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Stevens No Longer in Wetzel County Schools

By Staff | Sep 16, 2015

Wetzel County student Roy Stevens’ siblings speak on his behalf Tuesday during a meeting of the Wetzel County Board of Education. Photo by Lauren Matthews

Former Wetzel County student Roy Stevens is no longer enrolled from Wetzel County Schools, according to Roy’s father, Earl Stevens.

Earl said he unenrolled his son Wednesday, Sept. 9, just prior to the day Roy would have met the maximum amount of truancy days.

Earl said he did not know what would have happened when he and his wife were turned into magistrate, whether they would have been fined or imprisoned.

Earl stated that “in the grand scheme of things,” Roy’s story is just a small blip in a vast array of worldwide events. He noted, however, that the special education system needs to change. Earl stated that by sending all severely affected special education students to Magnolia High School, the school system is not only depriving those specific students, but the system is also depriving regular education students the experience of interacting with and being around special education students.

Supporters and siblings of Roy Stevens pleaded at a school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 8 for the Wetzel County Board of Education to allow Roy to continue attending Hundred High School.

The school board still had not made a decision on the matter. However, Roy’s truancy days, or number of days he is allotted for absence, will be up on Thursday, Sept. 10. Most likely then, Roy’s parents will be charged in magistrate court.

Melissa Rush, older sister of Roy, was the first to speak on her brother’s behalf Monday night. Rush said her and her siblings are all proud graduates of Hundred High School and of various colleges and universities in the area.

“We are products of the Wetzel County School system,” she said, adding that the system has given her and her siblings the “platform to proceed form high school into college; to excel among our peers in the collegiate setting; and ultimately to build successful sustainable careers. We believe in this system when it is working properly because it helped to make us who we are today.”

Rush said she could not begin to tell the board how the family has been affected by the situation involving Roy’s placement.

“We are here tonight to appeal to you, the Board of Education, as the overseers of this county’s administration. We are here to solicit your help in allowing our brother to continue his education. We’ve come to dead ends in every other avenue, and we don’t want to see Roy’s educational experience come to an end,” Rush had stated. The trip to Magnolia is a stressor for him. That’s a big consideration. That trip is a long trip. It’s a long drive, and to expect him to get up and do that every single day of the week when he already has challenges he faces every single day . . . it’s a burden to him and the community. We are just asking for your help.”

“What are the other avenues that you pursued?” inquired Superintendent Leatha Williams, after Rush had spoken. “You said you pursued other avenues and were met with dead ends.”

Rush said she did not want to discuss the legal aspects of the situation with Williams, that she wanted the five board members to look at the situation from a moral and ethical standpoint. Rush said the decisions to be made in other avenues can be discussed later in a a different venue.

“Those decisions will be made on the legality and the way this has been handled. I don’t know that we want to get into that. We certainly can and talk about the processes and improprieties. This has been fraught with unethical behavior. that’s not what we are here for. We are here to simply ask for the help of five people who can understand from a human element,” Rush stated.

Jonathan Stevens, brother of Roy, then spoke to the board regarding the situation.

“I’ll start with thanking all of Roy’s supporters,” he said, referencing the fact that Roy’s classmates have been arriving at HHS an hour before school starts, each day, to protest. “That’s a big deal. Getting up in time for school is one thing. Getting up on your own free will, regardless of what decision will be made . .. it has meant a lot to me and my family. It has helped in a difficult situation. It shows there are people out there who have concerns for people who can’t stand up and speak for themselves. Thank you for instilling faith in me and the community.”

Jonathan referenced a letter that had been submitted to the board, from Roy’s doctor. “you have a letter that says Hundred is the best fit for Roy. He doesn’t always sleep well at night. Getting home late and going out earlier is difficult on his body. The doctors weighed in on that.”

Jonathan further stated that the West Virginia Advocate has also spoken on Roy’s behalf too. “Someone outside of this system thinks that this could’ve been handled differently. You should be getting a filing and briefing on that.”

“The teachers and staff don’t have any issues with Roy. They deal with him on a day-to-day basis. I think it was affirmed at the last IEP meeting that it wasn’t a staffing issue. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wherever he is at, he has to have an aid. I don’t think that’s an extra person. As far as minutes, if he was able to attend Hundred last year, he should be able to, in theory, attend Hundred this year.”

