After months, and years in some cases, parents of severely disabled students in Brookings-Harbor feel like their concerns for their childrens safety and education are finally being taken seriously.
Five parents expressed their feelings this week during a special meeting with officials with the Brookings-Harbor School District and South Coast Educational Services District. The educational services district provides some special education programs to the schools.
The special meeting was emotional and heated at times, but in the end, everyone left the table with hopeful expectations.
Today, we see that you hear us and that you understand us, parent Darla Moore told officials with both districts.
We realize that were not going to get it all done at once, but its a start, Moore said.
Parents of severely disabled children attending Brookings-Harbor schools say they have been trying for months, even years, to get officials with the educational services district to fix what they consider deficiencies in services and safety hazards.
The frustrated parents finally asked the Brookings-Harbor School Board to get involved.
School officials said they would check into the problems. Officials with the educational services district said they have been and will continue to investigate the parents complaints.
Approximately 283 special education students attend Brookings-Harbor schools. About two dozen of those are considered severely disabled and require special services provided by the educational services district. The school district oversees services and programs for the rest of the special education students.
In response to parents concerns, Kitt Rainey, director of Special Education for the educational services district, met with administrators and parents Tuesday to discuss the issues.
Rainey was joined by Bill Saunders, director of special education for the school district and special education supervisor for the educational services district.
In addition to the parents, Brookings-Harbor School District Superintendent Paul Prevenas and principals Chris McKay, Sue Musser and Floyd Strandberg attended the meeting. School boardmember Tom Davis and Larry Anderson, who is running for a seat on the school board, were also there.
The purpose of this meeting is to set some goals, Rainey said. We cant talk about specific students problems because of confidentiality rules, but we can tackle general concerns expressed by parents.
Rainey suggested parents, school officials and educational services district administrators work collaboratively to solve the problems. Lets work as a team, he said.
Parent Pat OHara, whose disabled daughter attends a special education classroom at Brookings-Harbor High School, liked the idea, but was worried it would just lead to more meetings and surveys, and no action.
We need to take care of the safety and welfare of our students now before something bad happens, OHara said.
Rainey and Saunders assured OHara and other parents they would act as quickly as possible.
During the meeting, parents focused on the following key goals:
Students in the severe disability program need to have an effective individualized educational program.
Detailed daily schedule describing each students physical whereabouts throughout the school day need to be established and easily available to teachers, staff and parents.
Improvements need to made in the way teachers and staff communicate with parents about their children.
The educational services district needs to improve the way it selects and trains substitute instructional aides for the severe program.
Kalmiopsis Elementary School Principal Chris McKay said establishing a better schedule for special education students was doable.
Azalea Middle School Principal Sue Musser said schedules are in place at her school, but will make sure staff follows them more closely.
Musser also encouraged parents to contact her with any problems so she can investigate them.
However, several parents said that wasnt so easy because instructional aides, who spend more time with the students more than the teachers, are not permitted to talk to parents.
Rainey said he would investigate ways to improve lines of communication between the aides and parents.
Parents also asked Rainey to better train the educational services district's instructional aides, and especially substitute aides, for dealing with disabled children.
Im disturbed at what Im hearing because it sounds like my child is with someone who has no experience or training, said Kristine Sanders.
About a year ago, Sanders daughter walked off while an instructional aide was dealing with an emergency situation with another student.
Rainey said he will look into ways to hire and assign qualified substitute instructional aides.
Parents also asked educational services district officials to give instructional aides more respect.
The subs and instructional aides are the backbone of this system, and they need to be treated with respect and dignity, OHara said.
Anderson suggested the educational services district establish a parent advisory committee or group in which parents can voice concerns and give officials feedback on specific issues.
I see a lot of anger expressed here and wonder if there is some sort of conduit that parents can use to reach the administrators, Anderson said.
Rainey and others liked that idea. Rainey left the meeting with a tentative action plan that included:
Establishing daily schedules for students.
Providing instructional aides with better training.
Creating better communication among teachers, instructional aides, parents and school and South Coast ESD officials.
Requiring South Coast ESD to conduct a self-evaluation.
Holding regular evaluation meetings with parents.
Brookings-Harbor School Board member Tom Davis said, Looking at where we started today and where weve ended, weve gone from being adversaries to advocates and allies.
Rainey said he will schedule another meeting sometime in March during which all the participants can give and receive progress reports and discuss new issues.