Castle Rock, CO

Special education complaints rise, DougCo nonprofit can help

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) The Arc Arapahoe, Douglas, and Elbert counties, a nonprofit advocacy group for children and adults with disabilities, wants families to know they can come to Arc for free support.

The group's advocates say the teacher shortage has led to increasing challenges across their districts, including access to occupational and speech therapy, mental health support, and complaints of teachers not following individualized education plans (IEPs) and 504s.

As of mid-January, DougCo had 111 open special education positions. Ninety-one were for classified special education assistants who serve a vital role in the classroom. They help with instruction, medical and health needs and provide a consistent presence for kids with behavioral problems.

Michelle Perry, DougCo's Arc advocate, said at the beginning of the year she was getting more clients whose children weren't receiving occupational or physical therapy because the district lacked an available therapist.

A bill passed in 2022 that will allow outside providers to come into schools but won't take effect until the 2024 school year. Perry says DougCo is working on those details.

Perry is also concerned that kids aren't getting the mental health therapy they need. "In some cases, kids who used to get 60 minutes a month are now getting 30," she said. "My younger adults really need that mental health time, and I always advocate for more mental health minutes."

When to reach out

"Typically, people come to us in crisis," said Lee Ray, director of advocacy. "Sometimes that means we are juggling individualized education plan (IEP) interviews or we're helping connect families with mental health resources or behavioral specialists."

When dealing with parents upset with a school, Perry says they typically start by scheduling a meeting and trying to work out their differences. She says they may contact CDE or file a formal complaint if they can't get a resolution.

"I'm going to support you and your kiddo regardless," Perry said. "I'm not going to leave your side. Once you're part of the Arc family, you're gonna be there forever."

Arc's executive director, Genene Duran, Ph.D. wants families to know that Arc will help with resources for challenges they, their children, or other family members may be facing. No one needs to advocate alone.

"We also offer training and other support areas that we can provide families with, and we host monthly events for families to collaborate.

Check out The Arc Arapahoe, Douglas & Elbert website for event information.

A need for training

Duran acknowledged teachers' struggle. "They have to be everything. They must recognize the needs of students that they don't necessarily even realize the students are having such as hunger or the trauma that they're dealing with at home.

"They have to acknowledge dealing with disabilities that perhaps parents don't know how to handle. They also teach in an environment where they're dealing with multiple children simultaneously while still being responsible for meeting course- and program-level outcomes.

"They are asking for additional training so that they can be more effective and more successful and better at their jobs because it leads to burnout," she said.

Earlier this month, DougCo submitted a corrective action plan to the Colorado Department of Education indicating that the district will provide restraint and seclusion training for all special education teachers and classified staff at the elementary school where the state ruled that the affective needs teacher used excessive restraint against a second-grader.

Yet, some DougCo advocates believe the district should extend the training invitation to all special education staff, regardless of the school.

Community partnerships

Regarding Arc's continued work, Ray said he is focused on developing community partnerships to build cooperation among service providers, from schools to social workers, therapists, Medicaid, and more.

"We can bring together a lot of different resources," he said. "Sometimes that means we are helping them juggle IEP meetings and school services, while we are also helping them connect with mental health resources, behavior specialists or other community supports."

The Arc will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year and has a wealth of knowledge about how to best care for adults and kids with disabilities.

Comments / 1

Published by

I'm a reporter covering the Douglas County School District in Colorado.

Denver, CO

More from Suzie Glassman

Comments / 0