Parents gather to voice concern

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Two weeks ago, Babette McAlpin Dickson stood alone in front of the Steamboat Springs School Board to express concerns about a lack of instructional services for her 8-year-old son, who has autism.

On Monday night, she sat with a crowd.

The push for an audit of special education services provided by the school district and the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Services intensified as seven parents of children with learning disabilities attended the school meeting Monday night.

"The school district hasn't been very successful in hiring qualified special education teachers," said Don Vogel, who said he has two children with learning disabilities. Vogel asked board members to consider not only an audit, but also allowing qualified teachers to work with students at several schools in the district.

His wife, Kim Vogel, said that retaining good teachers was also a problem -- one she said she had witnessed firsthand. She said special education teachers had told her that they had difficulty finding support for integrating new teaching ideas into schools.

"We have not put the same energy into (special education), we have not put the same respect into it, as we have other programs," Kim Vogel said. High teacher turnover rates, she added, can lead to increased costs in training and inconsistent services for students.

McAlpin Dickson, who teaches French at Steamboat Springs Middle School, nodded enthusiastically as Kim Vogel spoke.

McAlpin Dickson and Denise English, whose 6-year-old son also has autism, say the amount of summertime, extended-care instruction offered for their children was inadequate. Such instruction helps students with learning disabilities retain information they learn during the school year and can be crucial for a student's advancement through grade levels.

English said she had to plead with district and cooperative services board staff members to get 15 hours of summer instruction for her child.

Cooperative services board Executive Director Jane Tooth-aker and Special Education Director Robin Tschider were on hand Monday night to advise School Board members about an audit, which they both welcomed.

Tschider participated in such an audit last year in Aspen.

"It was a great experience," she said. "I feel really comfortable with the idea of moving ahead with an audit here."

Toothaker and Tschider will present a plan for an audit to Superintendent Donna Howell, who will present the plan to the board.

Jeff Troeger, a board member and instructor at Colorado Mountain College, asked that the audit be conducted by an external auditor -- possibly from outside the state -- who could be objective.

"The fact is, Colorado is hardly a leader in how we fund special education," Troeger said.

The next School Board meeting is Dec. 19.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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