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Topsham parents seek permission to record nonverbal son’s school day

Posted Nov 06 2012 9:41pm

A story out of Maine (USA) brings up an important discussion about what are the rights of a disabled student to have his/her day communicated completely to his/her parents. If an individual (student in this case, but one can easily generalize to adults in a non-school setting) are unable to effectively communicate what happens to them during the day, what do those who advocate with/for those individuals have as a means to fully learn about what happens?

It’s a cumbersome point, I know, but consider this news story: Topsham parents seek permission to record nonverbal son’s school day

The parents want to make an audio recording of the student’s day. The student is non-verbal and, apparently, unable to otherwise effectively communicate the events of the day. A non-disabled student can report back to family, “I’ve been bullied” or “I was placed alone in a room for an hour”.

The parents of a 13-year-old Mt. Ararat Middle School student who has autism and intellectual disabilities are challenging the school district’s decision to block them from sending their son to school with an audio recording device.

The school district is fighting the parents’ proposal, saying it’s not conducive to providing educational services and poses a threat to the privacy of other students and school staff.

At what point are the nonverbal student’s rights so infringed that the school must make an accommodation?

Recall a recent story where a parent sent an audio recorder with his son. (I’ll add the link soon). He found that his son was being ignored and worse by staff.

(Trigger alert): A story out of Bakersfield, California, makes the point of the need for information about a disabled student’s day. This one isn’t specific to autism or non-verbal ability, but does involve a 16 year old

The girl was a 16-year-old 10th-grader at the time of the alleged Oct. 15, 2009, incident but had the intellectual capacity of a 4-year-old, according to a civil complaint filed in September 2010.

The girl was attacked at about 11 a.m., and afterward the school allowed her to finish out her regular school day and even attend an after-school program, not telling her parents what had happened to her until more than five hours later, according to the complaint.

The girl was assaulted in a bathroom adjacent to a special education classroom where a teacher’s aide walked in on them after he heard screaming, according to the lawsuit. Both children were naked from the waist down and the then-15-year-old boy was clutching the girl’s hips from behind, according to the lawsuit

The school officials put off telling the parents. Would that have even been possible with a non-disabled student? The school would have known this would be reported back (or that the student would have called the parents immediately).

The story goes on:

The lawsuit contends that the school should have more closely supervised the boy, “a troubled special education student having had prior difficulties and/or complaints concerning similar conduct with others.”

It isn’t the parents who have the rights to know what goes on (or at least that is not the only point here). The students have a right that their guardians know what happens to them. If the student is unable to effectively communicate what happens, his/her rights are not the same as those of everyone else in the school. Somehow that has to be remedied.

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