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Parents Continue To Fight School Board

By Staff | Aug 19, 2015

The Wetzel County Board of Education listens to remarks Monday night from Earl Stevens regarding the placement of his son, Roy, in Wetzel County Schools. Photo by Lauren Matthews

Earl and Karen Stevens of Wetzel County approached the Wetzel County Board of Education Monday, Aug. 17 in regards to their son’s placement at Wetzel County Schools.

Previously, Earl had approached the board at their Monday, July 20 meeting. He had explained that his son, a special needs student has had his best year of education yet after attending Hundred High School the 2014-2015 school year. Roy had been placed at HHS for his sophomore year after having a difficult freshman year at Magnolia High School.

Earl and Karen had requested a change in placement to HHS the beginning of Roy’s sophomore year. Earl explained at the July 20 meeting that the request was not for a temporary transfer, but the county administration said they could grant the transfer on a temporary basis due to Roy’s health issues and his refusal to get up and go to school. Currently, the Wetzel County Board of Education’s position requires “severely” affected special needs students from Hundred High School, Valley High School, and Paden City High School to be placed at Magnolia High School.

Earl had explained the placement of a special needs student “is legally determined in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and is supposed to involve the input of parents, the student (if appropriate), the county administrator, the local school administrator, the case manager, the special education teacher, a regular education teacher (if the student is so involved), the therapists who provide services, and any one invited that provides services or input relative to the decisions that are formed into goals and specific ways to implement the achievement of those goals in educating a student.”

At the July 20 meeting, Earl, along with three of Roy’s HHS classmates, spoke in favor of Roy’s continued placement at HHS. An IEP meeting was to be held July 28. Earl said the board administration had requested the meeting to change Roy’s placement from Hundred High School back to Magnolia, despite Roy having a current IEP valid until January of 2016.

At the Monday, August 17 meeting, Earl informed the board that on July 23, Child Protective Services knocked on his front door and began an investigation because the board reported Roy’s absences referenced in the July 20 meeting. “The report stated that Roy was absent 69 and a half days and tardy 17 and a half times.”

“The numbers were fabricated,” Earl said. “I hold before you my son’s report card from Wetzel County Schools which shows me as a parent all the information I am given concerning my son’s attendance. Read the data.”

Earl said during the IEP meeting on July 28, he was told by a high school principal in attendance that the report card is an official grade report but is not an official attendance report. Earl asked the board what an official attendance report is that parents can access. “You do not provide parents with anything but this report card,” Earl said.

Earl further stated that the IEP meeting lasted two hours and resulted “in barely covering a general description of Roy as a student.” Earl said individuals were present who have “never known Roy a day in his life,” as well as others “who had not been involved with Roy’s education for over a year.”

“Yet they were all allowed to express their unsubstantiated opinions about Roy’s education,” Earl remarked.

Earl said when he and Karen left the July 28 meeting, Roy’s IEP was not completed. “At this point Roy’s current IEP which places him at HHS and is valid until January of 2016 should have been the governing document for his education.” Earl said he told HHS’s principal that Roy would be brought to HHS the first day of school.

“The county administration forbid Roy to be taken to HHS,” Earl said. “They contacted us by phone and told us Roy would be taught as a home bound student in our home. We refused,” he said, adding that the administration then said Roy would be taught as a home bound student in an alternate site.

“The principal at HHS was then instructed that if we took Roy to HHS on the first day of school he was to be secured and taken directly to county offices in New Martinsville.”

Earl explained that Roy’s 2014-2015 education at HHS was “the most powerful and effective educational experience I have ever seen in the educational history of my son. It was unequalled by any previous year with the exception of his preschool year at the Family Center.”

Earl said Karen and himself “have been intimidated, threatened with magistrate court, and even called names.” He added that Roy’s placement was changed to Magnolia High School on August 11.

“People ask us what we are doing about it,” he added. “We have contacted the West Virginia Department of Education in Charleston, the State Director of Special Education in Charleston, the State Superintendent’s Office in Charleston, the West Virginia Advocates Office in Charleston, and private legal advocates.

“The current circumstances is one crushing step for the educational system of Wetzel County and the State of WV and one giant step backwards for a special needs student who does not have the ability to take that giant step,” Earl noted.

