Columbia candidates for school board, City Council discuss disability issues

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 7:07 p.m. CDT; updated 3:16 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — Board of Education and First Ward City City Council candidates answered questions about disability issues Tuesday during a forum sponsored by the Columbia Disabilities Commission.

The forum was an opportunity for candidates in the April 8 election to share their views and knowledge of disability issues in Columbia. It was mediated by Chuck Graham, chairman of the city's Disabilities Commission, who said it was the first year the forum was extended to school board candidates. About 50 people attended the forum.

Board of Education

School board candidates Paul Cushing, Jonathan Sessions and Helen Wade answered questions regarding policies for students with disabilities in Columbia Public Schools.

The fourth candidate for the Columbia School Board, Joseph Toepke, had a National Guard obligation, said Mark Satterwhite, director of Life and Work Connections at Boone County Family Resources. Toepke will have an opportunity to give written answers to the questions, though Assistant City Counselor Adam Kruse said he's not sure if they will be posted.

The four candidates are vying for three open seats on the board.

Cushing, Sessions and Wade agreed on almost every question. Sessions and Wade often cited specific policies in their comments.

When asked how Columbia Public Schools can improve vocational opportunities for students with disabilities once they're too old to go to school, both Sessions and Wade said students with disabilities have plans that include the transition out of school.

When asked about ideas to help support teachers and paraprofessionals classrooms, Sessions and Wade spoke about the "class within a class" program that allows students with disabilities to remain in a regular classroom with extra help.

It's successful when everyone's working together, Sessions said.

Wade also noted the benefit of a "unified front" between teachers and paraprofessionals, adding that lessons need to be modified to be more effective. Cushing agreed and noted that "mainstream" students should be prepared to help.

When asked about how employment opportunities in Columbia Public Schools can be increased for people with disabilities, all three candidates stressed the importance of equal opportunity without discrimination. Sessions suggested a  job fair in October, which is National Disability Employment Month.

"This was one of the most thought-provoking forums that we've participated in during this election cycle," Wade said in her closing statement. "The issues that we're talking about here don't get as much attention as they ought to."

First Ward

Ginny Chadwick, one of three candidates on the ballot to fill the City Council seat being vacated by Fred Schmidt, said that if elected, she would ask for data from city staff on current employment levels and use that to form an opinion. She also said she wants to hear from the public about "problem areas" in employment.

Candidate Bill Easley attributed the lack of overall employment in the U.S.  to outsourcing by American companies.

The third First Ward council candidate invited to the forum was Tyree Byndom. He declined to attend citing religious beliefs that prohibit campaigning, Kruse said.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who's unopposed for re-election to the Fifth Ward City Council seat, wasn't present because she was working, Satterwhite said.

The forum was held during the day to make it accessible for those using Columbia Para-transit shuttle system to attend. The system stops running at 6:05 p.m. on Tuesdays. Easley and Chadwick both supported increasing hours the service runs.

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