Christine Aumann, the mother of a former Wentzville R-IV School District student, traveled to Jefferson City last week to talk to the Missouri Senate about her family’s experience with the district and to testify in support of Senate Bill 365.
Senator Eric Schmitt introduced the bill on February 2. If passed, the law would require school districts in Missouri to more closely follow federal law regarding evaluation of a student to determine if an individualized education program (IEP) is necessary. Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP helps children with disabilities reach educational goals.
The bill would require districts to conduct an evaluation at the parents’ request at least once every 24 months. Senator Schmitt said this is needed because delays in children are not always as apparent at different stages of the child’s development. If there is cause or reasoning, an evaluation can be done if two years have passed since the last evaluation, upon request of the parent.
Some Missouri school districts are denying the evaluation, leaving parents the only option of hiring an attorney to enforce the federal law. Since the cases are often not resolved in a timely manner, the child may go years without proper treatment and might ultimately withdraw from the school district to seek an appropriate education. Also with the passing of Senate Bill 365, attorneys would no longer be allowed to sit in on school meetings, and districts could not maintain a policy prohibiting parents or legal guardians from recording any conversation or proceeding they attend.
Aumann told 70 West Sentinel that her daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, as well as multiple co-existing conditions and developmental delays. The Wentzville R-IV School District continually refused to evaluate their daughter for an IEP and told her it was the district’s unwritten policy to deny all parent requests for evaluations, she said.
In 2011, Christine Aumann and her husband filed complaints through the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), alleging discrimination on the basis of disability.
DESE found the district to be out of compliance and required 90 Wentzville School District teachers and administrators to complete training, which covered procedures for parental requests for evaluation. The district completed the training in March of 2012.
In June 2012, the district initiated a due process hearing against Aumann’s daughter through the State Board of Education.
Aumann said that after she and her husband filed the complaint, her family was retaliated against by the district. After numerous harassing emails by the district’s attorney, the family was forced to hire their own attorney. Aumann said that her daughter was also harassed at school by teachers and administrators. Ultimately, the Aumanns placed her in a private school at their own expense.
“Senate Bill 365 would change the process by which Missouri school districts evaluate students, so that in the future, no family would have to go through what we did,” Aumann said.
“But for my daughter, the damage is already done.”
Aumann testified that she would like to say that she is alone in the fight, but she cannot. “There are dozens, if not hundreds of families going through similar situations throughout the state.”