Jonathan said the students at Hundred have really taken Roy in, in a way that never happened at Magnolia.

“It’s not saying anything about the students at Magnolia, but Hundred High School is a smaller school. people know his older sisters and brother. It makes it easier for him to relate to people, than at Magnolia,” Jonathan stated. “I believe one of the arguments is that he should be with people that are like him. There is no one at Magnolia like him. When you are talking about special education students, none are the same. That’s why there is an IEP process.”

“He has Down syndrome. He has special needs. He isn’t used to being around other people with special needs. He lives in a home where no one else has those issues. The time he spent at Hundred is around regular education students. That’s who is interacts with and is most comfortable with. I have a hard time believing that he can learn more from people like him than from people that are different.”

Jonathan said that while at Magnolia, to learn life skills, Roy was taken to Rite Aid to shop.

“It makes sense, but Roy will not do his shopping in New Martinsville more than likely. He would fit better in Belko and Dollar General so he would learn where things are, who the staff is . . . They would help him get something. He would probably never shop there by himself, but you want him to get as much out of his last two years of education as possible.”

Stephanie Stevens, sister of Roy, then spoke to the board.

“Put yourself in Roy’s shoes,” she stated. “How many of you go a day without expressing what you are thinking in words? Try it sometime. You won’t last. Just because Roy doesn’t talk does not mean he does not comprehend the English language. Spend some time with him. It is easy to determine if he is happy, sad, anxious, or upset. He will appropriately respond to questions when asked. Roy’s friends quickly realized how to communicate with him. It doesn’t take much time to figure it out. Within a year at HHS, his peers were able to identify and eradicate the problem if he seemed upset.”

Stephanie then shared with the board her family’s reaction to the news that Roy would have Down syndrome.

“I was young and of course didn’t fully understand what that entailed, but my mother assured me that Roy would be fine and we would love and take care of him just as we did my little sister, who is two years older than Roy. When Roy was born the pediatrician said that Roy was perfect for Roy and he didn’t need changed. Truer words were never spoken. Roy is perfect for Roy,” Stephanie said.

“I know in Roy’s IEP meetings you say that his best interests are priority. How can that be true when you interrupt and discredit every suggestion made by those who work and live with him on a daily basis. His parents obviously understand more about him than you ever will. The teachers that have him in class from day to day know what he is capable of,” Stephanie added. You say it is county policy that he be sent to Magnolia High School. Well, I am pretty sure you didn’t change the county policy between last year and this year. If he could go to HHS last year, it can be done this year. We have the same board of education and the same special education coordinator this year. That leaves us with one variable, the superintendent. I would like to publicly thank Mr. Dennis Albright. I truly believe he was the key component to Roy being allowed to attend Hundred High School. Without that year at HHS we would not know the potential Roy had that was being suppressed in the special education hallway of MHS.”

Rebecca Wilson, Roy’s oldest sister, stated that the family has been promised to be brought before the magistrate as soon as Roy is found truant.

“That day will be this Thursday. So it is quite possible by this time tomorrow that Roy will be a drop-out, joining the ranks of thousands of students in our country and dozens of disabled students in this very county who became drop-outs because of the same system that threatens Roy today. I was in attendance at the scheduling meeting on Aug. 11 where Roy’s placement was changed. His placement was changed in a matter of five minutes at the end of that meeting. There was no consensus and no signature of agreement were required. The director of special education simply stated that she had the authority as the administrator to change his placement, and that his placement was changed to Magnolia High School,” Rebecca stated.

She continued, “When challenged she replied that she is the administrator. And so, with those same words in those same five minutes that decision can be reversed tonight. Mrs. Novotny could simply give the word, Mrs. Williams could make the recommendation, or three of the five of you could vote to enroll Roy at Hundred High School.”

“Tonight, you can have a positive impact in the life of a child by restoring what you had already given him,” Rebecca said. “At the dismissal of this meeting, you will be the ones who carry on your existence knowing your decision and the reasons for it. But be certain, regardless of your decision, if you encounter Roy in Walmart and he sees any hint of hurting inside you, he will give you a hug and smile and tell you a joke about potatoes. Because, while you may decide to stop him from walking the halls of HHS, you cannot stop his love and the transportation fit has sparked in this county.”

