Friday, May 30, 2008

Child misses field trip due to handicap

If you are here in town and you saw this story, it probably got your attention. There are lot of people who feel strongly on both sides of this story. I got this email from a mom in Woodford County, Illinois.

“My son was supposed to go on a field trip with his first grade class and because the train is not handicap accessible, he can not go-nor did the school offer to do anything to help include him. “ Sophia Senn

Sophia's son, Dakota missed his field trip to the zoo. He knew about the trip and had been talking about how he was so excited to go. I went to his house and got to meet him. He is such a sweet kid.

Dakota has Cerebral Palsy and a trach, so Sophia is used to calling ahead before he goes anywhere. The school's principal said he would make sure the Amtrak train the kids were taking was wheelchair accessible. The principal called Sophia and said it was not.

Here's the verbatim from the story we ran on WHOI:

Eight-year-old Dakota Senn is used to being left out. He has Cerebral Palsy and a tracheotomy in his neck. His medical needs don’t allow him to do everything other kids can do. But when he missed his end of the year field trip to the zoo, his mom decided something needs to be done. Dakota said, “I felt a little sad that I didn't go." Sophia Senn said, "We have an 8 year old child. That's how we see him. He wants to be included. He wants to be able to do things."

Sophia says she called Sowers Elementary School in Roanoke a couple days before the field trip to make sure the Amtrak train the kids were taking to the zoo was wheelchair accessible.

Sophia said, "I got a phone call back that next morning, telling me unfortunately the train was not handicapped accessible. I said, I guess then that Dakota misses school and no further arrangements were made. " Jen asked District 60 Superintendent Rohn Peterson:”Why was the parent even called? Why wouldn't the school try and figure out a way for the kid to go before they called the mom and said, you're son can't go.” Superintendent: Peterson said, “Yeah, we probably should have thought through that a little bit. Maybe we could have taken him right directly to Bloomington."

Peterson says the school certainly wasn’t trying to leave Dakota out. He says part of the field trip was riding the train and Dakota often misses school for medical reasons. So when his mom said she would keep him home that day, the principal didn’t think anything of it.

Dakota said, “That kind of makes me mad right now.” It makes his mom and his nurse a little mad too.” Registered Nurse Nicole Bohth said, “"He mentioned a couple times that he wished he could go. That started a couple days ahead of time."

But the school didn’t realize how big of a deal this was to Dakota and his family. Peterson said, "I think communication is the issue and I think we probably failed on our end and the mom should have contacted us as well and maybe expressed some of these feelings."

Peterson says this situation is a reminder for all schools to do everything they can to include kids with special needs, so kids like Dakota don’t get left behind.

We were talking about this story in the newsroom and thought it was awfully strange that Amtrak has a train that isn't wheelchair accessible. So I called Amtrak. Sure enough, they made a mistake. The train was wheelchair accessible all along. Amtrak does ask that you call ahead of time to let them know a wheelchair passenger will be boarding. Basically, Amtrak sent out the wrong form email to the principal at Sowers Elementary School. I have a copy of that email and it clearly states the train is not handicap accessible. Amtrak offered Dakota and his family free roundtrip tickets to Chicago to make up for the mistake.

Superintendent Peterson was very nice. He didn't act defensive. He said it was a mistake that won't happen again. He said he didn't even realize there was a problem until after the field trip was over and it was too late to make any arrangements.

UPDATE: Here's the You Tube video:

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

If you want to email this story and the comments to a friend, copy and paste this link into your email: Wheelchair Story


Anonymous said...

Jen, I lost some respect for you on this one. I know the family, and this lady is a trouble maker. This story is very one-sided and you should have done your homework. I know this school bends over backwards for this family. If she was unhappy about the field trip, why didn't she contact the school. SHE made the decision to keep her kid home! said...

