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Columbia Missourian

Parent worries Columbia Board of Education approves items too quickly

By ASHLEY CIRILLI
September 18, 2008 | 7:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - Each year the Columbia Board of Education passes numerous documents at its monthly meetings, but there is some concern that these items are being rubber-stamped too quickly. One parent stood up for this reason when the Special Education Assurance Statement was brought up for approval at the Sept. 8 board meeting.

The statement, brought to the board annually, requires Columbia Public Schools to provide special education services for all children with disabilities between the ages of three and 21 who meet state and federal requirements.

Robin Hubbard, who has a child with a learning disability, voiced her concern with the board's decision to pass the Special Education Assurance Statement so quickly. She said the board approves these types of statements without full knowledge of what they entail.

"The school board shouldn't be signing documents that they don't know anything about," Hubbard said. "This document provides assurance but no real method for special education services."

Hubbard's concern is that documents like these are being passed with no follow-through. Her interest in this specific item stems from her daughter having what she calls a speech delay problem, which has led to difficulties learning math, she said.

"I only got help after pushing so hard they had to give her an individual educational plan," she said. "All they heard is ‘we'll lose huge chunks of money.' You're signing this document but who's following up?"

Board member Ines Segert said she understood Hubbard's concern. She said the board members typically receive the agenda for the Monday meetings on the preceding Friday. Segert said tabling the decision on the math curriculum standards until next month's board meeting was a sign of improvement, giving board members more time to consider the measure.

"I'm on board with the idea that we need more time to review materials before making decisions," she said.

With so many issues to cover and only one school board meeting a month, not all information is handed out to board members in advance.

"Sometimes the presentations at the meetings are the first time we see some information," Segert said. "I think we should always be given information ahead of time."

Any documents set before the board are made available to the public and board members ahead of time, said Lynn Barnett, assistant superintendent for student support services. Barnett presented the Special Education Assurance item and advised passing it during the meeting. In her 25 years of presenting the document, she said, this was the first time there has been any comment about its approval. Barnett did not provide board members with a copy of the document but said it's fully available to those who want to see it.

"It's a given. There's no discussion because we absolutely are going to follow the federal law," she said.

In order for the Columbia Public Schools to receive money from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the board must comply with the Special Education Assurance document.

As the school board goes into its second meeting of the school year, Segert said she thinks work is being done to give the board more information and more time before each meeting.

"(Board President Michelle) Gadbois and (Superintendent Jim) Ritter are aware of the concern and are working on getting the agenda to the board members with more time before each meeting," she said.