After news of special education shakeup, Shawnee Mission parents implore board to address low staff morale, poor student service

Mission’s Arcie Rothrock said she’d been forced to contemplate relocating to another district over concerns with management of Shawnee Mission’s special education department.

Three days after the district announced a major reorganization of its special education department, a group of Shawnee Mission parents implored the board of education to take action to stop the exodus of special education staff and provide students with the services they need.

In a series of emotional remarks, four parents used the public comment portion of Monday’s board of education meeting to share their families’ experiences with special education in the district and to call for change.

Arcie Rothrock, the mother of a child with autism currently at Tomahawk and a member of the Mission city council, said she was extremely nervous about the district’s proposed transfer of her son, Bradley, from a situation where he was thriving into another program — a recommendation she said was made by a staff member who had not spent any significant time with him. She indicated that she had heard from several paras and teachers who have left the district because of problems with administration of the special education program.

“We are witnessing our very own teacher walkout in slow motion,” Rothrock said.

She begged the board to conduct a thorough review of the department’s culture and practices. While Rothrock indicated a strong desire to stay in the community where she had deep roots, she said had been forced to consider relocating to make sure Bradley had a good situation at school.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to ensure he’s been taught to be the best version of himself and what he could be,” Rothrock said. “If that means giving up our home, me giving up the council, and us moving to another district, that’s what I’ll have to do. I’d give up the world for Bradley. And if things don’t change, I just might have to.”

Renee Wasinger, the mother of a child in the Shawnee Mission gifted program and a child with a 504 plan, recounted a litany of issues with the special education department, including her son with special needs being suspended from school for issues related to Tourette’s syndrome to her daughter not receiving any of the services outlined in her IEP.

Jeff Passan said voters were looking for changes in the direction of the district and the SPED department in particular.

“Out of 2,600 student in the SPED programs, these are two students in the same family with the same issues,” Wasinger said. “In speaking with other parents, my issues aren’t even the worst violations that are occurring in this district.”

Jeff Passan, the father of a son in the gifted education program at Briarwood Elementary, said he had heard stories of “frightening low morale” from SPED teachers. He indicated that the special education director, Jackie Chatman, had a reputation for “belittling boots on the ground, in-the-trenches employees” before being asked by board chair Brad Stratton to refrain from mentioning specific district staff members.

Passan also address the three most recently seated members of the board of education, saying that voters expected their elected representatives to take the district’s culture in a different direction.

“We were looking for change — and we were looking for substantive change. And this was not just change for change’s sake,” Passan said.