End of specialized autism program angers parents - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

End of specialized autism program angers parents

BRANDON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The Rankin County School District is making changes that parents say will negatively affect autistic students. But school district officials said the new plans will offer services for more special needs students in the district.

The centralized autistic program, praised by parents, will no longer be offered at one Rankin county elementary school but officials say services will be spread throughout the district. Parents are upset over the proposed changes to a program they call successful.

Olivia Atkisson is the mother of seven year old Cole who has autism and attends Oakdale Elementary.

"I don't know where they'll be. I'm afraid of regression," said the 34 year old mother of six.

Atkinson said she recently learned that Cole's specialized program will end. In the fall he will be moved from the more clinical setting to classes with other special needs children who are not autistic.

"Our kids have to have structure. They can't have just lax things," said Atkisson. "They need to keep what they told us they were gonna do. This is what they said they were gonna do, that these kids would be there in this particular facility until sixth grade. That's what I as a parent was promised."

Dr. Tracy Connelly's eight year old son Myles is also in the program at Oakdale Elementary. The veterinarian said she was told Tuesday that he was too aggressive for placement in his home district. Connelly said she was given the option of sending him to a school in Jackson or Magee.

"I would love to see this abolished," said Connelly. "I'd like to see these students stay in these classrooms. My son in particular has been in this classroom with the same teacher since kindergarten. It's all he knows, and he's flourished in this environment."

According to Rankin County school officials, the autistic program will continue. There are 149 autistic students in the district who educators said can't all be taught at Oakdale Elementary.

The plans are to place students in their home schools in the district.

"We're just reallocating resources," said Rankin County Schools Assistant Superintendent Richard Morrison. "We're going to do some training this summer for those teachers that will have those students back in their home schools. So we're doing a lot of things to enhance our autistic program back out into the home schools."

Budget cuts and not fully funding MAEP are factors in the changes. Morrison said Rankin County has lost $36 million dollars in funding in the last four years.

Those in opposition to the changes plan to appear before the Rankin County School Board next Wednesday in hopes of reversing the decision.

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