Hearing for autistic child starts today

Published 10:40 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Snow Rodgers thinks she knows what’s best for her autistic 6-year-old son.

So does Suffolk Public Schools.

The School Board has begun due process hearings against Rodgers for not agreeing to placement in the program they suggested. Rodgers said she and her husband have not yet heard an arrangement from the school that they feel is acceptable for their son.

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Rodgers’ son, whom the News-Herald is not naming because he is a minor, is currently in an Early Childhood Special Education reverse mainstream program at Northern Shores Elementary School. In the reverse mainstream program, there are children with disabilities in the same classroom as children without disabilities, so that the children who are reaching their developmental milestones can serve as role models for the others.

Rodgers said her son met all of his goals set for him last school year. However, the school system’s recommended placement for this school year was at a Southeastern Cooperative Education Program (SECEP) classroom at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

“I stressed concerns about the fact that he was going to be on a bus for almost an hour,” Rodgers said. “It would really mess with his sleep patterns,” which have been a concern in the past.

After the Rodgers parents declined that proposal, the school system suggested another classroom at Elephant’s Fork Elementary with a group of 8- to 11-year-olds.

“I didn’t think that was age-appropriate,” Rodgers said. She also felt that program was too restrictive, and wants him to be in the least restrictive environment possible.

The parents and special education team then went through a series of meetings to try to find an acceptable solution. Rodgers made several suggestions, and the school personnel did not accept them, she said. They also continually suggested the same things she had already declined, she said. The school officials wanted her to put him in a SECEP program.

“They tried to really bully me into accepting that proposal,” she said.

After several more meetings, the situation ended up in a mediation meeting.

“That meeting was really unbelievable,” Rodgers said.

No conclusion was reached during the mediation, and Rodgers sent a letter to Superintendent Milton Liverman to inform him of some complaints she had regarding the meeting. His response was to say that they were taking her to due process, she said.

“He didn’t respond to any of the issues.”

Rodgers said she has become frustrated with the way the schools have handled the situation. She looked into private education options, but finances are a barrier to those programs, she said.

“I’m not saying I have a perfect son,” she said. “He does have some behavior issues that can be managed if the right intervention plan is in place.”

For example, her son wants to have a drink from the water fountain every time he sees it, and doesn’t understand why he can’t. He also has trouble transitioning from one activity to another. However, his behaviors don’t hurt anybody else, and they are manageable, Rodgers said.

“I’m in agreement with everything other than they want to put him with older children,” she said.

“I just don’t think they have given my son a fair opportunity at this point in time.”

Sandra Witcher, the director of special education, did not return a call Wednesday for comment.

The due process hearing begins at 9 a.m. Thursday in a conference room at the Pruden Center, 4169 Pruden Blvd. It is open to the public, and is scheduled to last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Check the News-Herald later this week for details.