GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Parents of children with autism worry their kids could fall behind academically and socially with the potential to combine classes based on need rather than autistic disability.
Starting next school year, the number of autistic-only classrooms will reduce from 27 to 23.
Dr. Alicia Tate is the executive director of exceptional children and said the reduction is not a cut in programming but simply a reduction do to the number of exceptional needs children based on graduation, internal transfer and IEP decisions to move students to less restrictive environments.
Specifically at Alamance Elementary, there are four classrooms with exceptional needs, one of which is autistic-based only.
For the 2014-2015 school year, there will be two exceptional need classrooms at Alamance Elementary and one at a new school, Simkins Elementary.
“Several of those students are fifth graders who are rising on to sixth grade. So the numbers of students that needed a separate setting, a more restrictive environment to get those needs met, was declining at Alamance,” Tate said. “It is possible that the rooms at both schools could be cross categorical; it just depends on the individual needs of the students.”
Tuesday Brian Beasley and other parents spoke to the Guilford County School Board to encourage autistic-only classrooms to remain in Guilford County.
Beasley said there are so many factors that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need to be successful, and change to their routine, classroom or teacher could jeopardize the success his son Jacob has made.
“It’s helped him academically its helped him socially, just being more confident,” Beasley said.
Beasley created an online petition through change.org. So far there are 710 signatures supporting parents with this mission, saying, “Stop the plan to put special need kids in a cross category class with any disability. Keep our autism program, developmentally delayed program and intellectual disability program. ”
Parent Norell Johnston said that her daughter has also made academic strides because of the autism-only classroom. Johnston said her daughter may be less likely to speak up and ask questions in a setting that is different or a different teacher.
“If you have a teacher who’s already overworked, possibly underpaid and has a classroom with kindergarteners through fifth graders with a wide range of disabilities with less help in the classroom that speak for itself,” Johnston said. “Our children are finally succeeding academically and if they’re in an autism classroom, they have that educational label for a reason, they have medical diagnosis for a reason, we’re in a setting that works, don’t change it.”
Guilford County Schools addressed the online petition in an updates listed on the Alamance Elementary school website. In it the update states:
“Currently, GCS has approximately 116 separate classrooms, including 27 that serve only students identified with autism. For the 2014-2015 school year, 23 will remain autism-only based on current numbers. The decrease of four classrooms is based on natural transitions (graduations, internal transfers, IEP decisions to least restrictive environment, etc.) and is not part of any plan to change or reduce programs and services. We are working on a three-year improvement plan for exceptional children services in GCS, and will be sharing more information about this as we engage parents and others in our planning process.”
Friday night’s Q&A meeting at First Christian Church with Dr. Tate was a regular meeting previously scheduled with Autism Unbound.
There are 1,054 autistic children within the Guilford County School System.