PORTAGE, Ind. (CBS) — A little girl with special needs is at the center of a days-long legal fight that begins Monday morning in Northwest Indiana.
It’s all about what her family claims is unfair treatment at her public school, and we discovered they’re not the only parents frustrated.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Slight Chance Of Storms Overnight; A Quiet Pattern To Come
CBS 2’s Lauren Victory sat down with several moms who feel ignored.
Lena Anderson showed us her piano skills, playing the same tune over and over. Mom and Dad feel the same way: like a broken record advocating for their 8-year-old.
“You truly feel like you’re all alone,” said Lena’s mother, Victoria Schwarten.
She’s not alone. CBS 2 sat down with five Porter County, Indiana moms who have children with special needs.
“Emilee has autism and a mild cognitive delay,” said Ann Marie Pince of her 14-year-old.
Lisa Milne’s son Andrew is 6. “He has non-verbal autism, so he doesn’t speak yet.”
“She’s not completely potty-trained yet, and she has a lot of behavioral issues too,” said Becky Ashcraft of her 11-year-old daughter Veronika Kovach.
Jenn Watts is mom to two boys with special needs named Aiden and Adam.
“We have to live and breathe this 24/7. We are constantly fighting for our kids,” she said.
The other moms began nodding.
They’re “constantly fighting” the people paid with tax dollars to help Northwest Indiana children.
Everyone nodded along again as Milne said, “They are my biggest hurdle. They are my biggest obstacle. They are my biggest stressor.”
“They,” meaning Porter County Education Services, which coordinates special needs care for 5,000 students across several districts.
“I thought that their job was to facilitate us getting our kids into public school,” Milne said of Porter County Education Services.
Instead, Milne said her son can’t go to public school because his request for classroom assistance – an applied behavior analysis therapist – was denied. Emilee Pince’s ABA therapist was denied too.
Lena Anderson’s family said they were told no when they asked for a nurse to accompany her to class to monitor her breathing issues. “[The nurse would be] paid for outside of the school. They wouldn’t be responsible for any of that,” said Schwarten.
“I’m willing to offer my services that my insurance pays for to help you guys out so that my daughter can have a normal education,” said Ann Marie Pince.READ MORE: At Least 2 People Killed, 32 Wounded In Gun Violence In Chicago So Far This Weekend
That’s right. The therapists or nurses could be covered by private insurance – at no cost to the public school. The parents, who come from different Northwest Indiana districts, say they’d even pay for background checks, if necessary.
“All they would have to do is open the doors and allow them in,” said Milne. “It would save you [whatever district] money because you wouldn’t have to find an aide for him.”
Pince said, “No matter what I said, they [Porter County Education Services] were just like ‘No, no.'”
Watts, who is an Illinois-certified special education teacher herself, said her frustrations with Porter County Education Services began during the pandemic. She disagreed with suggestions to send her youngest, Adam, to school in person due to his health issues along with her husband’s. She also doesn’t understand the denial of what she sees as a simple request: to drop art, music, and gym classes from her older son Aiden’s virtual schooling schedule to help keep his severe anxiety under control.
Adam, Aiden, Lena, Emilee, and Andrew could attend the county’s Special Needs Learning Facility called SELF, which is where Becky Ashcraft’s daughter goes. But even there, Ashcraft said she encountered pushback when she asked for a re-evaluation of her daughter, Veronika, who is 11 years old.
Ashcraft said, “I was basically told, ‘We already know what she has.’ And the last evaluation she had was when she was 2 1/2, so it’s been about 8 or 9 years. And I don’t know why – if we’re due that…”
Ashcraft was interrupted by outcry from the other parents.
Procedural safeguards from the Indiana Department of Education say, “If your child is found eligible and receives special education services, a reevaluation of your child must be considered at least once every three years.”
CBS 2 wanted to know what Porter County officials had to say about the parents’ claims. For privacy reasons, they asked for written authorization from each family before responding. An attorney representing one of the families advised against giving that permission, so Porter County officials were unable to respond to specific allegations.
Here is the full response from Monica Conrad, a lawyer for Valparaiso Community Schools:
“We would very much like to help you correct any misinformation provided as well as to respond to your question; however, without a written release of information from the parents, that cannot occur.
“We do hope you enjoyed coming out to the area. If you get time, always a highlight to visit the beaches.”
Undeterred, the moms remain bonded by their struggles for help at their public schools and united in their request for reform, communicating with dozens of other parents through the “Parents For PCES Reform” Facebook group.
“My children will not be in the public school system anymore,” said Watts, who said difficultly with PCES forced her to homeschool her sons.
Jeff Brooks, superintendent of MSD of Boone Township where Watts children previously attended, referred to “misinformation” like attorney Conrad. Brooks also said he couldn’t elaborate without permission from parents.
We never heard back from Porter Township School Corporation, where Milne’s son would’ve gone.
Schwarten is paying for Lena to go to private school until issues including permission to allow Lena’s private nurse on public school property are resolved. Her family goes up against Porter County Education Services and Valparaiso Community Schools in a hearing before the State starting Monday.MORE NEWS: 1 Killed, 2 Wounded In West Pullman Shooting
No Porter County Education Services administrator would answer any of our questions about special education. In fact, CBS 2 inquiries were ignored.