtney Fisher said the district cannot respond to specifics about the situation due to student privacy laws; that’s the case even when parents publicly share information about their children. In general terms, “the district takes every claim and concern reported seriously and conducts thorough investigations before determining the appropriate course of action,” Fisher wrote in a statement. “Many times these situations arise from miscommunications or misunderstandings … If corrective measures are needed, we will apply them with swiftness, care, and fairness.”
Fisher pointed out that two other state complaint investigations recently concluded that the district complied with federal special education law “which is evidence that these issues can sometimes arise from misunderstandings.”
The dispute between Scheid and the district regarding its special education program is not unique. Parents across the state have been filing similar complaints, with similar results. 
At the same time, the state has been grappling a special education funding gap that state superintendent Debbie Critchfield recently said is anywhere from $40 million to $80 million. At a post-legislative event in Pocatello, she said she wants to pin down an exact figure before going to legislators to cover the gap. 
“We are very aware of the gap in special education funding  … that becomes a budgetary hurdle in everything that we do.”
Legislators this year blocked one effort to shore up special education funding, as part of a new funding formula, but Critchfield plans to push for the change again next session. 
Funding hasn’t been the only obstacle; the state is also revising its special education manual after investigators found it was not in line with federal law, and that for years, students were wrongly denied services. 
The difficulty recruiting and retaining special education teachers — a national trend also reflected in Idaho — doesn’t help matters. 
In the meantime, parents across the state are routinely filing complaints about their districts’ special education programs. In Scheid’s case, the issues started on day one. 
A special education classroom in the basement of an aging building
Scheid knew starting kindergarten at a new school would be hard for her son, so she started getting him used to their neighborhood school, Greenacres Elementary, months ahead of time. She showed him the playground, the classrooms, introduced him to teachers, and brought him along when she dropped off her older children. 
Eventually, he started lining up at the door with them, eager for the day when he too would be a student.
But then Scheid was told that because of his special needs, he’d have to attend Washington Elementary. She was disappointed, a feeling cemented by the school’s age — it was built in 1925. 
School trustees know Washington needs to be replaced or improved, but they are first focusing on restoring Highland High School, which was partially destroyed in a fire. In the meantime, an inspector has for years flagged Washington’s crumbling bricks, mortar, and concrete as a safety danger posing an imminent threat. 
Fisher said the district’s limited resources cannot keep up with the hundreds of work orders received each month, so it has to prioritize projects and address them in phases.
Scheid’s son’s classroom was in the basement, which she said is accessible only by stairs. There are no bathrooms downstairs, so teachers were changing students’ diapers in a corner of the classroom, Scheid said.
When asked if Scheid’s description of the basement and classroom were accurate, Fisher said “Washington Elementary was deemed suitable for the program, with necessary adjustments such as relocating the changing area to an appropriate area downstairs.” The district did not go into further detail.
Scheid also took issue with her son’s classroom being away from the general education students; she wanted him to have the opportunity to learn alongside those peers as much as possible — which is also a right ensured by federal law. 
“It’s really important for him to have exposure to neurotypical children,” she said. “My son learns a lot from watching modeled behavior.”
She felt left out of the decision to place him in Washington’s special education classroom, and the state investigator agreed, finding that the school inappropriately chose her son’s placement without involving her in an IEP meeting. 
The investigator identified other issues as well:

The child’s teacher was unaware of or didn’t know how to access the IEP. “Appropriate staff should have had access to the IEP in time to implement it on the first day of school,” wrote Chynna Hirasaki, the state’s special education director, and the district had sufficient time to do this. 
A meeting was denied without documentation and an explanation. Scheid requested a transition meeting to discuss how to help her son move from his part-time preschool program at Lincoln Elementary School to full-day kindergarten at a new school. The district denied her request.
The district did not appropriately review and revise the student’s IEP when his placement was changed. The district should have done this, anticipating new needs would arise, when he moved to a new school and program.

Fisher said that the district became aware of Scheid’s concerns regarding placement and transition meetings in August 2023 and “took immediate action to rectify standard practices and adjust transition procedures accordingly.”
What comes next for Scheid and the district 
The district is now required to provide training for staff on special education. And, if Scheid chooses to re-enroll her son for the fall, the district would have to provide and document various special education meetings to assess his needs. 
Scheid said the consequences fall short. So she’s considering a charter school instead. 
Some of her biggest issues — like the state of the classroom — fall under the purview of the federal Office of Civil Rights rather than the IDE, investigators told her. But by the time she learned that, she was beyond the six-month complaint filing window. 
It’s one of many lessons learned along the way as she’s navigated Idaho’s special education system. 
“We didn’t know our rights, we didn’t know our options,” she said. “The realm of special needs and special education is so daunting and overwhelming … It’s a steep learning curve.”
This article was originally posted on on May 6, 2024.
The post Pocatello mom says advocating for her child with disabilities has been a ‘daunting’ task appeared first on East Idaho News.

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