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Special Education Decision Focus of MoCo BOE Session

Special Education Decision Focus of MoCo BOE Session Special Education Decision Focus of MoCo BOE Session

 

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The parents of a six-yearold Special Education student confronted the Montgomery Board of Education last week over a decision made during a recent hiatus caused by COVID precautions.

Jason and Stacie Randolph of Kibbee used the public participation portion of the Board’s regular session on September 20 to voice their dissatisfaction with an administrative action. The Randolphs took issue with the school administration’s treatment of Special Education students during two weeks of virtual learning imposed during a COVID shutdown of in-seat learning.

According to the pair, the school administration decided to allow elementary Special Education students to attend half-day, in-seat instruction twice a week during the two weeks of virtual learning rather than the five days of class time the students normally receive. The parents claimed the break in classroom consistency was not only disruptive, but a potential setback to Special Education students. The students were to receive services and specialized instruction because of their inability to utilize a Chrome- continued from page

book like the rest of the student population. The Randolphs said the Special Education students were denied access to daily, oncampus sessions due to COVID protocols. The parents said they did not understand this limitation once they discovered that the school remained populated by staff and staff’s children during this pause in normal learning.

Stacie Randolph noted, “It is not as if these (two) weeks have left the halls of Montgomery County Elementary empty. It only took a short scroll through social media to discover that many of the teachers’ children were roaming the hallways and gathering together to play and work on schoolwork. If the situation was unsafe and unacceptable for the SPED students, why was it safe and acceptable for these children?”

Mrs. Randolph explained her understanding that the recent pause in face-to-face instruction came because of a staff shortage due to absences, as she cited the school’s press release regarding the virtual learning period. It stated, “Currently, the number of staff who have tested positive or who are in quarantine due to exposure has impacted our ability to continue in-person learning.”

She continued to share her perspective on the pause of in-seat instruction in regard to continuation of athletic practices and events. “This reality [of reasoning behind the transition to virtual learning] was why it made sense that the athletic department would continue as normal for these two weeks,” she told the Board. “We are not against athletics; our family attends many football games and other events. What I am against is the double standard: the ability for large masses of coaches and players being able to congregate and practice, but children who desperately need in-person learning for the successful foundation of their education cannot gather.”

The two-week period also seems a miniscule amount of time to those without special needs children, according to Randolph, who explained she understood that most would think that this short period would not seem like a big issue to most. “To you all, this probably seems minor because of the time only spanning two weeks; however, allow me to illustrate the difference that two weeks may make to these children. My (usually nonverbal) daughter spoke to her teacher for the first time in her academic experience on September 1, the Wednesday before the decision was made for virtual learning. On this past Wednesday, September 15, my daughter refused to speak while doing her sight words during her half day,” she told Board members. “This is a direct result from the lack of consistency and normalcy in environment.”

Mrs. Randolph continued, “These students, specifically the ones whose program you limited, are in their prime foundation of learning; numerous Special Education teaching philosophies stress that students ages 3 to 8 are dependent upon structure and consistency,” she said. “You not only changed the structure of their day, but by making them only attend two half-days of school a week, you stripped them of consistency. They could not get into a routine because there was no sense of normalcy in their days.”

The pair concluded their statements to the Board by sharing the frustration that they felt from the perceived lack of concern for the situation from the leadership in the school. They told the Board that many involved in making the decision had been contacted but did not follow up or respond.

Board Chairman Jim Paul Poole expressed his apologies to the Randolphs. “We appreciate you coming and speaking to us tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Randolph. We encourage you to know that those things will be reviewed, and if we are in violation, I don’t think there is anyone here that would be opposed to correcting any situation that could be a detriment to our kids.”

Poole continued, “We have all been faced with things that stay out of our control. Sadly, it usually hurts some and has maybe hurt everyone. We want to continue to try to give our kids the best education possible – and that’s all kids. Thank you again for coming to speak with us.”

Action Items

The Board unanimously approved the purchase of the home behind the Montgomery County Middle/ High School, which was owned by Michael and Lauren Stanley, for $127,500. The property on Dobbins Street is now the third residential property surrounding the school campus that is owned by the school administration. Two other properties are currently being rented out by the School to residential tenants. The proposed millage rate of 15 mills was approved unanimously by the Board and was adopted into action by the Montgomery County Commission on September 21. This millage rate is the same rate as last year, as the Board explained that it had discovered this rate brought the most federal funding to the school. While this rate did not increase, individual property taxes will increase because of the rise in property values in the latest assessment. The federal policy GARHB Paid Parental Leave was unanimously approved by the Board. This policy gives new parents – either by birth, foster child placement, or adoption completion – up to 120 hours of paid leave to settle into this new role in life. Board members approved the contribution of $12,000 to the district Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Agriculture program’s renovation of the barn on campus. A fundraising effort had already brought in $12,000, but an additional $12,000 was needed for concrete work.

The previous air conditioning unit replacement contract with Rivers Air Conditioning & Electric was rescinded by the Board because of the company’s inability to complete the work in a timely period. Interim Superintendent Mark Davidson explained, “I talked to Rivers and they are very backed up in work orders. They understand and respect our decision to seek other options, and there are no hard feelings in the situation.”

The Board also approved the replacement of the elementary school’s 15-ton HVAC unit in the lunchroom by Alexander Brothers HVAC at a cost of $20,503. Several mini-split units in the elementary school will be replaced by Airtech, which will cost $4,852.

The Board also approved the purchase of 100 yards of mulch to cover a portion of the playground. This mulch will be provided by Thompson Hardwood, which had the lowest bid of $1,762.

Personnel Changes

Nesbeth Blaxton was approved to return to the Financial Director position at 49% following her previous retirement in July. Davidson explained that Blaxton’s role would be to continue to train and aid current Payable/Administrative Assistant Mylinda Moore in financial work.

High school students Gage Martin and Austin Glisson were hired for custodial, maintenance, and grounds keeping services as a part of their workbased learning program.

Kimberly Purvis’s resignation from her role as a paraprofessional at the elementary school was unanimously approved. Current high school Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor Sarah Larson’s resignation was accepted on a 4-1 vote, with Chairman Jim Paul Poole voting against this acceptance.

Return to School Report

Davidson shared that he had completed a walkthrough of all schools upon the return to in-seat learning on September 20 and the school population seemed pleased to return. “I talked to several students in the high school, and they explained that they would much rather participate in face-to-face learning –- so, I am glad we are able to provide that,” he explained. Davidson said, “We would like to thank the parents and guardians for their support and understanding while we were virtual. We realize that being out of school is tough for parents, as well as students. We know our students need face-to-face instruction, and we sincerely hope and pray that they are able to stay in school for the remainder of the school year. “

Other News

Davidson also informed the Board and attendees that 39 students had been accepted into the school’s permanent virtual learning plan for the year. According to Davidson, these students are in regular contact with program overseer Rhonda Davidson, and are receiving effective instruction, just as the in-seat students are.

Upon review of the financial report provided by Moore, Chairman Poole commented on the financial status of the school, stating, “It looks like we are in very good financial status.” Interviews for the Superintendent position have continued to be conducted; the district plans to have a permanent superintendent in place by the end of the current semester.


BACK TO SCHOOL — Montgomery County teacher Melissa Barrow, center, works with students Harley and Jade Kight in a face-to-face class last week. The school system resumed in-seat classes on September 20 following a two-week period of virtual learning due to COVID’s impact on the system.

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