Parents and advocates react to Fargo's plans for a special education only facility

Published: Jul. 9, 2019 at 4:49 PM CDT
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Ashly Hafdahl's son was one of the few sent to Fargo Public Schools' special education only program at Agassiz.

She says the decision to send him there wasn't hers - and it wasn't necessary.

"I think, had he had upfront services in the regular classroom, we would never have gotten to that point," Hafdahl says. "When it was decided that that was where my child would go, I can tell you sitting in that meeting with his IEP team – there was not a choice. That was what was going to happen. I was not asked if that was OK, I was not asked if I agreed to that."

Hafdahl says her son's time in the program changed him.

"He was suicidal. And would hide and cry because he did not want to go to school because of the way that he was treated there," says Hafdahl. "We were urged to leave the program by my child's therapist because of what he was witnessing down there as far as the restraining of students and the aggressive behavior on the side of the adults."

The Agassiz program was paused after the district faced pressure from parents and advocates. But now that Fargo Public Schools has revived the idea, parents like Hafdahl are hoping to once again change the conversation.

"I never figured that it was off the table, but it kind of felt like it just came out of nowhere that this is how they planned to move forward," Hafdahl says.

"I think there's a lot of disheartened and disappointed parents and students because of this decision," says Parent Advocate Samantha Stewart. "Right now, it feels like a very vulnerable time for families that have children with disabilities. And I think now is the time to speak our truth."

The Parent Advocate group says Agassiz's failure and the district's current lack of progress when it comes to helping students with disabilities shows it isn't ready to move forward with new plans.

"If you look at the resources that were provided there and you want to multiply that now and you want to put it in a separate building and you want to have more students involved in something like that – I think that's a huge concern," says Hafdahl. "I'm not sure how they plan to pull those resources if they don't exist. Or if they're going to deficit their current schools or their current programs in order to staff that program."

"I think a lot of parents worry about that slippery slope – of kind of going back in time to where we had a lot of students that need a lot of help all together and they're not receiving that help and possibly being mistreated," Stewart says. "We've had quite a bit of instances of seclusion and restraint in the schools themselves already, in typical schools, so I think a lot of parents worry about making it more unseen and what will that bring."

"The slippery slope that we speak of would be that any child that has these sort of concerns would end up being funneled into this kind of program where they’re secluded from their peers,” she adds. “We’re removing a whole level of support by removing those peers from those students.”

Now, the group is starting a letter writing campaign to reach decision makers and community members - to raise awareness and create more understanding.

"I think when you're a parent – especially of a child with special needs, however those might look – the fight never ends," says Hafdahl. "I hope that people will listen and look at it and read it with open ears and eyes and we can come to a community census of what's best."

The group says they hope to start getting some of those letters out within the next few weeks.

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