That's too bad. It sounds like you wanted the superintendent to say something other than, "We made a mistake." I think maybe you should talk to him. Like I said, he is a really nice guy and very accomodating and he didn't have a problem with the story. And by the way, Amtrak is the one who ended up saying they messed up. The train was wheelchair accessible in the first place. I have offered to interview a family from the district who is happy with the special education program. I am sure since you posted anonymously you won't. But if you know someone who can tell us that, I would be happy to report it. I do strive to be accurate and balanced. Sometimes when there are controversial stories, someone gets mad. I expect that. There are just as many people who feel the opposite way you do about this story. That usually is a good sign that the story was balanced. Please let me know if you find a family on the other side of this argument. And thanks for taking the time to let me know your concerns.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I would have to agree with the first anonymous poster. We have an amazing school distict and we need to be willing to talk to them first if we have a problem. Did this mom express her concerns about her son missing the fieldtrip to the school? The school has more kids than just hers to look out for, and we need to realize that! I do appreciate that you are making an attempt to contact a famliy that is happy with the Special Education Program.

Anonymous said...

Do you realize that Dakota does not even get to school until 12:30 in the afternoon each day? How was he going to be included in this field trip in the first place - he wouldn't get to school in time to go on the field trip. This is just another example of someone complaining and trying to make a big deal out of nothing. I don't think there is anyway you cannot be biased on this subject since it hits so close to home for you. I'm told you have a child with special needs yourself. If that's the case, this story should have been done by a different reporter. You have blown this all out of proportion. R-B is a great little school district!! I wish the superintendent would not have said that is was the school's mistake. It obviously wasn't, but what did you expect him to say.

Christopher M. Kelly said...

Jen, I appreciate this story. I am a 43 year old father of 4 and have had Cerebral Palsy since I was born. I have always used a wheelchair and never walked as a means of locomotion. And, like you, I went into broadcasting at WIU, but gave it up after 4 years due to a lack of accessible radio stations. (I'm a computer nerd now.)

I give that background only to show that, at least as a Person With a Disability (PWD), I have some credible experience with being "left out" of activities as a kid. I grew up in Galesburg which mainstreamed me in 3rd grade and they did an admirable job of including me. But, as an advocate here in Central Illinois, I do hear the occasional story of school systems not wanting to deal with accommodations, IEPs, etc., for kids. I'm not saying it happened here or that it is the norm, but it does happen at times. Unlike the Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB) without significant disabilities, PWDs face obstacles in society daily. There's not a week goes by that I do not have trouble finding an accessible parking spot, have to ask someone to move out of a desginated wheelchair seating area of a theater so my kids can sit near me, or see a business with steps in front that I cannot access. Parents of kids with disabilities run into these, too. And, as most parents fiercely love their child, these phsical and attitude obstacles to inclusion can leave a person with a general level of frustration and possibly a propensity to just go "Fine! I'm keeping my kid home." when meeting with yet another obstacle. I get that way myself, but I have to stop myself and explain, for the zillionth time, why this or that needs to be accessible to me or why someone needs to get out of seat, etc. Dakota's mom probably should have asked more questions, etc., but she might have snapped because she's sick and tired of constant barriers. Furthermore, a school district including a kid in a class trip is NOT "bending over backwards." They know he's there; they know he's in a chair. They should not have planned an outing that left him out. Would they plan an outing only tall kids, or blonde kids, or girls could attend? No. But, to their knowledge or misunderstanding the school district thought the transportation was not accessible to Dakota. Yet, the district chose to do the trip and not find a way to include him. That's on them, not Dakota's family. Does Dakota's mom have to call them daily to say, "Remember, Dakota can't walk?"

The anonymous commenters need to remember that this is about Dakota, not his mom whether you like her or not. Dakota didn't ask for his disability or the struggles it entails every hour of every day. I know him. I was him. He just wants to be one of the kids. And, when he's kept out of school activities, trips, or facilities, it's just one more reminder that he's not considered one of the kids.

(And, by the way, if you're so convinced in your opinion and need to comment, identify yourself. It's easy to criticize when you hide behind anonymity.)

Good reporting, Jen. TABs don't always realize that we're not done making our world inclusive to all people. said...

Thanks for posting your name Christopher! I appreciate you letting people know there are two sides to this story and I presented both of them.

