by Genevieve Demos Kelley
Parents of children in the autism program at Prince George’s County’s Skyline Elementary School gave emotional testimony during last night’s Board of Education meeting.
Below, I have noted the points in the board meeting video where each parent who spoke on behalf of their autistic child began their comments. I have also included a few sentences from each parent’s testimony.
- At 43:43 in the video above: “Proposing to send them to general education is sending a message that you don’t acknowledge their unique needs, and you don’t want to help and properly educate them, and the statistics don’t exist. . . . The purpose of an autism program is to educate children separately who cannot function in the general population. So what sense does it make to place them in a setting where they can’t learn and function? My question is, do you honestly expect to have a success story when you have 20 or 25 kids in the class, which is already strenuous on the general education teacher, and then add a child with autism with sensory needs to the class?”
- At 1:11:38: “I do not envy what you are going through right now, having to listen to all these emotional responses. But please remember these emotional responses are largely fueled by the fact that we haven’t seen any plans. And when we received a letter that indicated that this was going to happen, I received a letter approximately two weeks prior to the first hearing, and in that letter — it was dated February 3rd, not even three weeks prior to the first hearing — I was told that the plans would start being discussed after the initial vote. That doesn’t make any sense. . . . I feel betrayed. I don’t like feeling hopeless. But if you work with us, we will work with you. Skyline has earned my trust. You have made this an adversarial relationship.”
- 1:24:52: “For children with autism, Skyline Elementary allows the students to thrive, by allowing smaller classroom environments with staff members who understand the learning styles and behaviors of children with autism. Special education teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and paraprofessionals are readily available to the students to insure that they excel in their educational endeavors. With the proposed closure of Skyline, the students, parents, and staff have not been adequately informed by the Board of Education or the Department of Special Education how these services will be provided in their neighborhood schools. In the letters that the parents of Skyline received in the beginning of February, the notice said that the Department of Special Education will meet with the families on March 16, 2016. This meeting should have been held prior to the public hearing and announcement of the school closure. No explanation has been provided to parents as to why our children are not being rezoned to other elementary autism programs in the county. . .”
- 1:28:49: “By closing Skyline, you are violating her right to the education she needs and deserves. You are discriminating against my child and her specific need by forcing her to adapt to what typical children need. In Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it describes [the] federal laws that protect the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. This can be found in the parent handbook and on your website. It states that my child has the right to receive a free, appropriate, public education. No one here can convince me that sending an autistic child to a regular classroom is appropriate.”
- <2:12:41: “Dr. Maxwell, my child attends Skyline Elementary, because when my child was placed at Hillcrest Heights Elementary, in Pre-K, they did not know what to do with her. They called me so much that I lost my job, because I had to go to my child’s school every day for 30 days straight. . . . I urge you to go to Panorama, which is where they are trying to send my child and see if they have things in place for my child to go there. . . . They told me they have no special education in place. . . . I know that we have all these immersion schools and university schools. And that’s wonderful. That’s not a need. That’s not a need.”
- 2:16:00: “My son is nine years old. He’s been in the county schools since he was four years old. . . . Last year, he got sent to Skyline Elementary. From the first day he was at that school, Dr. Maxwell, there was not one behavior problem. You know why? Because the teachers and the staff there have specialized training in kids with autism. . . . Additionally, how to you expect Francis T. Evans to service my child and all the kids on Andrews? . . . . For example, his IEP requires him to have scheduled breaks for heavy work, a small classroom environment, advance notice of schedule changes. . . . How is the teacher going to service my child and all the other kids that deserve a fair education as well?”