Parents slam Chandler transfers of special-needs kids

"Due to the parent’s complaints, at least 25 parents of children with special-needs received calls about a reversal of the reassignment policy."

Parents of children with special-needs have again assailed the Chandler Unified School District administrators at a board meeting about the way they are transferring their kids to different schools.

At a March 22 meeting, dozens of parents advocated for their children after 55 received letters with little detail telling them their children were being assigned to a new school next year. For some parents, this was the second reassignment of the year.

The letters came just five days before the end of the school year, leaving many parents with questions and few staff still in their offices to address their concerns.

Within 48 hours of the first meeting, Superintendent Camille Casteel sent the parents an email highlighting changes to the district’s current reassignment practices.

Due to the parent’s complaints, at least 25 parents of children with special-needs received calls about a reversal of the reassignment policy.

District spokesman Terry Locke said official letters were mailed to some parents June 10.

The new practice has three key components;

Parents, staff and administrators will meet each spring to review their child’s performance and other data, share ideas and provide input on any upcoming reassignment decisions.

Children with special needs will not be reassigned more than twice between kindergarten and sixth grade. However, exceptions can include changes in the  child’s educational program or home address or if there are “extenuating circumstances.”

When reassignment does happen, there will be bridge meetings in which the child’s old and new teacher will meet to share useful information about the student.

Kevin Morriss — whose son is a second-grader with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and has been notified of a reassignment four times since his son entered kindergarten — called the change a step in the right direction if it is truly implemented.

“I think the language in that email is awfully easy to get around so it sounds like there’s [some] really big outs,” said Morriss, “What they gave us is next to meaningless.”

Under the new practice, the district can move children with a change in the student’s learning program. Updates to programs are made annually — meaning the children could potentially be moved once per year, he said.

Changes to programs can also be made throughout the year, as they were for Kristen Plamondon and her 8-year-old son Carter who has Down syndrome.

In April, Plamondon agreed to reduce Carter’s time spent in his general education classroom by 11 minutes. Four days later, the family was told the shift in Carter’s learning program meant a switch in schools from Basha Elementary to Navarrete Elementary.

“That was the moment our eyes were opened to the reality of having an extra chromosome. We always knew we’d have to forever advocate for Carter — fighting giants for him — but we never considered that a mere 11 minutes could rob him of the community we fought so hard to create,” said Plamondon.

The family already carefully rearranged their lives when Carter entered Basha so that he had a sense of community to support him. The shift included Carter’s two siblings changing schools and a change in churches.

“But our eyes have been opened to the bigger picture. What was once our district became our giant,” Plamondon said.

“Our fight for inclusion became a bit silly when the real fight was to keep him in his school where his entire future (community) rides their bikes with him each morning to school,” she added.

Because the parents spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, the board and superintendent were not allowed, by law, to respond.

However, Locke’s response on behalf of the district regarding parent’s concerns with the future of reassignment was: “It’s an IEP decision for placement, district discretion for location assignment based on a number of factors including space availability. Districts are held liable for the provision of a student’s free and appropriate public education.”

An IEP, or individualized education plan, is required by law for every student with special-needs and lays out a specific agenda for teachers to follow that addresses the child’s particular challenges.

Parents at the meeting pleaded for a study session in which parents, board members and administrators could collaborate about the future of reassignments in the district.

Locke said administrators have not yet had a chance to meet and discuss what will come of the comments made at the meeting.

However, 128 community members have already collaborated about potential solutions to reassignments that affect children across the Valley on a special Facebook page called East Valley Special Programs Realignment.

Posts vary from ideas, updates on their children’s struggles with reassignment and their wins, as well as events for parents to meet in person.

Those interested in joining the page must submit a request on Facebook.

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