Special education forum today

Public comment prompts two-day audit by field experts

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— The voice of a single parent can make quite a difference.

A two-day audit of special education programs and services in the Steamboat Springs School District begins today. Four experts in the field will meet with local special education staff, district administrators, parents and students to analyze and compare special education in Steamboat with what is offered in similar school districts. A public forum will be held tonight at Steamboat Springs High School, after a meeting of the Steamboat Springs School Board.

The audit is a result of public comment that began at a Nov. 21 School Board meeting, when parent Babette McAlpin Dickson spoke to the board about the needs of her 8-year-old autistic son. A French teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, McAlpin Dickson praised the district's special education staff at the meeting but requested an external analysis of special education funding, programs and support.

At the Dec. 5 board meeting, seven parents of children with special education needs added their voices to McAlpin Dickson's.

"We have not put the same energy into (special education). We have not put the same respect into it as we have other programs," said Kim Vogel, mother of two children with learning disabilities.

School Board members and Superintendent Donna Howell supported an external audit, which the board officially app--roved Jan. 23 at a cost to the district of $3,192.

Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Ed--u----c--ational Services

executive director Jane Tooth--aker and BOCES special education director Robin Tschider also support the audit.

Tschider participated in such an audit last year, when she worked with Mountain BOCES in Aspen. Tschider said it was "a great experience."

The auditors are Cheryl Johnson and Melinda Graham, senior consultants in the special needs field with the Colorado Department of Education; Troy Lange, special education director for Colorado Mountain BOCES; and Vicki Hubbard, special education and health services director for the Sherman Independent School District in Dallas, Texas.

"The audit was designed as a way to step outside the box a little bit and look at how we can do things differently and provide a better service," said Tom Miller-Freutel, president of the School Board.

Tonight's public forum will provide a valuable opportunity to share ideas, he said.

"I hope the parents are listened to -- both with respect to their concerns, as well as to their hopefully constructive criticism -- and that they become part of the process to improve what I consider an already successful program," Miller-Freutel said.

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