Special needs students’ parents upset

Some Park Hill patrons don’t like classroom location

Some parents of special needs students in the Park Hill School District are not very pleased with the administration right now.

At the Board of Education meeting last week, patrons spoke out about a plan to renovate an unused locker room at Park Hill High School into two autism classrooms and a sensory room — a room which is used in some therapies for autism to develop the senses through special lighting, music and objects. The project went out to bid along with renovations to the district Aquatic Center with hopes the district would enjoy some savings by bundling the work. The $1.4 million in work is funded through the district’s 2011 bond issue, which was promised to address maintenance and security problems. “I’ve received numerous calls from parents concerned about the location and safety of the autism classrooms,” said Board Vice President Boon Lee. The proposed classrooms would be located near a staircase non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and near the kitchen. Boon said he had fielded concerns from parents worried a student could fall down the stairs, or escape from staff and into the kitchen. Additionally, the location of the classrooms in a more out-of-the-way area of the school led to concerns the move would seclude special needs students from their mainstream counterparts. Only one access route to the classroom was identified in the plan — an elevator. Parents had recently voiced concerns to Board members that this was not adequate. Lee was concerned about the one ADA-compliant access to the area as well, and suggested the administration revisit alternatives — either for placement of the classrooms as a whole or for making the area more ADA-compliant. The bid package was removed from the Board’s consent agenda due to the concerns with the autism classroom, though eventually the Board approved the package as a whole with the caveat additional research into alternatives would be done. “I’m afraid the desire to save some money by bundling these bids together may have caused some problems,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Paul Kelly. “But the longer we wait for a decision on this, we will miss the advantage of bidding early.” Director of Special Services Dr. Chris Daniels told the Board that other locations had been considered for the classroom, and this was deemed the best option as the space was large enough to allow installation of the sensory room, a swing used in therapy, bathrooms and space for life skills training. The district is due for an ADA assessment in early March, and Superintendent Dr. Scott Springston said the matter could be brought to the assessor’s attention for a professional opinion. Another option for an access route could also be considered. “I would urge you not to table this unless the plan is completely off the table,” Springston said. Lee said he had concerns that he wanted to be sure the plan was acceptable under the ADA, and had no desire to open up the district to potential legal action. Springston said the details for the plan could still be adjusted, and if cost changes were incurred could be addressed in a work change order. All work would need to go through the regular City permitting process, he said, at which time final considerations on any ADA compliance issues would be evaluated. Improvements at the Aquatic Center include renovations to the locker rooms and restrooms, replacing aging and corroded electrical equipment, replacing degraded sound baffles, replacing and upgrading lighting and replacing spectator seating. Also at the meeting, Director of Student Services Dr. Joshn Colvin presented a proposal requiring all families in the district to verify their residency each year. He said the district has more than 500 students attending Park Hill schools because they live with district residents. Under requirements of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the student’s residency is defined as being with a parent, military guardian or court-appointed legal guardian. Those registering a child who resides in the district but is not living with parents or guardians must request a waiver of proof of residency at the time of registration. Corvin reported that from 2011-14 the district has seen a steady increase in the number of requests for waivers. Currently, residency checks are only required when enrolling in kindergarten, seventh grade and ninth grade.