When the Cogburns first learned their son, Timmy, was autistic, they knew their lives would change drastically and involve many challenges. What they did not know, however, is that one of their biggest challenges would be dealing with teachers and administrators at Timmy’s school.
“Timmy is very special to our family,” Angela Cogburn said. “He is a very loving child and is very smart, he’s just mostly nonverbal.”
Timmy was diagnosed with moderate-to-mild autism spectrum disorder with developmental delays. One of those delays is his ability to communicate verbally. His verbal communication is on the level of an 18-month-old child. That delay, however, does not translate into other aspects of Timmy’s ability to learn and apply new information.
John and Angela Cogburn were understandably nervous when it came time to send Timmy off to school. They were concerned about his ability to adapt to a new environment and to handle being away from his parents for an extended period of time. Timmy did fantastic in his first year in the K-4 program at Ninety Six Primary School.
Moving to K-5 proved to be a different story. Timmy experienced significant regression in a number of areas, particularly in verbal communication. While he had made great strides during his first year in school, Timmy regressed to being completely nonverbal after his first year of K-5.
The first year of K-5 saw a new teacher take over the special needs class. The new teacher, Carol Snyder, is a certified teacher in the area of special needs and learning disabilities, according to information provided by District 52 officials in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Snyder is paid nearly $53,000 annually by District 52 to teach the special needs class.
The Cogburns say that is money not well spent. Since Snyder took over, the Cogburns say their son has seen significant regression, including having to repeat K-5. The Cogburns had expressed some concern for Timmy’s progress following his first year in K-5, but they say nothing could have prepared them for what they discovered near the end of Timmy’s first semester of his second year in K-5.
“A person at the school began telling us some of the things going on in Timmy’s classroom,” Angela Cogburn said. “We were absolutely shocked. We learned that Timmy had not been receiving occupational therapy and that he was not being taught math. It was devastating to hear that.”
The Cogburns immediately requested a meeting to discuss Timmy’s Individual Learning Program, or IEP. According to the S.C. Department of Education Parent Guide to Special Education Services in South Carolina, an IEP is a legal contract between the school district and the parents which provides both parties with a concrete plan for the special needs child. This contract is considered binding and, according to SCDOE, it is against the law to violate it.
Timmy’s IEP clearly states that he is to receive occupational therapy. The Cogburns learned Timmy was not receiving the OT because the therapist was out on medical leave. Timmy had not received OT for weeks. The Cogburns say Timmy was also not receiving math instruction. There are clear and concise goals laid out in Timmy’s IEP for progress in mathematics.
During the called IEP meeting, the Cogburns asked why Snyder was not teaching Timmy math as indicated in Timmy’s IEP.
“When we asked why he wasn’t being taught math, (Snyder) said she thought it was too hard for him,” Angela Cogburn said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought surely there must be some blocks or other manipulatives to help him learn his math somewhere at that school.”
Following the IEP meeting, the Cogburns said Timmy started receiving math instruction. The results were remarkable.
“In just one week, Timmy met every one of his goals for the entire year,” John Cogburn said. “(Snyder) made a unilateral decision to violate the IEP because she thought math was too hard for Timmy. But Timmy met all of his goals in just one week. It clearly wasn’t too hard for him to learn.”
The Cogburns sent numerous emails regarding the issue to school and district administrators. Responses were slow and vague, with no action ever being taken. According to superintendent Mark Petersen, there are “no letters or reports relating to how (Snyder) carries out her duties.”
GwdToday requested a meeting with Petersen and special education director Clarence Winans to discuss the issues with Timmy. Petersen initially agreed to a meeting and set a date and time. He then cancelled the meeting an email, saying he did not feel it was appropriate to discuss the issue with the media. Petersen said he was “very proud” of the district’s special education department, which has received the highest rating possible for the past eight years.
Petersen and Winans did agree to meet with the Cogburns. In a recording of that meeting provided to GwdToday by the Cogburns, both Winans and Petersen ask what issues there are in Timmy’s classroom. Apart from the IEP meeting, the Cogburns had sent nearly a dozen emails to various school and district administrators detailing the issues. Winans says he regularly receives “erroneous reports” of misconduct on Snyder’s part, but never receives documentation. Winans signature, however, appears on the IEP form developed during the meeting in which the Cogburns addressed Timmy’s lack of math instruction. The notes from that IEP meeting, which were taken by Snyder, refer to “the math question.”
Several other parents have sent emails to the district regarding Snyder’s performance as the special needs teacher. There are allegations of putting children in tie-down chairs for convenience, refusal to give milk to the students until as long as 20 minutes after they have finished eating their lunch, leaving the classroom to buy and sell scarves and taking personal calls on a cell phone in the classroom.
The Cogburns say they have serious concerns about the special needs classroom at Ninety Six Primary School. That, concern, they say, extends well beyond their own son.
“New autism spectrum disorder numbers were just released,” Johnn Cogburn said. “One in every 68 children is now being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. That’s a significant increase.”
“Of course we are concerned about Timmy,” Angela Cogburn added. “But this goes far beyond Timmy and our family. With that many children being diagnosed with autism, we feel a responsibility to not be silent about what is happening in the special needs classroom. The kids who will be in that classroom in several years from now deserve every opportunity to succeed. If we don’t speak out now, we’re not convinced that will happen.”
Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014
Article comment by:
To BJ Greene....just because you ask for an explanation does not mean you will get one. For example, a five year old special needs child who attended district 50 was having major meltdowns at school, knocking over furniture, stripping, etc. Sounds really serious, right? When the parents were called to come and pick this child up from school, and said child was in the principals office melting down, the parents were questioning what was going on in the classroom. They asked to see the video of the classroom. All classrooms are video taped. Three times, three different incidences, the parents were told that the cameras were broken or they had been recorded over. Do you really believe this?? I don't. I've learned that people protect their own. Ask all you want, doesn't mean you will get an answer. Been there, done that.
Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2014
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Yes, Mr. Winan's comment is accurate. We actually have that statement on tape. And he wonders why we no longer approach him with our concerns. There have been regular reports to Mr. Winans, Jane Calhoun and Mark Petersen. Something is way off here. Thank you for your support and thank you to the kind individual who thanked us for standing up. Many Blessings.
Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014
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Providing the statement made in the above article is accurate Winan states that "he REGULARLY receives erroneous reports of MISCONDUCT but no documentation". If I were to receive "REGULAR" reports of "MISCONDUCT" I would take that very seriously & would be doing an investigation of just what was going on in that classroom. My children are grown now thank God, but I have grand children who may be in the public school system and it worries me greatly as to their physical safety & the education they will be getting. I am hoping their parents can somehow work it out to home school them instead. BTW - Winan's & Peterson, get off you tail ends & take care of this problem.
Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014
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To The Cogburns
Thank you for sharing your story. I wish that more parents would be more concerned and be more involved in their children's education especially special needs. The children are sent to school to be taught on their level and not to be treated as though they are at a daycare all day. You all stay on it. Don't let the system wear you down or take from your son what is rightfully due to him.