Changes to special needs classes in Gaston County have parents worrying

Sending your child off to school for the first time is tough, but when you're child has autism it's even more challenging.

"I don't want to cry. My son has done so well with these teachers and so well with these classes and I don't want him to be setback," said Sara Helms, who has an autistic son who will attend Gaston County schools beginning next year.

Helms started to worry about her sons future over spring break, when she was shown a letter from Gaston County Schools that was sent to another parent. The letter said classes for students with specialized learning would change next year. 

Autistic students like her son Landon could be in bigger class sizes with non-autistic students.

"They made the decision on their own without any regard for parents at all," said Helms.

"We are trying to place the students in schools that are either their home school or close to their home school," said Todd Hagans, Chief Communications Officer for Gaston County Schools.

School leaders say the change next year allows children with special needs to be taught at thirteen schools, instead of five. Children with autism would be mixed in with students who have significant cognitive delay, but not students with a history of behavioral problems.

"The letter made it sound like it was something good," said parent, Tammy Nix.

Parents like Nix, who already has an autistic son enrolled at Lingerfeldt Elementary, is now considering homeschool as an option

"He has really thrived in the Autistic classes and the fact that they are just going to take that away and just put him in a generalized class with different disabilities I just don't know what that means for him," said Nix.

Gaston County School leaders tell FOX 46 Charlotte teacher assistants will be added to classes that have more than six students. Several meetings are scheduled for next month to discuss the changes with parents.