‘What If We Get 20?’

Special Ed for Homeschoolers
By Aura Hill

Amid multiple reports regarding district renovations, finances and contracts, Palmyra Area School District (PASD) board members took time at their Oct. 8 committee meeting to listen to a mother seeking assistance for a child with special needs.

Kathleen Harrison, whose fourth-grade daughter Maggie attended Pine Street last school year, asked the board to consider permitting her daughter to receive speech services from the district even though Harrison is homeschooling Maggie this year.

Harrison, whose family moved into the district last year from Michigan, said they had chosen to live in Palmyra because it has a good school district. She explained that the family had decided to home school this year so that they could better control the pacing of lessons, giving more time where needed without holding up the rest of the classroom.

“Maggie still needs speech services,” Harrison said. “She received speech services last year and had a good rap- port with Mrs. Snyder. She made good progress. We are asking you to allow her to continue her IEP (Individual Educational program) from last year.”

She said that Maggie was born with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), a motor speech disorder similar to what stroke victims experience. Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words, not because of muscle weakness or paralysis, but because the brain has problems planning to move the body parts like lips, jaw and tongue needed for speech.

“The message doesn’t get through. You have to train the body to make every sound; it’s like retraining someone to walk again after an accident,” she said.

“If she were in the district, she’d be receiving those services,” board member Michael Ludwig said. “They have a student who is not in Palmyra School District but is still in Palmyra. They pay taxes, which benefits the district. As a home schooler, she is saving the district money.”

Superintendent Lisa Brown said that in making the decision, staffing had to be considered.

“We have only three speech and language pathology teachers to cover six schools. Each presently has a 54 to 58 student load; the state has a 60-student maximum. We have to ask if we would be taking a slot away from a child in the district,” Brown said.

“We have 105 home schooled students,” she continued. “What if we get 20 of these coming in for services? I will be coming to the board to hire another speech and language pathology teacher.”

“If she were still enrolled, she’d have speech and language pathology. We are looking at spending a lot of money for an athletic field. If we could fit this kid in, we should look at it,” Ludwig said.

Board member William Bova agreed with Ludwig.

“I worry about setting precedence,” Board President Chris Connell said.

“Planning for the future is important, but this student is here now,” board member Ralph Duquette said. “If we can do it, we should. I don’t see anything in the school code that precludes the district from doing it. The law says we must allow home schoolers to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities but not for academics. Take it year by year. If you can, be the good guy.”

Board member Kurt Koennecke asked, “What’s the downside if we do it on a case by case basis?”

“It opens the door to all special education services to home schoolers,” Kathy Setlock, Director of Pupil Services, said, adding that regarding the present openings in speech and language pathology teachers’ schedules, “It is only October and district referrals for services are just beginning to come in.”

“Nobody is trying to keep her out,” Brown said. “It is our job to provide the board with caution. I am trying to be a steward of resources."

"I am philosophically opposed to home school because there are some areas – social, emotional, academic – served by being in school, but if there is an opening, take it. We are not setting precedent," board member Larry Geib said.

“Our business is education,” board member Anthony Downey said.

“The majority of the board is positive,” Connell said.

Brown told Harrison that she would be in contact with her about the matter.

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