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Parents Upset After District Pulls Special Education Program From Highland Elementary

ALPINE, Utah — Concerned parents in the Alpine School District have threatened to file formal complaints against the district after a decision was made to pull the special education program from Highland Elementary School.

For the first time, Rebecca Spencer said her son Paul is thriving at school.

She credited the special education program at Highland Elementary for helping with that.

“They love him, they accept him,” she said. “[The school has] spent a decade building a program of inclusivity. The principal is amazing. He has special needs children of his own and the teachers accept my child.”

Before attending Highland, Spencer said Paul, who is now in 4th grade, bounced around the district.

“By 2nd grade, he had five moves of school and seven different teachers,” she said. “One of those moves was my choice. I put him into a charter school for a year, but the rest were all district moves.”

Spencer said the stability and community Paul found at Highland is under threat.

She said the district was pulling Highland’s special education program over a conflict in busing schedules after recent changes to school start times.

About 34 students, Spencer said, will be sent to different schools in the district and will likely have new classmates and teachers.

“Every time my son went to a new school, it put him back four to five months because he had to adjust to the new environment, the new teachers, the new classmates,” she said. “Plus, we don’t know if the next school will have a general education student body that is accepting of special needs children. Right now, my son can go to recess with the general education students. They embrace him.”

It’s a move Spencer fears will put students, like her son, at a disadvantage.

“It’s just time to stop. It’s time for the community to say these kids have the exact same rights as the other kids,” said Spencer.

Spencer said the district didn’t notify families about the change.

More than 20 parents have since written letters to the district to express their frustrations, saying special education students are being discriminated against.

“Who is standing up for them? If we don’t give them a voice, who will?” Spencer said.

Spencer argued general education students aren’t transferred to other schools nearly as often as special education students. That’s why she planned on filing formal complaints with the Utah State Board of Education and Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Spencer said she has already filed an informal complaint with the Utah State Board of Education.

“Every child thrives with stability and consistency, but especially a special needs child,” Spencer said.

The Alpine School District essentially said in a statement that they are committed to educating all students and the same opportunities for inclusion are available to students at every school.

The district is currently talking through the immediate concerns raised by parents.

Here is the full statement:

Alpine School District ensures that all students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are provided with a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE). While all of our schools offer Special Education Services for students, we also offer various small group settings with more specialized services in certain schools throughout the district. The district regularly looks at the home locations of students in these programs and will periodically move the program so that it is in closer proximity to the majority of students’ homes, thus reducing the time required to transport students on a bus. A small group is not being shut down, but the location adjusted based on these criteria.

Moving a student to a new location is always driven by the IEP and a commitment to deliver the services outlined in it. The same opportunities for inclusion, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy are available at every school. Building administrators and teacher teams, including both special and general educators, are committed to and supported in educating all students, including students with special needs. 

 Parents and district personnel are currently talking through immediate concerns regarding the locations of special classes that have been brought up. Those conversations will continue to inform specific challenges now as well as open the door to addressing the need to honor consistency for students and families.

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