SEA endorses Millard, Conway for D200 board

?Incumbents not open to review OPRF's special services for improvements, SEA says.

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By DREW CARTER

The Supported Education Assocation (SEA) has endorsed Jacques Conway and Dee Millard in the race for District 200 Board of Education.

SEA is a group of parent and community advocates for children with special needs.

Five candidates are vying for four seats on the board.

In a statement, the organization's executive committee identified Millard's willingness to get involved with "complex issues," question the status quo, and her open and collaborative approach as key characteristics.

The organization liked Conway's experience with high school-age students, and said, "He has an understanding of the many types of supports students need to keep them on the path to success. ..."

SEA could not endorse any of the other three candidates?#34;incumbents Valerie Fisher, John Rigas and Paul Wolfman?#34;because "they appear to be out of touch with the serious issues facing the special education population and the high school's need to assure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education."

The endorsement is based on candidate responses at a March 15 forum where all five candidates were present. A sixth person on the April 5 ballot, Ron Lawless, dropped out of the race because of increased work responsibilities.

SEA executive committee member Rance Clouser said he was "very surprised" at candidates' responses to a question asked about the high incidence of emotional disorder (ED) at OPRF. SEA quoted the incidence at 30 percent of the total special education population?#34;three times the state average and rates at OPRF's feeder districts.

Clouser said that John Rigas responded first, and explained the higher incidence as resulting from skilled staff and involved parents at the high school, rather than over-diagnosis.

"This is a significant difference," said Kimberly Werner, SEA executive committee member. "Maybe we should be willing to take a hard look and see if [diagnoses] are accurate."

In an interview after the forum, Rigas said parents aren't required to have their children tested for disabilities, but that once tested and identified as having ED, students are given appropriate services.

Rigas said it was hard to compare statistics between different entities, such as elementary and high school districts, because classifications may be defined differently.

The SEA endorsement statement further states that the candidates not endorsed "evidenced a lack of willingness to consider expanding the means by which parents can interface with the high school and express concerns."

Clouser said that comment stemmed from a suggestion made at the forum to create an advisory committee similar to one in place at District 97. The Dist. 97 committee has been "very productive," Clouser said, providing a systematic way for parents to bring issues and concerns to the table, and to identify resolutions.

None of the candidates would support such a committee if it were to report directly to the board, but Dee Millard suggested the committee report to special services administrators at OPRF, Clouser said.

Rigas said he couldn't support that suggestion because he wasn't aware what the issues were that parents had that couldn't be resolved in the monthly meetings between special ed administrators and SEA.

"They couldn't articulate what is not working in those meetings," Rigas said.

Werner said she hoped creating the advisory committee would make SEA's input more formal.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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