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Parents question how district handles special needs students

Kellogg Marsh Elementary mother Trish Fuerte testified to the Marysville School District Board of Directors on Feb. 18 that her son Aiden had been abused by a school staff member on Dec. 18. - Kirk Boxleitner
Kellogg Marsh Elementary mother Trish Fuerte testified to the Marysville School District Board of Directors on Feb. 18 that her son Aiden had been abused by a school staff member on Dec. 18.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — A group of Marysville parents testified before the Marysville School District Board of Directors on Tuesday, Feb. 18, to express their concerns with how the district has handled its special needs students, and in at least two cases to make fresh claims of staff mistreatment of students.

A number of Kellogg Marsh Elementary parents, including Melody Plumb and Megan Harp, worried about their children’s consolidation into other classes last fall.

“Since David’s class was closed in October, I’ve been seeing more changes in behavior in him, that aren’t positive,” Plumb said.

“I’ve been seeing negative changes as well,” Harp said. “There’s been a lot of staff turnover. We’ve had four different classroom staff in five days, and none of them have had special education training. These kids don’t adapt well to change. This year has been lacking in development for them, educationally and socially. Their academics have gone by the wayside, and I’m seeing more and more behavioral and social issues. We don’t have enough para-educators in the classroom.”

Amy Sheldon, president of the Marysville Special Education PTSA, reiterated the parents’ stated willingness to work with the school district, as well as their expressed optimism over the new leadership that will follow in the wake of the co-directors of the district’s special education services both resigning the week before. She invited the Board to attend MSEPTSA’s next meeting, at Kellogg Marsh Elementary starting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11.

Michelle Breitinger, who has two children at Kellogg Marsh Elementary, noticed that her autistic son Andrew came home with different and unwanted behaviors after the first week of this school year, and ultimately removed him due to what she described as the unkindness of a para-educator.

“He’s studying with Sylvan Learning now,” Breitinger said. “He’s a fourth-grader who was reading at a first-grade level. Just because they’re special needs doesn’t mean they can’t learn. It’s not okay that I should have to pay $5,000 to bring my child up to the proper reading level.”

“It’s not okay” was a repeated refrain of fellow Kellogg Marsh Elementary mother Trish Fuerte, who not only recounted a Dec. 18 incident of alleged abuse by school staff against her son Aiden, but also held up two pieces of evidence to support her claim — a pair of Aiden’s underwear, torn almost completely apart, in ways that they hadn’t been when he’d left for school on the day in question, and a drawing Aiden made later, which he described as what had happened, showing him being pulled and hurt by the school staff member.

“My son has not got a lot of language, but he does not lie,” Fuerte said. “From one human being to another, this is not okay to have happen to anyone, let alone a child without a voice.”

Marysville School Board President Dr. Tom Albright assured the parents in attendance of his concern and empathy for their situation,noting that his wife had worked in special education and that “this is personal to me.”

“We are thoroughly invested in not leaving any child behind,” Marysville School District Superintendent Dr. Becky Berg said to the parents that evening.

In a later statement, Berg emphasized that the district’s administration and Board appreciated hearing from the parents, and that they take all such reports seriously.

“We want to assure parents that we have a process for addressing any and all allegations made against staff,” Berg said. “We cannot, however, discuss personnel allegations or any active investigation. We want parents to know that we are listening. We want to work together and do what is best for all children. Although we have currently experienced changes in our special education department, it is our goal to make a seamless transition. We value our working relationship with parents, as we focus on the needs of each child.”

The district acknowledged that Kenneth D. Chovil and Tracy Suchan Toothaker, who had served as co-directors of the district’s special education services, recently separated from service with the district “to pursue other opportunities,” according to Jodi Runyon, executive assistant to the superintendent.

Runyon reported that the district has hired an interim executive director, Dave Gow, as well as an interim director, Dr. Bob Gose, to lead the department, primarily in support of secondary schools. Gow served in the Shoreline School District for 30 years as a special education teacher and director, and in the Mukilteo School District for nine years as special education director, retiring in 2011. Gose has also worked several years in education, with the latter half of his career spent as a school psychologist and special education student services coordinator in the Shoreline School District, prior to his retirement in 2013.

“A lot of changes can happen within certain windows,” Runyon told The Marysville Globe. “The timing is odd, and it could seem like it’s all happening at once, but it’s coincidental.”

Runyon expects Gow and Gose will serve out their co-directorships through the remainder of the school year.

 

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