EDUCATION & SCHOOLS

Parents of special education students outraged over Alpine School District’s proposed changes

Apr 3, 2024, 10:46 PM | Updated: Apr 5, 2024, 12:15 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — It was chaos at Miranda Parsons’ home Wednesday afternoon. A dozen kids took over the toy room while their frustrated parents discussed proposed changes to Alpine School District’s special education programming.

It’s the state’s largest district with 85,000 students, 800 of whom are in life skills classes. The classes address the needs of students with learning disabilities like autism and Down syndrome, among others.

The district said the proposed changes will impact about 150 students, and parents of those students are outraged.

According to parents, if that new proposal goes into effect next year, their kids will be bussed to schools outside neighborhood boundaries and away from their friends and siblings.

The district says they’re not cutting resources, just streamlining services. But the parents say if their kids can’t be in their boundary schools with siblings and friends, the plans don’t work for them.

Audri Longman attended the last of 25 meetings held by the district.

“Discriminated against; that’s pretty much the word,” she said. She said the district’s reason for moving the kids around was equally upsetting.

“What we were told, specifically out of their mouths, was it’s easy and it’s fast,” Longman said.

Remi Forrest also attended the meeting. Her son has already been shuffled around, a lot.

“He’s in second grade and this is his fourth school,” Forrest said. For her, taking him out of his boundary school is not even an option. Her son has autism along with a rare chromosome disorder that makes change a challenge.

“Honestly, I’m really unwilling to at this point,” she said. She said he’s thriving in school now and the changes would put that at risk.

“There’s so many milestones he’s had at the school that I cannot imagine ripping him from it,” Forrest said.

Another mother, Ashley Gollaher, said her kids are among the 150 impacted students. Her son, Lewis, will start kindergarten in two years. Her older daughter has autism, and moving her to a new school to support Lewis, she said, would be detrimental to her well-being.

“My daughter has been looking forward to Lewis coming to school with her forever,” she said.

The district said no decisions have been made yet, and its staff realizes students have been shuffled around; they want to stop that too.

“This proposal is to consolidate some of the classes so that those students in those classes can remain at the same school site from kindergarten through sixth grade,” said Alpine School District Spokesperson Rich Stowell.

He said the input from parents is critical and the district’s goal is to create a community of kids with special needs. The parents involved say that community is already in their boundary schools.

“In theory, that sounds great, but you’re taking them away from everything they already know,” Miranda Parsons said. Her son, Jett, would be moved to another school too, away from his older brother, his friends and neighborhood children.

Likewise, Longman said it’s time school districts start to prioritize these vulnerable kids.

“Every school needs a special education program in it, whether it’s one child or 10 children,” she said. For her, and the other moms who are ready to fight for their kids, the way things have always been done is not what they want in the future.

“It hasn’t been right for a very long time,” Longman said.

The Alpine School District board will meet on Tuesday, April 23. Its meetings are always open to the public, and public comments are allowed.

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Parents of special education students outraged over Alpine School District’s proposed changes