An item to reduce aide hours in the Mountain View Whisman School District's autism program was again pulled from the agenda during the board of trustee's regular meeting last week, a move which surprised the several dozen parents who had come to lobby against the cuts.
Though the board did not vote on the proposal -- which would reduce the hours and benefits of 11 autism aides by 25 percent -- several parents spoke in support of the aides during Thursday's meeting, and threatened to take legal action should the cuts be made.
"(We) will likely challenge the decision," said Christine Case-Lo, whose autistic son is in kindergarten at Monta Loma. Case-Lo was the first to speak, presenting a letter signed by 27 parents, and said that cutting back the aides' hours without providing appropriate services "may end up costing the district a lot more money" than the $65,000 saved by the cuts.
The item was removed from the board's agenda for the second time because the district is still in negotiations with the California School Employees Association, the union representing the aides, and the two sides have not reached an agreement, according to Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Totter.
Totter has said in the past that the cuts are not budget-related, and that administrators have folded some after-school services into the school day and no longer need the aides after school hours.
Totter has repeatedly said that reducing the aide hours would not impact student services, but parents speaking at Thursday's meeting disagreed.
"In the current school year, we have observed a great deal of changes to a program all of us considered to be a wonderful one," Case-Lo read from the letter. "Our children's school was an oasis of calm in the confusing maze of bureaucracies, doctor's visits and conflicting advice we have to navigate as parents."
"Before, there was a real sense of openness and caring, and we each felt that our child was the focus of every process," she said. "Now, we are unfortunately starting to doubt that."
Case-Lo said changes in service for children should be decided on a student-by-student basis by the team that puts together each autistic child's program: their Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.
Terri, the mother of two autistic children, got emotional speaking about how her daughter's IEPs are not sufficient.
"I am told that they feel what she has now is the right placement," she said of her younger daughter, who attends school at Slater.
"She isn't getting anywhere near the program offered to her as my older daughter" received, she told the Voice, adding that her younger daughter receives no applied behavior analysis -- also known as ABA therapy -- or social interaction services. "They didn't offer them to (my younger daughter) because of the cuts they are doing now."
Totter said later that she would be following up with this parent's particular case.
Nan Recker, a mother of a middle school boy with autism, said services are also lacking for older students. She said their IEPs do not designate after-school services, but that "they really need it."
She said her son has had trouble making friends because he has not had the necessary social skills training.
"How about extending the program so we can help these kids who have been sorely underserved?" she said to the board. "We have therapists sitting idly," she added, "let's put them to work."
Though the board cannot respond directly to queries made during the public comment time, trustees empathized with parents during a short break following.
Case-Lo confirmed later that parents were mainly concerned that their children are not receiving the services they need, and that some of those services may extend beyond what is determined in a student's IEP.
"We know that they will abide by the laws written because they don't want to be sued," she said, adding that "If it came down to a fight," the parents would seek legal action.
The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7.