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November 21, 2019

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New report ordered on special ed

After 6 1/2 hours of discussion and disagreement, Clark County School District officials and special education consultants ended months of antagonism and agreed on a common theme.

Both sides admitted Wednesday that it was time to stop the name-calling and get on with implementing change that would benefit the 18,000 children served by the special ed division.

Superintendent Brian Cram was instructed to give the School Board a time and cost analysis of changes the district should implement. Cram was given a 30-day deadline and was directed to look at the consultants' recommendations and those provided by staff.

The only new information provided during the marathon meeting was the disclosure by consultants Ed Sontag and David Rostetter that they had documentation of 13 cases of what they term "severe" violations of state and federal laws.

The documentation was to be turned over to the board today.

After nearly 2 1/2 hours of emotionally charged testimony from about 50 members of the standing-room-only crowd, Sontag told the board, "I think we've heard over the last several hours a clear call for change. It's time for the district to move out of an intolerable situation and begin to look at the future."

The consultants identified $1.2 million in departmental waste.

For the most part, special educators and administrators praised the division and took exception to criticism laid out in the audit. But parents and other teachers complained of intimidation and retaliation from a system that failed children.

Michelle Mastrangelo, a speech and language pathologist, said she found the district to be very supportive toward change for students, and challenged the consultants' allegation that the special ed division lacked creativity.

Diana Dowling, principal of John F. Miller School, spoke of a reverse-integration program at the campus where regular education students are brought into the classroom with special education pupils.

"There are a lot of dedicated people in the Clark County School District who would be willing to help solve the problems we have. You don't need to bring in people to tell us what's wrong," Dowling said.

Parents told a different story.

"Because of the abortion you call the special education system, I'm being forced to leave the sate to provide a safe and productive education for my son," said Roseann Maxant.

She said parents are united and will "fight until we focus the eyes of the nation on this problem. This climate of discrimination and violations of civil rights must end."

Jolene McKay, a parent of three disabled children, likened the sparring over the audit to a soap opera.

"I'm in amazement of the name-calling and attacks on character," she said. "We are forgetting about the most important thing here. That is the children."

Parent Randi McKim used movie titles such as "True Lies," "Malice" and "Clueless" to describe what she feels is the district's position on special education.

She complained of "inhumane treatment, intimidation, gag orders and now, scandal" within the special ed division, and said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Don Berger, interim assistant superintendent of special student services, gave an overview of the district's 32-page response to the audit.

Also released were the 10 remaining passages that had been deleted by CCSD attorneys prior to public distribution. Five sections had been released earlier.

District staff contended that the report's figures don't add up. "We're concerned that the source data isn't correct, because conclusions were drawn in this report based on that data," Cram said.

Rostetter and Sontag will hand over today all remaining material they have relevant to the audit report to attorney Charles Weatherly, who will supply the board with the information.

A decision regarding payment of the consultants' outstanding bill was tabled to the next board meeting on July 9.