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Nine special ed parents share frustration

Staff cuts, lack of attention among concerns brought to Department of Education

Posted: Friday, December 12, 2003

Some parents believe they have to work harder to see their children educated.

But they don't believe they should have to.

Special Education Program Manager Sharon Schumacher from the Alaska Department of Education listened patiently to nine parents Thursday at the Juneau district office as they shared their frustrations at what hasn't been done for their children.

"What about this person that entered the Alaska public school system in 1995 as a second-grader and eight years later is academically still a second-grader?" parent Kate Coleman asked in a written statement.

Federal law requires districts to develop individual education plans - IEPs - for special education students. Coleman said that at her most recent IEP meetings no one with the authority to commit resources for the instruction was in attendance.

"I think good IEPs are written, but when they are written, they are not followed through," added parent Jan Guertin.

Guertin said she also serves as an advocate for families in the process of setting up the plans.

Schumacher said the meeting gathering comments from local parents was for a report the department is putting together on special education compliance in Juneau schools.

The hour set aside for the meeting at the Juneau district office ran over nearly a half-hour before staff members stopped recording comments.

Schumacher said Juneau is the last of 12 districts in Alaska to have special education programs reviewed in 2003. State officers also have examined random files of local special education students to see how well the district is meeting their needs.

If the report determines the district needs to take any corrective action, it will have to do so within a year, she said.

In the meantime, she said, "I hope the district takes your comments to heart."

She told the parents they would remain anonymous and nothing that would identify them to the district would be included in the report.

Linda Maloney, who supervises Juneau's special services including special education, was not allowed to sit in at the meeting.

However, she met with some of the parents later in the night after the state officials left.

One parent reading a statement to the state officials about personal experiences stopped when she began to cry, and handed what she had printed to Guertin to finish.

Guertin later said she knows there are parents who don't have the problems expressed Thursday night. She also said she knows there are parents who didn't come to the meeting who are having some of the same problems.

Several parents cited staffing and the possibility of staffing cuts as concerns, particularly with their children requiring special attention.

"All of your children have rights," Schumacher said. She explained that they can go to mediation with the district if they have conflicts with the way the district is educating their children.

The Department of Education also investigates complaints, determines if there are violations and what can be done to fix them.

Her office is in the neighborhood, she added. "All of us are willing to help."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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