Columnists, Coronavirus, Education, Featured, Jon Caldara, Uncategorized

Caldara: Governor Polis abandoned disabled students like my son

The Boulder Valley School District’s stated mission says, “… so that all children thrive and are prepared for successful, civically engaged lives.”

They should clarify that “all” doesn’t include disabled students.

Time for an update on my son Chance. If you recall my 17-year-old son has Down syndrome, can’t read or write or even count to 10 consistently. My hope is that he can maneuver in the real world. As he is becoming an adult, he can’t. It’s very hard to understand his speech; therefore, the education he gets now is indispensable to his future — kinda like every other kid in the world, just on a different wavelength.

When the Boulder Valley School District padlocked his in-person school — the center of his world — and forced him onto remote learning, it took away the way that he learns: personal, physical interaction with teachers, students and therapists.

For my son, and many kids like him, remote learning was no learning at all. Simply, it was segregation.

I requested that the school district open the school so he could get an education. They refused.

I asked if they would open up the school just to special-needs kids; without all the typical students there’d be plenty of room for social distancing. They refused.

I asked if they could send professionals to our home to work with chance in person. They refused.

I asked them to add time to his educational services since he’s soon to age out of the educational system. They refused.

I asked for some funding to hire speech therapists to work with Chance. They refused.

So, I filed a complaint against BVSD in hopes of getting some of that lost year returned. And we’ve finally got our first judge’s ruling. The punchline is: You can’t fight city hall.

She essentially ruled that the school district did, meh, enough for this disabled kid.

Chance has an Individualized Education Program, IEP, which sets out goals the district needs to get him to achieve. For him, it’s things like “Student will produce key multisyllabic words with 60% accuracy.”

The judge ruled that the district did basically enough to try to catch my son up when he got back after they eased the lockdowns because he reached five of 13 goals. Five of 13?

She admitted some goals, the ones that are most important for him in the real world — like walking down hallways unsupervised — were impossible to work on. “But, hey, it’s COVID, so what ya gonna do?” was her grounds for denying him those critical skills.

Even if “five of 13” goals was acceptable, imagine how much further he could have gone if he was given all the education he was entitled.

She also said she couldn’t take on our governor. Ruling that since Gov. Jared Polis used his unchecked emergency powers to close schools and ban travel, it meant we were banned from transporting Chance to school and professionals were banned from coming to him.

This is worth remembering next time Governor Polis touts himself as pro-education. He sure ain’t when it comes to disabled kids. Move over, Governor Wallace. Segregation for disabled kids today. Segregation for disabled kids tomorrow. Segregation for disabled kids forever!

I’ll be talking to the lawyers about a possible appeal, but now I have some advice for parents of special-needs kids: The system is stacked against you. Your IEP is the only leverage you have when it comes to standing up to the district. And, as I now know, they don’t even have to fully honor it.

While your kid is young, the process is warm and cuddly as you sit down with administrators to “agree on goals.” It sure seems like you’re all on the same team.

You’re not. In reality, it is an adversarial relationship. Think of it as negotiating a marriage prenup. If things go south, and you hope they won’t, this document spells out what you’re supposed to get.

You go through the IEP process just for your one kid. The district does it for hundreds if not thousands, and they’ve been doing it for decades. They have the know-how to get this prenup to go their way.

I choke when I say this. Bring an education lawyer with you from the very start.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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