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Putting Education First

UPDATE AS OF MARCH 11, 2013:   We are pleased to announce that the efforts of our organization and other individuals have paid off with a positive outcome. School District #5 in Kalispell Montana has agreed to comply with our request. As of this morning, there was an additional adult (a paraprofessional) on the bus that transports special education students to an alternative education setting in a neighboring town.

While this request was not met in as timely of a fashion as we would have liked, we are satisfied that there is now the additional adult supervision and support required by these students in order to ensure their safety. We have met with the paraprofessional who is now providing support for these special education students, and have been assured that this individual will do whatever is necessary and/or required by these children in order to meet their needs and ensure the safety of all individuals on the bus.

On behalf of the students and their parents, we would like to say thank you for the agreement to implement the paraprofessional support on the bus needed by these children.

UPDATE AS OF MARCH 1, 2013:  Read the original article from February 2, 2013, below.

It has been one month since Montana’s Senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus, made inquiries to a local school district on our behalf regarding the correction of an issue that is potentially dangerous and poses a safety risk to several special needs students; however, we have yet to see the implementation of an effective solution.

We have been informed by a representative from Senator Baucus’s office that he understands and supports our position, as well as the right of special education students to receive a quality education in a safe environment. In spite of this, and even with his input into the federal funding received by our local school districts, it appears that the implementation of changes for the safety of students within a local school district is not within his power.

With all the new information that we have been provided, we have been left with no option but to make public the school district involved and the details of the current safety issue. School District #5, in Kalispell, Montana, has made the decision that it is appropriate and safe to transport several elementary school-aged special education students with a variety of disabilities to a separate education environment located in a neighboring town on a school bus with no adult supervision or support beyond that of the bus driver.

Driving the bus is a task in itself that can be very demanding and require the driver's complete and undivided attention. How can we ask the bus driver to drive the bus in a safe and unimpaired fashion if he/she is also responsible for supervising, supporting, and assisting students with special needs on the bus?

School District #5’s answer to this situation was to install surveillance video cameras on the bus. They have stated that the video cameras are an adequate and effective solution to providing the supervision, support, and safety necessary for the students. School District #5 has stated that having an additional adult (a paraprofessional) on the bus isn’t necessary, as the video cameras provide a solution that is in the best interests of these children. In support of their decision, School District #5 has cited "local autonomy" (the right or freedom for each school district to make their own decisions without the interference of state or federal government) and that they stand firm behind their decision.

At this point, we must ask who determines that the safety of one individual is any less important than that of another. School District #5 promotes the smaller class size and increased adult supervision and support (1 adult to 4 students) in this special education environment as being one of the primary reasons for placing students there. Yet they will put these children (often as many as 15 – 20 children) on a bus with no additional adult support. Does School District #5 expect that the parents of these students will agree to have their children in an alternative special education setting when their child’s safety is put in jeopardy twice a day, five days a week? Do we need to wait for something tragic to happen and then tell parents, well, we had video cameras on the bus? This issue of the safety of our children is not one that we take lightly, nor will we back down from. This is something worth fighting for.

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On a daily basis we work as an advocacy resource to assist parents of children who have bipolar disorder (and sometimes children with other disabilities and special needs) by providing them with the information they need to help their children be successful in school and effectively resolve any issues. Normally, these issues are resolved successfully at the local level.

Recently, we encountered an issue that we felt was potentially dangerous to a number of special needs students. We attempted to resolve this at the local level and had four people working with us to find an effective solution. We were unsuccessful and had to look for assistance beyond the local level.

Beyond the local level, we contacted Montana’s senators, governor, and the state Department of Education. To the best of our knowledge, Senator Max Baucus and his office were the only ones to respond to this issue. Not only did Senator Baucus respond to this issue, but he did so in a very timely manner.

On the same day Montana’s Senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus (Democrat), made inquiries on behalf of the children involved to correct the issue, the local school district had a change of heart. They were now willing to resolve the issue and immediate steps were taken to implement an effective solution. With the struggling economy, every penny saved is important. Sometimes we don't realize the impact or possible risk that a change might make.

While we continuously state that we do not consider ourselves to be Democrat, Republican, Liberal, or Conservative, and normally do not endorse any political candidate, we must say that we were pleasantly surprised by Senator Baucus. We learned that Max Baucus scores a 91% in public education issues by the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s leading organization committed to advancing the cause of quality public education. We personally reviewed Senator Baucus’s voting record on education and learned the following:

  • Voted yes on additional funds for federal education
  • Voted yes for grants to local education agencies and Title I programs
  • Voted yes on funding to reduce class sizes
  • Voted yes to approve national education standards
  • Supported the renewal of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Fought for additional funding for IDEA grants to states to help them meet the federal mandate of providing for the education of students with disabilities

On Senator Baucus’s website he states, "I believe that every child, no matter of their background or learning ability has the right to a quality education." This sentiment lines up perfectly with our goals and beliefs. When Max Baucus recently made his inquiries on behalf of the children involved, we saw just how important he believes the right of all children to receive a quality education is and what an effective advocate he can be for our children and their education. We would like to express thanks on behalf of the children and parents we work with to Senator Baucus for not only taking the time to look into this issue, but working so quickly to ensure that an effective solution was immediately implemented.

With so much negativity surrounding issues with mental health illnesses, it was a very pleasant surprise for us to be able to share an article about a situation that has such a positive outcome.

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