Board member stirs controversy
Baraboo News Republic
Thursday May 25, 2006
By Christina Beam
BARABOO – New Baraboo School Board member Kevin Bartol
“There are some people in this country that cannot be educated,” Bartol said to the board. “They may have their eyes open, but there’s no one awake upstairs.”
His comments Monday came as part of the board’s review of district
policies, including one for “Programs for Students with Disabilities.” The first sentence of that policy reads that the board “shall provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities who reside within the district.”
Bartol proposed the board add a modifier before the word student, such as “educable,” so that if a child who “can’t be taught” wants to enter or stay in a Baraboo public school the district is not required to serve him or her.
“Every child can be taught,” said Director of Special Ed Gwynne Peterson said, who added the district is under federal obligation -as well as moral and ethical – to teach every student.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Bartol said. “What if you teach them for two or three years and they haven’t learned anything?”
High School Principal Machell Schwarz responded, “Then we work with them and try everything we possibly can.” Bartol requested the board look into the legalities of modifying the disability policy.
By Tuesday word of the exchange had spread around the district, District Administrator Lance Alwin said, and he had received feedback from community members troubled by Bartol’s comments.
“Any family that has a child with special needs would be very disconcerted to know we were thinking about defining the type of child we intend to work with,” Alwin said. “All children shall be served. Until I’m told differently, I have no intention of beginning to socially exclude any child that shows up at our doorstep.”
In an interview Wednesday Bartol did not back down from his statements but said he was misunderstood by administrators and other board members who took offense to his comments.
“To my knowledge, all the students that are attending the Baraboo School District fall into the category of being able to be educated,” he said. “But it is feasible and it has occurred in other school districts where students that because of some type of brain damage were not be able to be educated and yet they were allowed to go to school.”
In a statement from Wisconsin Association of School Boards Wednesday,
attorney Nancy Dorman advised the district state and federal laws entitle all children to an education, and the district’s obligation to provide it cannot be waived through local policy.
It’s possible those state and federal laws implied that “students” were children capable of being educated, Bartol said. He said ideally the district would have a team of experts determine if children with severe cognitive disabilities were making progress in the public school setting. If after a year or two they hadn’t improved, he said, they could go elsewhere.
“Public school systems are not a baby-sitting service or a nurse care
service for children such as those,” he said. “They’re a place to educate students.”
Peterson, who also investigates discrimination and harassment complaints in the district, said she was outraged by Bartol’s “discriminatory and prejudicial” remarks.
“It’s frightening to me that someone in a position making decisions on the education of the students in our community believes these kinds of things,” she said.
Education for severely cognitively disabled students is adapted and
individualized to the children’s needs, Peterson said, but it still
qualifies as education. Special ed teachers may work with a student to
learn to hold his head up, she said, freeing the student to be more
independent and spend his energies learning new tasks and concepts.
“We have had very young students with developmental disabilities who you might look at and just by appearance decide this student can’t learn,” she said. “I’ve seen those kids, and I’ve seen how far they do come.”
The district’s policy for students with disabilities borrows heavily from state and federal legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which defines disabilities and schools’ obligations to serve students.
Bartol said the whole issue is probably moot if the board is unable to make any policy changes. “I’m not going to be upset about it one way or another,” he said, “and hopefully no one else gets upset about it one way or another.”
Bartol was elected to the board after a recount of the April 4 election had him winning by a three-vote margin over write-in candidate Doug Mering. Bartol, who was on the same ticket as a five-year, $7.5-million referendum, ran on an anti-referendum platform.
Board member stirs controversy