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Parent Protesters Demand District Meet Special Ed Law

May 4, 2009 –Parents of school-aged children with special needs took to the street Monday along with their families, friends and advocates, waving picket signs to cars passing the office of the St. Croix School District's Special Needs Division and vowing to keep returning until the district fully complies with the mandates of federal laws in regard to special education.
Protesters Monday said the district is failing to comply with federal law — the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act — which mandates that every student is entitled to a "free and appropriate" education. School districts are required to make accommodations to serve students in the least-restrictive environment.
Serving a student with special needs might be as simple as making sure that a student with attention-deficit disorder is seated at the front of the class each day, or as involved as making sure he or she is accompanied throughout the school day by a special-education assistant or making accommodations for a wheelchair or other physical disability.
Monday's protesters said that isn't happening in St. Croix's public schools.
"There's still a long way to go until every child gets not what he wants, but what he needs," said Juan Figueroa, an advocate for the St. Croix Disability Rights Center.
Parents lining the street outside the office said district staff are inadequately trained, the district lacks physical therapists, speech therapists and counselors. But mostly what the district lacks, according to the parent group, is the will to address the problem.
"Attitude doesn't cost money, and an attitude change doesn't cost money," said Gail Lincoln, a district parent.
Zulma Turner, another advocate for the Disability Rights Center, said there are students with physical disabilities at Central High School, who, because of the layout of the buildings, are unable to go to the cafeteria or other places on campus. Not a mile away is the Educational Complex, which is completely accessible, but the students have been denied admission there, Turner said.
"It just boggles the mind!" she said. "You have an accessible school, that's where they belong!"
Other parents talked about special-needs students getting "dumped" into regular classrooms without support, of Individualized Education Plans — which lay out the accommodations the district will make for each special needs student — being ignored.
"Where are the services?" asked Sara Ortiz, a supporter of the parents. "When do we get these services?"
Parents who want to get involved in addressing the needs for special education in the district can call the Disability Rights Center at 772-1200, or send an email.
Calls for comment to the Division of Special Education Division were referred to the superintendent's office. The Source's call to the superintendent's office was unanswered as of 11 p.m. Monday.
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