Fort Atkinson mom says district isn’t doing enough to keep son with special needs safe

She says she's pulling her kids from the district
Fort Atkinson mom says district isn’t doing enough to keep son with special needs safe

A mother said she was pulling her kids from the Fort Atkinson school district after she said the district refused to provide her child, who has special needs, with an aide.

At first, Charles O’Brien seems like any other 6-year-old.

The first-grader at Purdy Elementary School in Fort Atkinson is outgoing and talkative and loves playing games.

Jessica O’Brien, Charles’ mother, knows there’s more to Charles than meets the eye.

“He has ADHD, speech delays and mental delays,” she said.

Charles is developmentally behind other children and is extremely impulsive, O’Brien said. That’s made him vulnerable to bullies.

“We’ve already had previous experiences at different schools where other students told him to do something and he did it even though he knew it was wrong,” O’Brien said.

In other districts, she said he’s been able to get Charles accommodations for an aide.

But, O’Brien said, things in Fort Atkinson have been different. Charles and his 3-year-old sister Juliette moved with their parents to the community this year.

O’Brien said one moment in particular tipped off a battle with the district.

“When I went to pick him up one day, he was nowhere to be found,” she said. “An older kid came out of the bathroom and my son followed. We didn’t know what happened, but he had stuff his around his mouth that looked like yogurt. He said it was yogurt from lunch but he had lunch many hours prior.”

O’Brien said she still isn’t sure what the substance was.

“I was just…in shock,” she said.

O’Brien said after that incident, she wanted to see to it that Charles got a dedicated aide at school. Her efforts, she said, were to no avail.

Instead, she said, she had to deal with a humiliating process.

“I tried giving them a doctor’s note and (the district’s head of special education) laughed and said, ‘I can’t take that,'” O’Brien said. “It was on a prescription pad, but regardless of what paper it was on, my son should have gotten an aide.”

O’Brien said she was told there was no funding for an aide and having an aide would impede Charles’ education.

That led O’Brien to decide to pull her son from the school district. She plans to send Charles and Juliette to Stoughton schools instead.

“I want him to get the help now, so that way when he gets older, he doesn’t have to have it,” O’Brien said.

Lynn Brown, the superintendent of the Fort Atkinson school district, said she was unable to comment on individual student matters due to privacy laws, but said the district is
“doing an excellent job at serving all of (its) students.”

She said she takes any parent concerns seriously, and is willing to meet with O’Brien or any other parent who expresses concerns over their child’s education.

“If we do have a parent who is dissatisfied with their child’s education, I would encourage them to contact me if they’ve already met with the teacher, or principal, or director,” Brown said. “I am most happy to receive their phone call and set up a meeting.”

O’Brien said she did not meet with Brown and has no plans to.

“I can’t trust these people,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said she shared her story to show other parents of special-needs children that they aren’t alone.

“I’m not doing this maliciously,” she said. “I know I’m not the only parent who’s going through this, who feels defeated.”