PARENTS TAKE COMPLAINTS TO ESD BOARD

February 16, 2001 11:00 pm

Frustrated with the responses so far to their concerns for their disabled children, a group of Brookings-Harbor parents continue to work their way up the chain of command in search of solutions.

They are now being joined by instructional aides who work with the students, including one aide who quit her job this week.

On Tuesday, parents and aides addressed the board of directors of the South Coast Educational Service District. The district provides programs and personnel for severely disabled students in Gold Beach and Brookings-Harbor school districts.

Weve gone through the proper channels without any results, so we went to the (ESD) board and said we need your help, parent Pat OHara said Wednesday.

Something should have been done long ago. Why did they force us to take these measures? OHara said.

The parents and aides say they have been trying for months, even years, to get the service district to fix what they consider deficiencies in educational services and safety hazards in the special education classrooms.

Approximately 283 special education students attend Brookings-Harbor schools. About two dozen of those are considered severely disabled and require special services.

The parents had previously discussed their concerns with the Brookings-Harbor School Board and service district administrators. Since then, Brookings-Harbor School Superintendent Paul Prevenas has sent two letters to Rick Howell, superintendent of the service district, asking him to investigate the parents concerns.

Even so, some parents said their concerns are not being tackled quickly enough.

OHara, whose severely disabled daughter attends Brookings-Harbor High School, sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Education expressing his concerns and frustrations. A state official is scheduled to visit the special education program at Brookings-Harbor High School later this month, he said.

On Jan. 30, five parents, including OHara, expressed their concerns during a special meeting with school district and service district officials.

The participants developed a rough action plan and everyone appeared to leave the meeting with some level of satisfaction that problems would be fixed.

However, OHara and other parents reiterated their concerns and frustration during Tuesdays regular service district board meeting.

The meeting itself took place at the districts headquarters in in Coos Bay. The parents and aides participated via tele-conference at the districts Gold Beach office.

Liz Cohen, an instructional aide in a special education classroom at Brookings-Harbor High School, emerged from anonymity to publicly urge board members to take the parents concerns seriously.

I find that I can no longer withhold general information about conditions for students with disabilities, who should, as required by state and federal laws, be offered reasonable, appropriate and safe opportunities for education in our public schools, Cohen said, reading from a prepared statement.

Cohen told The Pilot she hadnt spoken publically until now because when she mentioned her concerns to her supervisors, starting as far back as September, she was disciplined by the service district.

She said the same to the service districts board of directors on Tuesday. When I received no acknowledgement or response to my concerns from ESD supervisors, I proceeded to present the same concerns up the chain of command, verbally and in writing.

She told boardmembers there doesnt appear to be any open process for aides to report problems or concerns to the service district or the parents.

Service district officials have declined to comment about Cohens specific situation, saying they are prohibited by law to talk publically about personnel issues.

Instructional aide Lisa Wopschall, whose son attends the special education class at Brookings-Harbor High School, said at Tuesdays meeting her sons Individual Education Program was not being followed consistently.

I have personally been addressing my concerns since the third week of the current school year, Wopschall told the board. I am still waiting for these concerns to be resolved and have decided to come to this board meeting and personally address several of my concerns.

She was particularly concerned about the lack of communication between her and her sons teacher and aide. She sent a communication log with her son to school to keep track of his eating and drinking habits each day, and to monitor the implementation of his special education program, she said.

Most of my sons time is spent with an instructional aide, yet they are not allowed to write information in the communication log, she said. This is nothing short of sheer nonsense. When I questioned why the aides are not allowed to write in the log, I was told that this is ESD policy.

Wopschall concluded her statement to the board by submitting her resignation as an aide for the service district.

I will be my childs advocate and will be attending his classroom on a daily basis until I can be assured that his needs are being met. she said.

Howell, superintendent of service district, said Thursday actions are being taken to remedy the situations. He couldnt say exactly what was being done because it involved a specific employee, and he was restricted by law from talking about personnel matters.

This is not an attempt to hide anything, Howell said. It just takes a while to get things done. Theres lots of policy, legal and contractual issues we must deal with.

Howell asked parents and aides to be patient a little longer.

Were very, very aware of whats going on and were working like the Dickens to get what the parents need, he said. Aides, teachers and administrators have been brainstorming together to see what can be done to improve things.

Its not going to happen as fast as parents like. Its not happening as fast as Id like.

On Tuesday, the board told parents attending the meeting they would investigate the issues and bring it back for discussion at their March meeting.

The parents, however, were still skeptical. OHara said a month is too long.

I told the board it seems like the same old lip service weve been getting all along, OHara said. Weve waited long enough.