EXCLUSIVE: Mother fights to keep Special Education Program with CMS

- A Special Education Program at two local CMS schools is fizzling out after the school year, leaving families of disabled children asking why?

FOX 46 Charlotte spoke with one local mother who is spearheading a campaign to keep the program alive.

Ben McCall is a 13-year-old special needs child who is both physically and mentally disabled. His mother, Vanessa, said she has spent her life fighting for Ben and his disability. Now, she is fighting for his education.

“When he started I could see a difference in his learning, and the type of education he was getting,” Vanessa explained.

Ben is a sixth grade student at Randolph Middle School enrolled in a special education program with about ten other special needs kids. Ban has a hard time communicating while also being confined to a wheel chair and a walker, but his mom said this program has changed his outlook on life.

“He’s non-verbal so he uses a communication device to make choices,” Vanessa said.

But Vanessa told FOX 46 Charlotte she just found out this program is being phased out after the school year. Students with special needs won’t be able to attend the programs at Randolph Middle Schools and Phillip O Berry Academy, two schools within the CMS system.

“Why were we not told ahead of this?” Vanessa said.

The school system was supposed to send a letter to parents this week, alerting them of the changes happening. But Vanessa found out sooner, and started spreading the word.

“Why didn’t they have meeting with the parents of the special needs children? We are thinking about these changes…how would this affect your life and you community,” Vanessa said.

Vanessa launched a grassroots campaign to help convince CMS to not cancel the special education program at Randolph and Phillip O Berry. She now has the backing of other special needs parents but parents of regular students too.

“We’re small but it looks like we are going to get the backing of students, parents, facility and staff,” she said.

Vanessa was told CMS wants to merge the autistic classes with the special needs classes, but that raises big concerns for her.

“Would teachers teach both in the same classroom? Is that the ‘best practice’ for teaching special ed students? I would want to know,” she said.

Parents of special education students at Randolph and Phillip O Berry still haven’t been formally told about the programs fizzling out. Vanessa hopes her efforts behind the scenes will change the school district’s mind before it’s too late.

“For transparency, we’ve got to make sure we have open dialogue about issues that are going to affect a lot of folks,” she said.

Statement from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is working towards meeting the requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA legislation states that “the least restrictive environment is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, satisfactorily educates disabled children together with children who are not disabled, in the same school the disabled child would attend if the child were not disabled.”

There are two changes occurring at Randolph IB Middle and Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, which are magnet schools. Special Academic Curriculum (SAC) classes will be combined with AU (autism) classes, and special education classes will be provided at a student’s home school.

These changes would begin in fall of 2017 for rising sixth-graders and ninth-graders in order to provide increased access to students’ home schools. These changes will not impact current students and their services at these schools. 

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