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News / Clark County News

Hockinson special-ed classroom stays put

Parents objected to elementary school’s plans to move it

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: August 12, 2018, 6:00am

BRUSH PRAIRIE — Plans to move a special-education classroom at Hockinson Heights Elementary School for the upcoming school year were canceled after pushback from a group of parents.

Plans called for Theresa Henry’s class to move to a new portable in the northwest corner of the school’s property from a portable more centered on campus.

“Both options have challenges and benefits,” Principal Joshua Robertson wrote in a letter to the parents. “With our campus, I don’t think there is a perfect solution.”

Hockinson Superintendent Sandra Yager said the elementary school is in need of replacing. The school is made up of eight buildings, many of which are California-style with exits that lead directly outside, and will have 10 portables when the school year opens up. Each portable has two classrooms.

“There was no ill intent,” she said. “There isn’t a place in here where we don’t have kids. The campus is difficult.”

The school had an enrollment of 819 in June, and has a capacity of 598 students. There is room for two more portables on campus, Yager said, adding that the district would like to build a new elementary school at some point in the future. The district opened a 85,000-square-foot replacement Hockinson Middle School in 2017 thanks to a $39.9 million bond voters passed in February 2015.

The district has some property it’s looking to sell, and would like to turn around and use that money to purchase land for a possible new elementary school.

The parents attended a July 23 school board meeting to hand in a complaint and voice their concerns. The parents said it felt like their students were being segregated from the general population of the school. Sandra Sermone, one of the parents to speak out at the meeting, said she was concerned about uncovered walkways, longer distances to other classrooms and therapeutic services, and the possibility that special education students would be dropped off from the bus right by their classroom, which she felt would add more of a divide between the special education students and rest of the school.

“If they moved the special-needs classroom out into the field separated from the school, they would just be reinforcing the exclusion of these special children once again, and that would be very bad for everyone,” she said.

Parents at the meeting said they felt like their students were being treated as “second-class citizens.” A few days after the meeting, Yager and some other school officials met with the parents to discuss the issue more. Sermone said the parents told the district that they wouldn’t accept the proposed move. She was at the school board meeting with seven other parents, but she has heard from more parents as she has written about issues with the district on Facebook. While they’re happy the proposed move isn’t going forward, they still have some other issues.

Toward the end of last school year, parents saw boxes piled in their children’s special education classroom while the teacher prepared for the then-proposed move over the summer.

“It was the most depressing classroom I’ve ever seen,” Shawn Yadon said at the meeting.

Sermone said she’s heard from around 20 families with students receiving or who have received special education services in the district. She has had issues with the district the last few years in regards to her son, who has Helsmoortel-VanDerAa Syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disorder that is frequently characterized by impaired communication and social interaction. Her son is nonverbal, and he uses a sensory swing as part of his physical education program at school. Sermone was upset after, she said, she learned the swing was placed in a padded closet in the gym, and her son had to go in there with his teacher while other students were around.

“Our children have great potential,” Sermone said. “They should be valued and be educated and given the same opportunity of inclusion, to progress academically and to socialize with their peers.”

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Columbian Staff Writer