MMSD to consider buying $4.5 million building to house programs for students with special needs

The Madison Metropolitan School District is considering purchasing a 30,000 square-foot building at 333 Holtzman Road for $4.5 million to house programs for students with special needs.

Right now, some programs for students with special needs are operated out of rented space in a building at 206 Olin Drive.

According to information on the school district’s website, the district states that the purchase will create a permanent owned space in which the district could invest in order to meet the needs of the students in the program, reduce the $243,000 annual lease expense it’s currently spending on the space on Olin Drive and allow for wait-listed students to be accommodated.

No one from the district returned our calls for additional comment or information.

However, board member Nicki Vander Meulen has been vocal about her opposition to the idea.

“If we want kids to have an advantage in society and in today’s world, they have to work with nondisabled peers,” Vander Meulen said. “They’re not only going to be with disabled peers. They need to learn those skills. Where are they going to learn them if they are in a program that segregates them?”

The district’s plans behind purchasing the building state online: “We are working to give existing students an improved environment and a better educational experience. (It is) part of our obligation to provide a free appropriate public education with the least restrictive environment. A separate program space is therefore essential to meeting our students’ unique and individualized educational needs. Our goal is to facilitate professional learning experiences that are engaging and push innovation to better serve our students as we prepare them for college, career and community.”

Vander Meulen, who is also a juvenile attorney, said this approach not only does not comply with federal law, but it has also been proven not to work. She said she speaks from experience.

“I’m the first autistic in the country on a school board. I was supposed to be in a segregated setting in a segregated school when I was 6 years old. I went and got a law degree instead. If you look at me on paper, you’re going to see an individual with cerebral palsy, Asperger’s, attention deficit, apraxia, carpal tunnel. That’s me on paper. This is me in practice. If they can make that mistake with me, how many can we overlook in the real world?”

If the board passes this plan, Vander Meulen said students with special needs could be using this space in 2021.

“I mean no disrespect to my board,” she said. “I don’t even disrespect my school district. I just feel that this plan is a serious problem and will only be used to resegregate and not to educate.”

The board will vote on this Dec. 16. Vander Meulen said she encourages people to come voice their opinions on the issue. The district is attempting to close the deal on the property in February or March 2020.

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