Parents of special needs students speak out at school board meeting

Published 2:19 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

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STANFORD – Brandy and Mikael Ives were devastated when they went to take a picture of their daughter with her graduation sign, only to find that there wasn’t one waiting for her.

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Hayven Mills, 11, was one of several students to graduate from Stanford Elementary this year.

The school provided congratulatory signs for each graduating student, except for those in special education.

“As a mother it was so hurtful for me to take my child around the loop to see she had no sign,” Brandy Ives said. “I was mad, but my heart was more broken for her and her friends. I don’t see it as a mistake. A mistake would have been them not having just Hayven a sign, but they were just simply forgotten.”

Brandy Ives said all of the kids in special education were left out of the sign celebration.

Heartbroken and angry, Brandy and Mikael Ives went to the Lincoln County School Board’s May 18 meeting to voice their concerns.

“Yesterday my daughter and three others in her class had been forgotten in the signs that were put out in front of the school for the kids graduating, moving on to the next school,” Mikael Ives said. “As parents we feel like this is ridiculous. All kids needs to be included in this process. Our children under special needs try three times harder to learn the basics that someone in a traditional class puts in effort to learn.”

Ives said the district’s motto is “All Kids Matter.”

“Do all kids matter, or is it just convenient that our kids were left out this time?” Ives asked. “I’ve been reading in the paper and on Facebook about aides hurting our children, talking down to them, not being respectful to them. This needs to stop. That’s just a slap in the face to us parent who try hard to raise our children.”

Ives said a lot of special needs children are non-verbal and they came to the board meeting to advocate for them.

“In closing, we just ask as parents that the school board, anybody in the school system, everybody come together and have inclusion of all children, no matter where they’re at, how they’re raised, income, whatever the case may be,” Ives said. “We’re also asking that if you can’t come together as a board, a school, whatever the case may be, that you just step down and move to the side so we can get someone in here that can include all of the children going forward.”

Tessa Johnson, the mother of a LCHS senior, also spoke to board members during the May 18 meeting. Johnson said the school board has had her attention for the last couple of weeks.

“I think the most important thing I want to say is small town school boards never should be about politics or political gain, it should be about our children and nothing else,” she said. “That should be the most important thing and what we can do for them, and how we can help them grow. What I’ve seen happen just in the last week at two separate schools shows me that we need a school board that is going to back our students and do right by them.”

Johnson said the most fragile and vulnerable students were excluded.

“My own son would’ve been excluded had he still been in fifth grade at one of these schools, in one of these groups, just because of his behavior … and he would’ve had to sit out and watch his friends have fun, even though I know he would’ve tried his hardest,” Johnson said.

Teachers and assistants are leaving in masses, Johnson said.

“…because of the lack of support from those in higher positions and we have to do better for those who depend on us, the most vulnerable, and for those that are with them daily, they depend on us and when we send our kids to school we want to know that when they return home to us, they’ve been cared for and loved when they’re away from us.”

Since the board meeting, the school has corrected the issue and new signs were made for each of the special needs students.

Stanford Elementary Principal Julia Duncan said the error was not intentional, and as soon as the school realized the error, they immediately began working to correct it.

“We love each of our students and would have never caused this hurt intentionally,” Duncan said.

“As a public school principal, the inclusion of all students is always a top priority. I reached out to each family impacted and sincerely apologized the same afternoon. I was able to speak with each family and let them know there was a plan in place to correct this issue and assure them their child would absolutely have a sign.”

Hayven, who has Down Syndrome, was excited to see her sign with the other students.

“She was so happy to see her face on the sign,” Brandy said. “She said, ‘Seriously, it’s me!’”

Brandy said her daughter works hard to accomplish what is simple for most kids.

“I think a lot of people fail to see that our kids are smart, bright and funny kids and all their hearts want is to be seen as a human and not as their disability,” she said.

Public comment on superintendent search

Amanda Smith, a parent of a local elementary school student, spoke again to school board members about the ongoing superintendent search. Smith addressed the school board at the May 11 meeting with a question that went unanswered – this time she made a statement.

Smith said she has one daughter who just graduated from kindergarten, one daughter who graduated from LCHS last year and she herself was a Lincoln County graduate.

“I say this to say I have been invested in the school system in many years and will continue to be for at least another 12,” she said.

Smith said education has a trickle-down effect that starts at the top with the school board and superintendent, then to teachers, then to curriculum and then to students.

“The superintendent can make or break a system. I know the board also knows how important the choice for superintendent is, as they hired someone from KSBA to oversee the selection committee and then the process was started to find those to chair the committee to volunteer their time to this important matter,” Smith said.

Smith said the committee includes one board representative, one principal, two certified staff members, one classified staff member, one minority parent and one parent.

“The board representative was appointed by the Chair; all others were voted on by their peers in each category, meaning we chose them to represent the best interests of the students and the district,” Smith said. “They were voted on and chosen to make an important, sound decision and we as voters assume their choice will be given the respect that it is due.”

Smith implored the board to choose a superintendent that is recommended by the screening committee.

“There has been time and money spent for this committee to make a choice. They volunteered their own time and it would be a slap in the face for the board to go with their own interests and pick a choice that is not recommended by the committee,” Smith said. “All we the people are asking is for fairness and transparency in the superintendent selection process. The board is not above scrutiny from the stakeholders and should not be at liberty to make decisions based on emotion, personal bias or ulterior motives.”