LADSON, S.C. (WCIV) — A little over a week ago, ABC News 4 brought you the story of one Mount Pleasant mother fighting the Charleston County School District in what she says was a forced school placement change.
Since then, ABC News 4 has received dozens of reports of families going through similar situations.
One involves a Summerville mom stuck with a school district's choice looking to move her two sons to different schools.
The mother, Leslie Jackson, is described as a mom’s mom.
“I'm on top of my kids, you know, with their schooling a lot. A lot of people tell me that I’m probably the most involved parent when it comes to the kids,” she explained.
Jackson said that her love for her children resonated when she watched Olivia Rose-Walker’s story.
“When I did see [the] story about Olivia, I mean, I cried my eyes out. I felt for a mom, I felt for Olivia,” she said.
Jackson’s sons, Elijah and Xavier, also have learning disabilities. Both twins were born at 24 weeks old, with each spending numerous months in the hospital after birth. Both were diagnosed with autism with Elijah also having expressive language disorder.
While the two twins have a different disability than Olivia does, they do face a similar battle ahead.
“We had Eli’s IEP in May,” Jackson said. “They decided to place him at Malcom C. Hursey Montessori school. When we did Xavier’s IEP that next week, [it was decided] he is to go to Ladson. And I was like, well, why are they being separated from schools?”
While Olivia’s battle dealt more with the disability placement change, this challenge focuses more on the process of school placement. By the time Jackson found out about Xavier’s placement, the deadline for school choice in CCSD had already passed, leaving her with many questions.
“It kind of threw me for a loop that, they're brothers, you know, they're twins, you know? How did one get placed somewhere and one get placed somewhere else? And no one can really give me an answer for that,” she stated.
She's another mother feeling the same pain that Olivia’s mom did, while going through a school change they don’t want to do.
“This whole thing, honestly, it's made me feel emotional about it. You know, during the meeting, I almost felt like a failed parent. I was like, how did this happen?
But just like Olivia’s mom did, Jackson searched for help.
“Charleston Autism Parents [Facebook group], I put out a post on there and let them know the situation was like, [has] this happened to anybody else?” Jackson explained.
After her message was posted, she received dozens of comments in response, informing her that she was not alone. Up to 20 families reached out claiming they are in a similar situations.
“There are a lot of people that responded that [I was like] wow, I guess this happens a lot,” she said.
After seeing the responses to Jackson’s post and the messages we have received at ABC News 4, we tried to find out how often situations like these happen.
The answer is that they happen more than you might think.
“This is something that we see often.” Director of Youth Transition Program at Able SC Paige Winget said. “We have the seasons of calls from parents.”
Representatives with Family Connection South Carolina say referrals for a program which helps families navigate the IEP process have skyrocketed in the past year, with over 5,000 referrals overall to all of their programs.
“Our referrals for this program have gone up by 65% since last year,” CEO of Family Connection SC Amy Holbert said.
So the question that remains is why is this so common?
These experts say it may be the stress the pandemic has put on these families or the lack of all-around resources at every school, which forces these placement changes to specific programs.
“Ideally, you know, inclusion we know is best practice,” Winget said. “But sometimes, there's a lot of lack of training for our general education teachers, and for just our school administration, and those that are in the school that aren't necessarily always working with students with disabilities.”
These experts say it could also be the system of IEP placements, which sometimes may not meet the needs of a specific student.
“The I in an IEP is individualized, and it needs to be for that student, and not because of a specific diagnosis or something else that's determining that factor,” Director of Education and Family Support for Family Connection SC Sally Baker said.
While these experts say a lot of the times the schools or IEP administrators do have good advice for these students, in situations where they may be disagreements like in Jackson’s case, they are here to help.
We are working in school districts. We might know someone and might be able to say, let me, you know, chat with this person. Or let's get the full picture,” Winget explained.
“We've talked to all the different people that can potentially help you answer the questions along the way,” Baker said. “[We] talk about what's kind of next, what's coming. Who are you going to meet? Are you going to see how to use your voice and how to use the things that you see at home that you know your child can do? Find their strengths and how to communicate that over to their educational team?”
Able South Carolina is a disability-led organization that helps push for change in systems and communities surrounding people with disabilities.
Family Connection SC has many programs that do the same thing, including its Education Partner program, which helps families communicate with schools and gather more information on their specific IEPs to help parents make informed decisions.
It's something Jackson said is important to continuing the fight.
“If you're not okay with this, you don't have to accept that you can’t fight this. You have options,” she said.
We reached out to CCSD for a statement on Jackson’s situation. In response, the district said:
“While we can't comment on a specific student matter related to this topic, we want to emphasize we are committed to providing the best possible resources available for all of our students, and we work collaboratively with all parents and guardians. IEP teams make determinations regarding services and placement for students with disabilities based on the individual needs of each child.”