Karen, in her remarks, stated that on that day, the first day of school, “Roy was not even permitted to set foot in his home school, Hundred High School, for the four days until his next IEP meeting will be convened.”

“As Roy’s mother, I question why Roy must be turned away from his home school,” Karen said. “It is not his race, his sexual orientation, or his religion, so what is the reason? Could it be the way he looks at you from behind his glasses? His walk with a slight drag of his left leg? His laugh as he walks down the hall? Though any of those things may contribute, the primary reason that Roy is segregated from his peers and discriminated against by being forbidden to attend his home school is his inability to talk. If Roy could explain the joy he feels because of his acceptance at HHS and tell you about the skills he gained during his year there, then his voice would have to be heard in his IEP meetings instead of another voice that has been talking over Roy’s, and everyone else’s, for months now.”

Karen said at Roy’s first IEP meeting, held at the county office, the director of special education (listed on the board’s website as Ms. Deborah E. Novotny) “proceeded to circle the table and state her rules for the meeting.” Karen said other students in Wetzel County are not required to have their IEP meeting in the board office. She added that meetings are usually conducted by the case manager who knows the student best, “not an administrator who does not interact with the child at all.”

Karen said the second meeting was held at HHS and believed to be a class scheduling meeting for Roy. “Though his case manager believed and informed us that it was a scheduling meeting, the director of special education said it was an IEP meeting and demanded that we sign a waiver of notice form if we wanted to proceed.” Karen said the meeting included an hour and a half of Roy’s teachers and family discussing his remarkable progress at HHS. She explained at the end of the presentation, the director of special education presented the principal with statistics “he already had and asked if Roy’s needs could be met using his current staff. At this point he produced the pre-made calculations and said he could not.”

Karen argued at Monday’s board meeting that the IEP process “cannot work for anyone if the meeting is hijacked by a prejudiced administrator who fills the documentation with her own personal opinions.”

“Whether Roy returns to school or not, this board must look into the IEP process and the unprofessional and unethical actions of your administrators for the sake of every disabled child in Wetzel County,” she explained.

Karen asked the board to treat “Roy and his meetings like you would treat any other special education student.”

“These meetings need to be only about Roy and what is appropriate for his unique needs . . . Please do not apply different procedures, invite people who haven’t been recently involved in Roy’s education, hold the meeting in a different place, or try to ‘set up’ the meeting to result in the outcome that the county administration has predetermined. Could it be that HHS is short staffed? I have heard that there is no special education inclusion teacher in Health at HHS.”

Karen said she had spoken to an individual from West Virginia Advocates, an agency dedicated to protecting and advocating the legal rights of West Virginians with disabilities. Karen said that the advocate said she would plan to attend Roy’s next meeting on Aug. 20. Karen said prior to this, she had signed that she would not attend Roy’s next meeting. “However the advocate had called while I was at that meeting so with her unexpected attendance on Aug. 20, Earl and I also plan to attend the meeting.” Karen said the advocate had sent a request for release of records and request for records from the special education director. Karen asked the board to “make sure that she has received them because the advocate hadn’t heard back from the director when I spoke with her.”

At the conclusion of Earl’s remarks to the board, Superintendent Leatha Williams questioned Earl’s accusation that the board was the cause of CPS visiting Earl and Karen about Roy’s attendance. Earl remarked that he should have worded his remarks as being that his “suspicions are.”

Board President Mike Blair reiterated that a second IEP meeting is to be held Aug. 20. Earl said this was true but Roy’s class scheduling meeting for Aug. 11 turned into an IEP meeting.

After Karen’s remarks, Blair inquired as to why Roy began attending HHS. Novotny said it was because Roy had had issues, when attending MHS, with getting up in the morning to go to school.

Superintendent Leatha Williams suggested the the board go into executive discussion to discuss the matter further; however Earl and Karen declined doing such, stating Roy had yet to eat dinner.

Novotny was later asked by the Wetzel Chronicle if she had any statement to make regarding the situation. She declined.

Williams was also asked her thoughts on the matter. Williams stated she could not discuss the situation because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act; however, she said the board wants what is best for every student in the county.