BTW to Anonymous #3(I believe this is the same person posting over and over), I do not have a child with special needs. I just happen to care about all children. I am more than happy to post your positive comments about the R-B special needs program. I am not the one you should be attacking. I am the messager. Lets keep the kids in mind and stay positive!Thanks!

SallyN said...

I feel sad for Dakota. And agree with Christopher that Dakota's mom shouldn't have to constantly be reminding the school that he can't walk. And the people planning the class trip should have made arrangements to include him.

I can still remember how disappointed I was when I missed an end-of-the-school-year picnic due to illness. My teacher for the year went above and beyond and took me on a special trip to the zoo. That was over 25 years ago, and it still means a lot to me. I hope that someone in Dakota's life is able to make a similar positive overture.

Micah Seymour said...

The lesson learned here?

Cancel field trips. They are too much trouble.

And to all y'all posting the details of an eight year old boys school life... Shame on you.

And the sup't "didn't have a problem" with the story is a bit disingenuous I would bet. "Resigned to eating a doodoo sandwich" on this one I'd buy.

If you are a small town school administrator and you are talking to the media about something other than your sports teams or your improving state standard test scores, you're not doing it right.

Jim said...

I live in Roanoke Jen, and I moved here because of the wonderful school district. Although I do sympathize with the mom, this story seems to be more about her than her child. I happen to know that the principal has made arrangements for this family in the past, only to find out that mom decided to keep her son at home for the day. I don't think that the school "made a mistake", but when you put the superintendent on TV what else can he say.

MJB said...

I don't appreciate parents who just sit back and wait for problems to arise, and then start attacking. If this mother really had a problem with the field trip, she should have contacted the school. PARENTS NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR CHILDREN - and stop expecting other people to do their job as parents. Their your kids. This mother could have taken her son on the field trip herself.

JJ said...

Face reality! This child just is not going to be able to do what other kids can.

BTW-Christopher, your missing the point here. His mother choose to keep her kid home!

Rixblix said...

Wow. There are a lot of folks who need a primer on the American's with Disabilities Act.

Public school ARE obligated to make accommodations for students in the district. Public Law 94-142 and IDEA guarantee a free and appropriate public education for all children.

If every child with special accommodations was excluded from a school activity because it was a challenge for the district to make those accommodations, very few children would be able to participate.

The school SHOULD bend over backwards for this child. It's the LAW! I'm disappointed at the barrage of negativity aimed at this mom.

Anonymous said...

I have a relative in this school"s Special Needs program through Woodford county, and all I can say is that it's not the school's fault. Woodford County should make sure that the school can handle kids with special needs. From what I hear, the school is doing the best it can. Woodford County keeps adding more kids to the program, making the teachers and aids trying to cope with what little help they can. As I see it, Woodford County is at fault here. There is more to this story. There has been a lot of other things going wrong than just this trip. I'm, glad that this has opened a can of worms for Woodford County Special Ed. Dakota isn't the only child that is being left out. People who don't have a child in the system have no idea what all is going on.

Anonymous said...

Jen, thanks for your report. Regardless of the circumstances I appreciate your willingness to expose the challenges that a special needs family faces. It is only by the grace of God that we are not there ourselves. Thank you for all the fine work you do!


Anonymous said...

I know of this situation, and the only thing I have to comment is that it is a SHAME that this mother seems to be putting her 15 minutes of fame before her special needs child. said...

I got this via email:

Dear Jen, This is in response to the news story on the child who was said to have been left out of his first grade field trip. I have a son who is soon to be 11 years old and has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and adhd when he was only 5 years old. My son Joey has been in the special needs program in Woodford Co. since he began school . He started out with a year at Easter Seals followed by two years at Bright Beginnings with Metamora Grade School. He had some wonderful, outstanding teachers. Then the time came for him to put into a program that best fits his needs. Joey was bused to Sowers Grade School in Roanoke. He was always included with any activity, program or field trip that was offered to any of the other students handicap or not. This school has some of the best teachers and therapists you could hope for to work with children who have all kinds of special needs. They show the love, compassion and caring that you just do not see any where else. This school district has always been one of the greatest and they always include your child with any activity they may be presented with. Joey was always paired up with a peer and he himself tried to help with the other children with special needs. Joey has come along way and now he just completed the fifth grade at the junior high in Benson. The tradition of great caring and teaching continues.- Marcella

Michael and Sophia said...

This is Dakota's mother buying some more of 15 minutes of fame before my son's disability, I would like to take the time and let you know that all whom are posting anonymous you are hiding behind your own fears. I am a mother who loves her child and you all don't have the facts and if you do then you are apart of Dakota's IEP team I am sure. Just so you know I did contact the school days before the field trip and asked them if Dakota would be able to ride the train and was assured he would be, and then told Dakota he would be able to go with his classmates. Then I get the bad news the day before his trip that he could not go. Your right I guess then I should of arranged his transportation too, just like you do with your child that rides the bus EVERYDAY!! I felt like I would trust the system and let the school officials handle this (BTW) that is there reasponsiblity, when I did not get any other offers to change anything I did make the decision to keep him home. Would you want to be all by yourself with a constant reminder that you could not be included? I did that to protect my sons feelings. I guess because he is disable he is not entitled to have feelings. I don't think I have anymore to prove or say where I stand. I have learned from this situation and I will continue to be a proactive,outspoken, and very concerned parent. So please remeber when you comment anything on my family please keep in mind that we are talking about a 8 year old child. Unless you know our whole family story and Dakota's struggles since birth then I guess you will never understand the importance behind our journey. Thanks again Jen you are truly doing a great job for ALL CHILDREN!!!

Anonymous said...

Jen, I think you should clearify if this is a problem with Sowers, or the county's special education program. There is a difference!

Anonymous said...

Ladies, the purpose of a blog is to expose people to different view points. Don't attack the reporter.I'm sure this mom continually advocates for her child. On the other hand the principal had a whole school of children at the end of the year trip.My sister is a teacher and the last week of school is a nightmare. This was a dissapointment but not the end of the world. St.charles.

Lucy said...

Cudos to rixblix, Chad and Christopher!! You've nailed it!! Jen, your story was objective. You did well! I've worked with many families across the state, as well as this family for some time. Dakota's mom is an outspoken advocate for her children. If that comes across as "difficult" or "a trouble maker," so be it. She loves Dakota and wants the best for him. I'm sure if the school had kept her informed of any difficulties they were having in making appropriate accomodations (as others are now reporting), there would have been no reason for the contact with Jen in the 1st place. Of note are the school services that were quickly put into place for Dakota after Jen's contact. Interesting.... said...

"Jen, I think you should clearify if this is a problem with Sowers, or the county's special education program. There is a difference!"

I don't know. I just know what happened with Dakota. I have gotten two other emails from parents that just said "Woodford County." I have also gotten several emails from parents who have had wonderful experiences with the entire school district. I don't know if this is a problem or not. I did talk to the Division of special needs(state) today. They said they've had some complaints from Woodford County and the complaints are consistent with problems in other small districts. It sounds like a common statewide issue to have problems with special needs programs.
I hope that helps! I wish I had a clearer answer myself.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a special needs son that is currently in the Woodford County program, I am here to say that the program needs a complete overhaul. It seems that they keep dropping the ball when it comes to our children. I am going to go directly to the source with my problem so I am not going to give my name ( at the risk of embarassing my son). I just want to say to those people who do not have a child in the program, you have no idea what we have to put up with. I know that there have been some good results , but those are children that don't have the disabilities that our kids have. I am glad that this has come to light. Now I don't feel like I'm fighting by myself.

my view said...

I agree with the comment that Woodford County Special Education Special Education Association needs completely overhauled.

According to their website their VISION is to meet the educational needs of all learners with or at risk of disabilities.

And their MISSION STATEMENT is that they are an organization that provides a variety of specialized educational services for children with or at risk of disabilities from infancy to adulthood. These services are innovative, reflect best practices, and target positive outcomes. The organization works collaboratively and respectfully with families and schools to meet children's needs, develop their strengths, and encourage them to achieve their potential.

I doubt that the students' potential can even remotely be achieved when 15 students are placed in a single classroom where their teachers are expected to spend more than 75% of the day to change diapers, set up and monitor breathing treatments, feed them lunch and position them in the apparatuses that allow them time out of their wheelchairs.

These same teachers are also expected to provide most of the medical care these students require that other regular education students can get in the nurse's office, such as receiving a Band Aid or a call home to pick up a sick child. If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is.

The Lifeskills progam, which again, according to the website is designed to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. Through the use of a functional community based curriculum, students are provided with the educational and social experiences that are directed toward increasing personal growth and independence.

Combined with the opportunity to be included in typical classes and school events, students learn life long skills that are integral components of major life domains.

The only students who, in reality, access their community on a regular basis are the ones who are ambulatory and then they only spend about 4 hours per month in the community.

These same students' vocational experiences are limited to walking distance from the high school where the program is housed, but since none are able to walk any significant distance the only available employment is within the school itself. Woodford County Special Education Association has provided very little in means of transportation, expecting staff members to provide transport without protection from liability.

The majority of inclusion that occurs is typically only a mere presence in a regular education classroom with little or no interaction between other students or even the teachers. Also, there is virtually no expectation of performance from these students by the teachers or the administration.

WCSEA either needs to change their vision and mission statements to reflect what really happens or change what really happens to match the vision and mission statement.

Anonymous said...

I totally support special ed and what the teachers are doing in Woodford County. As is the law, they are trying to accommidate every special needs child in the county the best way possible. Instead of all of these negative comments, let's try and think of what we can do to help out and make it better. All of the complaints are not helping the kids or the program as a whole.

Anonymous said...

This story would get a more positive reaction if this report highlighted a different family. This lady has a reputation. She is getting a lot of sympathy, but anyone who knows her sympathizes with the school district.

MamaGina said...

I must say, I grew up at Roanoke-Benson and they are nothing but a wonderful school district. The superintendent IS VERY compassionate towards special needs children. He has one of his own. Wow- I bet some of you are putting feet in your mouth right now. My 2 children are both a part of Woodford County Special Ed program in Germantown Hills. WCSEA is a wonderful program. Of course the schools bend over backwards for these kids, but they need to do it in cooperation with the parents. There needs to be open communication. It seems like the school kept their line of communication open while the mother closed her side and kept him home. If she wants him included, there is a way, just not a ONE-WAY street. I will pray for all involved!

my view said...

The Woodford County teachers and assistants do an excellent job. I happen to know several. Roanoke Benson district has gone above and beyond what they needed to do for the last several years to accomodate special needs children, especially those who didn't attend their schools.

Anonymous said that it would be good to find a way to help. I have a few ideas for those of you who would really like to help. Call Woodford County and request to work as a substitute in all of the programs they offer. You will be kept very busy and you will gain a new persective!

Another way to help out is to volunteer in the classrooms and talk to your children about being open minded to the special needs students in their classes. Is there a way they can volunteer? Be extra friendly? Just say "hi" when they are in the halls together. Inclusion is a great idea, but it will not work if the special needs kids are not accepted as part of the school.

And, on another note, perhaps get to know the families of special needs children. Perhaps, there are ways that you can help them out.

Of course, the best way to help is to remain open-minded and non-judgemental. When you are in a grocery store and you see a child who looks "normal" but is behaving "badly" remember that not every child who has a disability looks differently from those who don't.

Sophia said...

Again, Thank-You all so much for the feedback. Just one thing whom ever anonymous person continues to attack my reputation in the community that is great. I am sorry you cowardly hide behind a no name.BTW this is about an 8 year old not about my reputation and if you had a child that you felt was left out you would probably coward away from addressing that too. You have know idea what Dakota and the rest of our family has been through in his short 8 years of life but I can tell you all we are united and strong. I will continue to be outspoken,proactive,and concerned parent. Jen, has done a wonderful job bringing this story to the attention of everyone.

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