For 432 new kindergartners in the Lemon Grove School District this fall, a world of learning opens Sept. 6 with their unforgettable first day of school.
In one case, the excitement and emotions of that milestone could be overshadowed by unresolved issues stemming from a mother’s dedication to achieving the best for her special-needs son, and the harsh realities of public-school budgets at a time of painful cutbacks.
Robin Driver’s son, Josiah, has been diagnosed with autism and Neuro-Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, which affect his cognitive and bodily functions. Driver said Josiah, who turns 6 in September, can succeed at Lemon Grove’s San Altos Elementary with support from a specially trained aide providing him with one-on-one assistance.
Driver said state policy and law, which call for special-education students to be taught in the same classrooms as others wherever possible, affirm her right to the support. But after a half-dozen meetings on the matter since June, Driver said the district is planning to assign a generalized aide to her son’s classroom, someone who she believes may not be qualified to deal with his special needs.
“Without the support, he will not be able to succeed in general ed,” Driver said.
Gina Potter, district assistant superintendent for business services, said she can’t discuss the Driver case because of confidentiality issues.
Driver said district officials have told her there are budget considerations to her request for specialized support, and that it’s within their discretion to decide what kind of aide to assign to Josiah’s class.
The district is faced with drastic reductions this school year—its operating budget for 2011-12 is $3.9 million less than the previous year, requiring extensive cuts in its clerical staff.
At first, Driver said the district wanted to put Josiah in a special-education class, with other special-needs kids. She adamantly resisted that idea and just recently succeeded in having her son placed in a mainstream class.
In his final year of preschool with a general-population class of about 24, Driver said Josiah made huge strides—an outcome she attributes to the kind of specialized behavioral support, provided at the district’s expense, that she wants continued in kindergarten.
In Josiah’s case, that meant dealing with a child who sometimes hit or pinched himself and suffered severe gastrointestinal problems.
“They understand how to deal with the behaviors and how to modify things on the spot,” Driver said of the specialized behavioral support aides. Sometimes an aide might need to work right alongside Josiah; other times it would be more appropriate to pull back a bit so he could be a little more independent.
Driver has hired an attorney to help her press her case with the district; school administrators have proposed at least one more meeting to try to resolve their differences.