Caldara files state complaint over son’s BVSD special education services

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, filed a complaint with the state this week alleging the Boulder Valley School District is violating federal special education law by not allowing his son to attend school in person.

The Boulder resident’s 16-year-old son, Chance, has Down syndrome and attends Boulder High. Boulder Valley students have been attending school remotely since March, when school buildings were closed in response to increasing coronavirus cases.

Caldara said his son, who can’t read or write and who has speech issues, can’t access content online and isn’t receiving the in-person speech, occupational and physical therapies he needs.

“This is a violation of his opportunity for an equal education,” Caldara said. “At most, this online experiment is a bit of a distraction for him. It might keep him entertained for a little bit. The teachers love him. They do their best. But they don’t have the opportunity to work with him. This kid has lost a full half year.”

In a written statement, Boulder Valley spokesman Randy Barber said the district “has been working exceptionally hard to serve all of its 31,000 students, including those with special needs, during this crisis situation.”

“BVSD remains dedicated to providing students with special needs with a free appropriate public education as part of its mission to create challenging, meaningful and engaging learning opportunities so that all children thrive and are prepared for successful, civically engaged lives,” he wrote.

He noted the district’s recently announced plan that allows students in third through 12th grades in intensive special education programs to attend school in-person two days a week.

But, Caldara said, that still means his son will receive only 40% of his education services. He open enrolled Chance in Boulder High because of its peer mentor program, where typical students work with students with special needs.

“He needs five days a week among teachers, therapists and peers,” he said. “He learns by participation, by doing, with his peers.”

Caldara’s complaint alleges Chance’s rights were violated under both the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and Colorado’s Exceptional Children’s Education Act. The services each special education student receives are outlined in an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, document.

Guidance from the Colorado Department of Education encourages school districts to develop contingency learning plans for special education students to describe “changes to a student’s IEP that are necessary to protect health and safety during the pandemic and provide a free appropriate public education.”

Online education, according to the Caldara’s complaint, is not providing Chance with the free and appropriate public education required by law. The highest needs identified in Chance’s IEP, are “community safety, communication skills, friendships and social relationships, and person care needs,” according to the complaint.

“These are the sorts of things that require physical presence with the community that online instruction cannot provide effectively,” the complaint states.

The complaint is seeking a private school placement, paid for by the school district, where Chance could attend in person, as well as compensatory education services, such as tutoring, to make up skills lost as a result of extended school closures.

If the district won’t provide full-time in-person learning for Chance, Caldara said, he wants the money the district would have spent on therapies and other services so he can provide them himself. He said it’s especially important that Chance has the opportunity to make progress on his education goals now because he’s nearing the end of his time in school.

“He has some very important issues he needs to work on,” he said. “To see him atrophy, to see him fall backward, is wrong.”

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