My turn: Transparency with parents - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

My turn: Transparency with parents

The Sayers family is working to try to get the district to allow Fox's ABA therapist to attend school with him. (Source: WECT) The Sayers family is working to try to get the district to allow Fox's ABA therapist to attend school with him. (Source: WECT)

It’s hard to deny the passion that parents have when it comes to their children’s safety and education. 

And you can count the Sayers family among the most passionate.  They have a child with autism and have made inroads with their son’s specialized therapist.   

They wanted to continue that progress and asked the school system to allow the therapist to help their son in the public school system.  

They were denied.

Our school leaders have tough jobs and have to make some unpopular decisions at times.  

I give New Hanover County Schools the benefit of the doubt here that they are trying to help the child and serve other children fairly as well. But what bothers me is that when the Sayers family asked, they were just turned down and not given much of an explanation.  

When our reporter asked the same questions, she was afforded a two page letter from the school system with specific reasons. 

While I appreciate the fact that our school system was responsive to our reporter, their first concern should have been with the parents.  

I’m not going to debate the merits of who is right in this dispute.  I’m really not sure.  But it shouldn’t have taken an inquiry from a news organization to get the Sayers family the answers they deserved.  

That’s my turn. Now it’s your turn. To comment on this segment, or anything else, email me at yourturn@wect.com. 

Copyright 2016 WECT. All rights reserved.


Emailed comments from viewers:

I appreciated your comments on the school’s failure to engage in a meaningful discourse regarding our desire to continue Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA therapy) for our son with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  There are some things I’d like to add to this conversation.

As you aptly pointed out, when I asked New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) to provide me with the rule they used to decide against allowing our son to have ABA therapy while at school, they admitted that there was no rule against it. The fact that they do not have a rule against it makes the reasons that they ultimately provided at the behest of Ashlea Kosikowski ring very hollow.  The absence of the written policy forbidding it basically serves to impede my ability to pursue legal remedies to strike down the policy.  A policy cannot be against the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) if it does not exist.

The “reasons” they provided to Ashlea really are nothing more than excuses.  Every reason represents either a misunderstanding of what ABA therapy is and is intended to do, a legal fiction, or a logistical challenge – all of the foregoing which could be solved by a commitment to work through them. The school has refused to engage in any meaningful discussion on any of the issues I raised.  When I spoke to Mr. Wayne Bullard on the phone, after he tried to dodge my request for the written policy on this issue, he just answered that the decision has been made, it’s not the school’s practice and IDEA does not require NHCS to maximize my son’s potential.  I’m now going to address each of the so-called reasons Mr. Bullard provided to demonstrate this to you.

In the first reason offered, Mr. Bullard claims that allowing ABA therapy “creates a risk that the student’s academic success will be compromised.”  This statement is both false and ignorant.  As Kristin Yonkers explained, ABA therapy is focused on behavior – encouraging good ones by reinforcing them and not giving in to bad ones.  It’s not about educating the child.  The objective of the therapy is to get the child to follow instructions, in school context, the teacher’s. The explanation he provides has no factual basis, because he clearly does not understand the qualifications that ABA therapy requires.  Moreover in no circumstance is a teacher focused on multiple children’s behavior going to be more effective than one ABA technician focused on one child’s behavior. ABA therapy is not just one of several methodologies (I wonder could Mr. Bullard even name one alternative, let alone several); it is scientifically proven to be the most effective method, and the only one covered by insurance.

Suggesting that “[a]llowing a family’s private ABA therapist to attend class may violate the privacy rights of others students in the classroom who may have disabilities” is not a valid reason.  First of all, I’ll note that Mr. Bullard says that it “may” violate privacy rights, not that it does.  I’m sure that he chose those words because the truth of the matter is that there are already outside providers, speech therapists for example, that come on to campus, not to mention volunteers.  But even if this really were an actual issue, it could be addressed by having the ABA therapist and technician sign a confidentiality agreement.

The next “reason” regarding background checks is bogus.  Butterfly Effects conducts background checks just like any responsible organization that serves children.  NHCS could just be reasonable and agree to accept the background check results that Butterfly Effects shares.  In our case, our son was working with a woman who was a former police officer. Their reason is actually a highly solvable issue of logistics and coordination.  

Saying that this “raises liability concerns” for NHCS is something that could be resolved through a liability waiver, executed by our family in favor of the school, and an indemnification agreement between Butterfly Effects and NHCS. Saying that “private therapists may not be properly trained in de-escalation techniques” shows again that they haven’t bothered to even understand what ABA therapy is or entails and that they’re deciding against it out of ignorance.

Saying that allowing a “family’s private therapist in the classroom would set a precedent” precludes the fact that NHCS could easily avoid that by actually drafting a policy focused on the specific issue of ASD and ABA therapy.

Stating that the “federal Office of Special Education Programs has stated that publics school are not required to allow parents observe their children in class. By extension, that would apply to private therapists hired by the family” is both not a reason and irrelevant to what we’re asking.  First, I’m not sure that Mr. Bullard’s analysis is correct that it extends to therapists.  Secondly, why does the school have to default to the minimum the law requires? And finally, this issue isn’t about anyone observing the class in any case.

NHCS may not know of other public school systems in North Carolina that allow it, but that’s an excuse for not doing the right thing, not a reason.  And I can tell you that there certainly are other states that do this.  Pennsylvania is one that allows schools to do this.  When I told people I know in special education there that this was not allowed they were mind boggled because ABA therapy is so widely accepted as the best therapy and the only one that insurance will cover.

Saying that NHCS “is providing appropriate services under the IDEA to every eligible student with ASD, without allowing private therapists into the classroom” is an opinion – not a reason.  And it’s one that I disagree with and science disagrees with.

Saying that “Parents are free to send their children to private tutors or therapists after school hours, if they wish” is just cold, indifferent and ignorant to the reality of raising a child with special needs.  Any child has a limited ability to focus during a day.  For them to suggest that my three-year-old with ASD could somehow attend school and then focus on four hours of ABA therapy afterward is really just asinine.

In reading what I’ve said, I hope you can see that these “reasons” are really just a set of issues that could all be solved if NHCS was willing to work with our family.  But they won’t even entertain the possibility. I have not heard one word from NHCS since your story aired and I don't expect to.  They are unapologetic in their refusal and are steadfastly committed to doing the minimum required by law.

In closing, I want to point out that we’re talking about a three-year-old in preschool. Treating ASD early is crucial to future outcomes.  Allowing my son to have an ABA technician support him in preschool is not going to conflict with some grand educational mission.  These kids are basically just engaging in play activities at age three.  It is so disingenuous for the school to act like there is some incredible risk in allowing this.  Moreover, if the school were to allow this, then there is a 40% chance that my son can be mainstreamed and won’t need to have ABA therapy when he’s ready for first grade.  By refusing to work on these issues, the school perpetuates them.  In my opinion, it’s inexcusable.  No where in these "reasons" do they state they have no power or ability to allow it -- only that they don't have to.

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There is a great treatment center for Autism in Sheffield, MA. It’s called the Option Institute/The Autism Treatment Center of America.

It is a wonderful place that is run by a family who’s son had autism and has been cured. Amazing place.

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