OPRF special ed parents crowd board meeting to support division

? TEAM parents also explain concerns; board says it's taken concerns seriously, investigated, found nothing.

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Nearly two dozen people attended the Oak Park and River Forest High School Board of Education meeting last Thursday morning to voice support for the special education division and its leadership.

A group of parents of students in the TEAM program in recent months have raised allegations of abuse and neglect and a "culture of disrespect," calling for leadership of the department and program to be held responsible.

Terry Burke, the group's most vocal advocate, conveyed her concerns again at the Thursday meeting, in part for the board, but also for the crowd of about 60, two-thirds of which were there in support of special ed leadership.

TEAM stands for Transitional Education with Access to the Mainstream and provides education for students with low-incidence, or the more severe, disabilities.

The group of TEAM parents has criticized the department on numerous occasions for the past two years as it has called on the school and board to add verbal Applied Behavior Analysis training to the TEAM curriculum.

At a May 10 demonstration calling attention to the abuse allegations, parents said the issue was not raised as an escalation in the group's ongoing struggle for ABA.

But Burke spoke Thursday about the disappointment she and other parents felt over a lost opportunity to have an ABA-trained woman working on her master's degree serve her one-year internship at OPRF. Burke said the woman said her appointments at the school had been canceled.

"We did not cancel," Principal/Supt. Susan Bridge said. "We never called and said, 'Do not come.'" Bridge suggested that the tension around the TEAM program likely dissuaded the woman from pursuing her work at OPRF.

Board President John Rigas questioned the group's motives of raising the abuse issue when the incidents they cited had happened months, even years in the past.

Other board members made clear that they took abuse and neglect charges seriously, but said testimony given by the group of TEAM parents didn't name names or give enough specifics to investigate.

The board thanked parents for coming to the meeting and speaking, and pointed out that their views weren't mutually exclusive.

"No experience invalidates another experience," board member Valerie Fisher said.
Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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