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Dad takes virtual learning changes for special education into his own hands

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 3:24 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - A parent frustrated with the way virtual special education has gone in his child’s school is now taking matters into his own hands.

The past few months haven’t been easy for Darren Warner and his son Noah who has autism.

14-year-old Noah is a student in the Grand Ledge Public School System. His learning is based on an individualized education plan (IEP) catered to his specific needs. Warner says virtual learning is failing to meet those needs.

“Unfortunately, what has happened is that we have an environment where remote learning has allowed the district to drop the ball on many of their duties for students with IEPs,” said Warner.

Noah no longer has the teaching assistant he’s used to having by his side; ensuring he stays on task. His dad has now stepped into that role and has left his job to do so.

“We’ve made enormous financial sacrifices, you know, to have me take a break from my job and to help my son. I can only imagine all those families that they don’t have that ability to do that,” said Warner.

Warner says he has really had to push and stay on top of his son’s special education teachers to make sure Noah got all the services he is owed.

“You know, debating with them about what makeup time Noah is owed in terms of speech and language services and social work,” said Warner.

He says it’s been a battle, but one he realized not many parents can fight.

“I can only imagine all those families that they don’t have that ability to do that. They are trying to do their job and also sit throughout the day with their child,” said Warner.

He’s decided to form a group to help other families in the district get what their students deserve from their schools. Warner has been connecting with families through social media.

“I’m trying to kind of fill the role as a facilitator and help parents to just, you know, I guess, sort through all the fluff. You know wade through the chaff so to speak, and lay it right down in terms in front of the district, the special education representatives, and say this is what my child is not getting. How are you going to provide it?” said Warner.

He’s already gotten several interested parents looking to join.

“Given the fact that, you know, I put so much attention and pressure on them. I think that it’s very possible and I’m hopeful, they’ll also respond to families who are not getting the services and the programs that their child needs,” said Warner.

The Michigan Alliance for Families is a Michigan Department of Education IDEA Grant Funded Initiative. They work to provide information, support, and education for parents of children with disabilities.

Policy Coordinator Michelle Driscoll says they have received plenty of complaints from parents frustrated with virtual learning across the state.

“What we are hearing is that virtual learning is a struggle for everyone, for the children, for the parents, for the educators, for everyone. It has been a struggle to do to figure out how to meet the children’s needs and provide a free appropriate public education as the law says,” said Driscoll.

Through The Michigan Alliance for Families, parents can receive help through their parent mentors who will guide them through how to get their child what they need.

“The guidance that we have that the parent mentors are sharing with families is to really break down, not what the services that they receive. So not focusing on ‘oh, they had a one-on-one aid, but what are their needs and what are some other creative ways that those needs can be met in the virtual world?” said Driscoll.

Driscoll says parent mentors can assist with writing letters to request meetings and asking for services.

If all else fails, a formal complaint can be made with the Department of Education that a student’s rights are violated.

“If those services are not provided, then that is a violation of that student’s right to a free and appropriate public education. It has to be documented. It can’t, it’s not just somebody says they want something,” said Driscoll.

Michigan Alliance for Families</a> For more information on Michigan Alliance for Families, click here.

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