Parents say special education is in crisis, address MMSD

Parents say special education is in crisis, address MMSD

A group of parents to special education students voiced their concerns at Monday night’s school board meeting.

Joanne Juhnke said she and other parents are starting a public conversation that has been happening behind the scenes with teachers and staff at multiple Madison schools.

“There are many pieces of special education and education for students with disabilities in general that’s in a place of crisis in the Madison School District. It’s something that’s been building for a long time,” said Juhnke.

Parents shared experiences about segregated settings, lack of curriculum, lack of funding and staff and inappropriate discipline.

Juhnke said her daughter Miriam and other special education students are often separated from the rest of the school during class and lunch, especially in middle and high school.

“The achievement gap is just extreme. And one of the best ways to address that is for students with disabilities to be educated with their typically developing peers. Unfortunately, the district has been careening in the opposite direction,” said Juhnke.

Juhnke has been advocating for her daughter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but hasn’t made much progress. She said Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for multiple parent to share their experiences about the same issues.

“My son is the shape of a square. All the other kids are circles,” said mother Margaret Rubio. “I’m sick and tired of cutting my son’s corners to make him fit. I’m not going to kill his spirit.”

Rubio said school staff are not trained to handle her son Joshua’s needs.

She said her son struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourrette syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder so he reacts with anger when school staff upset him.

“For our kids we just want what everybody else gets — an education,” said Rubio.

Suzanne Buchko was able to get her 9th-grade daughter out of a segregated classroom at Madison West High School where she said she was not learning, but she knows other students won’t get the same opportunity.

“Some kids are not as easily accommodated. For some kids it is going to take more than sharing an aid in a class, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be included,” said Buchko.

After the meeting the Madison School District released the following response:

“We’re grateful to parents who voiced their concerns and always take those experiences into account in decision making. Special education is a critical part of our work and we will work with families to always improve how we serve every child. IEP teams are comprised of parents and school staff and together these teams make decisions on behalf of children. We continue to support IEP team decisions to ensure that placements meet the goals as specified in each child’s IEP.”