OPRF picketers call for respect, action on special ed complaints

Critics of discipline at OPRF join with special ed parents in Tuesday morning picketing. High school officials say complaints are taken seriously, but evidence is inadequate to require action.

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Discontent over Oak Park and River Forest High School's handling of abuse and neglect charges brought parents and community members to the school's entrance early Tuesday morning to form a picket line where protesters chanted, "No abuse, no neglect; all students deserve respect!"

At issue for protesters?#34;most of whom were parents of OPRF students with special needs in the TEAM (Transitional Education with Access to the Mainstream) program?#34;was the school's lack of response to allegations made at an April 21 Board of Education meeting about incidents of abusing TEAM students.

The high school takes all allegations seriously, investigated the claims parents made, and found no substantive evidence to warrant action, OPRF spokeswoman Kay Foran said. Testimony for most of the incidents lacked specific times, dates and places, Foran said.

The school reported the incidents to the Department of Child and Family Services as required by law, but the agency did not find enough evidence to proceed with an investigation, DCFS spokeswoman Diane Jackson said.

TEAM parents have called for the dismissal of an aide they say was involved in abuse or neglect incidents such as spanking one student, or not paying attention to students with special needs as they crossed a busy street. They say the incidents can't be corroborated because of the nature of when and where they occurred.

"What evidence are they looking for?" said Pat Nassano, a parent of a TEAM student. "Either people are telling the truth or they're not."

The complaints of abuse and neglect, though compiled at the board's last meeting, happened over the span of years. TEAM parents say that the complaints were raised together once they learned how widespread problems were, and not as a move to escalate their general call for changes. At the center of that call is certain parents' desire for Verbal Applied Behavior Analysis, one approach to teaching student with special needs that parents say is particularly successful with their kids.

Critics of the school's handling of discipline cases joined the protest Tuesday morning. "It all goes hand-in-hand," said Wyanetta Johnson, a member of APPLE, one of the community groups that asked for an independent audit of the school's discipline system.

"It's kind of the same pattern: 'We don't have a problem and anyone who thinks we do is a malcontent,'" said Clifford Meacham, of the Community Code of Conduct, the other group that called for the audit.

The school awaits results of an audit being conducted by the state's Regional Office of Education superintendent.

Foran said the school has implemented changes to the TEAM program this school year based an independent review conducted last spring.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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