Communication Breakdown

Page 8 of 11

The waiver reads, in part: "I/We agree to release and forever discharge the School District, its officers, agents, employees and representatives from any and all manner of claims, demands, damages, attorneys' fees, costs, expenses, actions, causes of actions, or suits..." In addition, the waiver asks parents to agree to the following: "I/We acknowledge that the School District currently is providing my/our child with a free appropriate public education under the applicable provisions of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act."

"What I was trying to do with the waiver was to create a process so we know how many people are coming in the schools," Riordan says. "It wasn't an attempt to be rigid, but to be careful. It's for the safety of our students."

One parent of a nine-year-old girl with a form of autism known as Asperger's Syndrome says many parents feel like their hands are being tied by the district: They aren't happy with the education the district is providing, yet they can't seem to do anything about it. Academically, her daughter performs at grade level, but socially, she is behind other kids and often tries to flee the classroom or playground in order to get away from them. When the girl was in kindergarten, the school did not have enough para-educators, so the principal had to monitor her during recess. The girl's parents called the special-education office to request an assistant, but for several weeks, their calls went unanswered.

"My husband went to the special-education office and sat there until he could find someone to talk to," she says. "It took six weeks to get a para-educator."

After a slew of problems at the school -- her parents had to hire a private psychologist to diagnose their daughter because the school psychologist gave up on her after she refused to open up to him; later, she was put in a classroom with violent emotionally disturbed kids who frightened her -- they enrolled their daughter in another school, where she was placed in a class for kids with severely limited intellectual capacity.

At a meeting at the new school before the start of the year, teachers asked parents of special-needs students to keep their kids home on the first day of school because they weren't ready for them; they hadn't yet hired all of their para-professionals, nor did they have their scheduling arranged. "We reluctantly agreed in hopes that they'd be ready the next day," says the mother, "but she was kept in that room completely for two weeks while they arranged their schedule. During that time, she only did one assignment, which was kindergarten-level work."

The class turned out to be more like daycare than school. The kids just colored and watched television and movies all day; the little girl came home reciting lines from Barney and The Little Mermaid, according to the mother.

"She spent all of first grade and half of second grade in that class, and we had to fight hard to get her out," her mother says, adding that some of the girl's teachers and therapists told her that she was too difficult to work with because she wouldn't talk to them. So her parents hired their own private teacher to attend school with her. After a year of working with the private tutor, the little girl scored above grade level in reading. Now she's in a regular third-grade classroom for most of the day.

The girl's mom is irate that the district is requiring parents to sign the waiver. "I will not sign it. I'm still having my consultant go in. It's against everything special-education laws are trying to prevent," she says. "It asks us to sign a statement saying our kids are getting a free and appropriate public education. Why would parents pay $60 to $100 an hour for a private educator if their kids are getting a free and appropriate public education?"

That mother is not alone. Boulder Valley parents have banded together in the last couple of months to form Parent Action Group for Special Education, or PAGE. The group is keeping the number of members and their identities a secret because they say they fear retribution from the school district. Their mission is to find out how many other parents have had similar difficulties with the district's special-education department.

A PAGE member who wanted to be identified only as Jennifer says her greatest frustration with the BVSD is its practice of separating special-needs students from other students. Jennifer has been struggling to keep her autistic son in a normal classroom so that he can learn from kids who do not share his behavior problems. "He is very bright, but because of his behavior, they feel he needs to be in a different setting. How are they supposed to teach social skills to kids when they are in a class with other kids who have problems with social skills? They're just learning bad behavior from one another," she says.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon