EVANSTON — Special education processes and procedures, especially relating to dyslexic students, were on the agenda for the Tuesday, Nov. 7, meeting of the Uinta County School District No. 1 board of trustees. This was the result of a parent contacting the district about her child, who is dyslexic and did not receive needed services while enrolled in Evanston schools.
Assistant superintendent Joe Ingalls and special education director Matt Williams spoke about the process in place to screen for at-risk learners. Screening starts with the results of standardized assessments and also includes vision and hearing checks.
When teachers notice potential problems, there is a process in place for additional assessments and a team of professionals to ensure that every student receives individualized services for their needs.
Heather Stubenvoll is now home-schooling her daughter after making the decision to pull her from local schools. Stubenvoll spoke at the meeting about the frustrations she feels as a parent of a special needs child who “slipped through the cracks.”
Stubenvoll said she is concerned about the amount of training teachers receive to help them identify dyslexia and is also concerned that the processes outlined by Ingalls and Williams are not being followed.
“You have a whole list of great things you do with all of the screenings,” said Stubenvoll, “but my concern, specifically with my daughter’s situation, is that we do all this testing but we just dismiss the scores. So often I was told she came back in the 4th percentile but that was probably just a bad day, or that test was given by a person and maybe she’s just shy, or we don’t really like that one so we’re not going to worry about that. But we had three years of that and we dismissed every single score.”
Stubenvoll continued by saying that teachers repeatedly had excuses for her daughter’s test scores or were disingenuous about the results. She said teachers told her that math was her daughter’s strong suit, but then when she pushed for the actual results her scores were around the 50th percentile. “Maybe that’s not the most honest thing you could have said,” she said.
Multiple members of the board expressed their frustration with the situation and thanked Stubenvoll for bringing the problem to their attention. Trustee Kim Bateman said, “I don’t think there is one of us here who is not heartbroken over your child and that she was dropped.”
Resident Christa Barker spoke and said that part of the problem may be that teachers are reluctant to have difficult discussions with parents. She suggested that teachers may need some training on how to do that. “I don’t think teachers are intentionally brushing things under the rug. I think it’s a hard conversation to have,” she said.
Trustees Kay Fackrell and Kerby Barker agreed that it’s difficult to talk to parents. Williams said now was an opportunity to change the culture of how the process is approached and to break down barriers and misconceptions. “Shame on us if we don’t,” said Williams.
Board chair Cassie Torres thanked everyone for the open discussion on a difficult topic, and concluded the conversation by saying, “I have complete faith in everybody in this room that everybody’s intentions are in the right spot.”
Bateman told Stubenvoll, “We hope you’ll give us another chance,” to which Stubenvoll replied she would be happy to once she actually sees the changes happening.
Changes to board structure and processes were also again a focus of discussion. The resolution to reduce the size of the board to seven members will be voted on at the Nov. 14 meeting. In addition, the board is poised to change the meeting schedule for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year.
Superintendent Ryan Thomas provided an update on the community survey regarding board size. Thomas said there had been 270 responses, with 51 percent supporting the reduction, 41 percent wanting to stay with nine trustees, and 8 percent undecided. The survey closed earlier that evening, and Thomas said there had not been any responses in the previous five days.
School district attorney Geoff Phillips said he had been conducting more research into the legal process to follow to reduce the board size and had determined that the reduction constituted a reorganization of the district.
According to Phillips, a reorganization of the district requires the creation of a “boundary board” comprised of officials from Uinta County, including the county assessor, treasurer and commissioners. The trustees would have to pass the resolution requesting the creation of the boundary board, pass on their recommendations, and then the boundary board would have to make the decision and pass it on to the Wyoming Department of Education.
The trustees were in agreement that the process should be done correctly, with care taken to comply with all legalities. The plan is to vote on the resolution to request the creation of the boundary board at the Nov. 14 meeting.
At the request Fackrell, the board also discussed their meeting schedule for the remainder of the school year. Fackrell said the original intent behind having a work session and a regular meeting was to have a more informal meeting to get work done. However, that has not really happened.
“The work session hasn’t done what it was supposed to do,” said Fackrell. “I’d sooner stay until midnight than [meet]twice.”
Thomas agreed and said, “We wanted to have an informal opportunity to work, but nothing is informal when it comes to the board.” He added that having two meetings back to back doesn’t allow for enough time to get requested information, and the first meeting of the month ends up being so long because things have piled up.
The suggestion put forth by Thomas was to have one regular meeting a month, at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday, and to have a work session on the fourth Tuesday of the month only when it is needed. The trustees expressed agreement with the sentiments expressed by Thomas and Fackrell, and Thomas is going to have a revised calendar to present for a vote at the Nov. 14 regular meeting.