After Rebecca’s presentation to the board, Board President Mike Blair noted that the present board was not even put into place when the centralized special education program was sent to Magnolia High School.

“My daughter was home for the weekend,” he noted. “She used to work with Roy. She knew Roy. I know Roy. Roy prospered at Magnolia as well. So we know as a group we have a decision to make. And we know we have rules, regulations and code we can’t violate. We are held and bound to West Virginia State Code,” he said. “Everything thinks that as a board member, you have the ability to do what you want. You live by the law and that’s what we have to go by. We are going to talk about Roy, but whatever that decision goes, we want to do what is best for Roy.”

Andrew King, student at Hundred HIgh School, stated that Roy belongs at Hundred High School. “I’d like to ask that you take a step back and view the situation for what it is. Roy will either go to HHS or not attend high school. I want this to be what is in the best interests of Roy. I love him dearly,” King stated.

“This has been blown way out of proportion,” King said. It’s something that can be addressed quickly,” King added. “I hope it can get to the point of what is in the best interests of Roy Stevens, for him to be moved to Hundred High School. I can’t say who has the best facilities or staff, but the best environment . . . I can guarantee there is no better place for him to be than Hundred. This matters to all of us. We love Roy and we want Roy to be there. This morning Roy got out of the car, saw everyone protesting, threw his arms in the air . . . he had a big smile, and he started hugging everyone there. For me to hug someone, you know I’m showing affection. But to Roy, that hug and smile means everything. It’s showing his heart and who he is, where he wants to be. I don’t want to talk about what’s legal and what’s not, what should have been done, what has been done . . . I want you five board members to look into your hearts and think about if it was your child, what you would want to be done.”

HHS Student Holden Moore spoke to the board and reiterated that he had previously spoken at the July 20 board meeting. “Things didn’t go well at that meeting. I started thinking of what we should do, as a student body. We all realized we should organize a protest. We never harmed anything, never said anything obscene. We got out and stood peacefully and respectfully and will continue to do.”

Moore said while sitting in class that day he began thinking of what he should say at that night’s board meeting. He said that he noticed the code of conduct. Moore began reading the code to the board.

“The student body at Hundred feels disrespected. We haven’t heard anything from anybody. We feel like there hasn’t been an eyelash batted at us. I’m begging you. I’m begging every one of you to look into your heart and do what’s right. Roy belongs with friends. He’s one of us.”

The board then began to move on to their other agenda matters; however, Superintendent Williams interjected and said it was important to acknowledge the students who came to the board meeting tonight.

“You are very well spoken. I appreciate you standing up for what you believe in. I want to acknowledge the family. There is no way you can hear those responses and not feel emotions and not feel proud of the students speaking out. While I cannot discuss Roy and Roy’s IEP, I would like to offer some insight into the services in the county. I’d like to talk about Magnolia High School and what separates Magnolia High School from other schools in the county and why we highlight them in our comprehensive services model,” said Williams.

At that point, Roy’s family members present, as well as many of the students and community members present, stood and left the board meeting.

Williams discussed the curriculum for special education at MHS, including that special education students will graduate with a modified diploma. Williams stated that the modified diploma is not offered and cannot be addressed at any other school in the county.

Williams said the activities of life skills curriculum are specifically done at Magnolia High School. She said to teach life skills, a classroom at MHS is set up to be like an actual living environment. She said a specific lab included takes days to set up and includes a week of training for the professional who run the lab.

Williams added that learning is individualized for each student.

“Students may go through sign language and learning to read community signs. Students are with peers of similar ids and skills. They are receiving that social and emotional aspect. It is important to address the social aspects of learning. Additionally this is not always the case back in home schools.”

President Blair remarked that the board has not and will not discuss any students publicly at any given time.

“When we are questioned on multiple occasions, and speaking on behalf of the board, we’ve been questioned and challenged, it’s not that we are dodging any questions, and it’s not that we are hiding from questions, we are not permitted to address the questions. It’s important to say that.”