FISHERS — A Fishers mother is urging other parents to advocate for their children with special needs after reaching a resolution with her son's school district.
Erin Dague filed a formal complaint against Hamilton Southeastern Schools to get her son back to in-person school, even though the district started the school year virtually.
Dyllan attends New Britton Elementary, is nonverbal and also has quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
He receives occupational, physical, and speech therapy in school, as well as academic instruction.
When the district started the school year virtually, the Dagues filed a formal complaint with the Indiana Department of Education, saying virtual learning is not adequate for their son.
“He can’t watch a screen like that,” said Erin Dague, Dyllan’s mother. “He doesn’t have that cognitive capability.”
WRTV first told you about the Dagues’ complaint back in August.
The Dagues have since reached a resolution with Hamilton Southeastern Schools and Dyllan has been attending school in-person, and will continue in-person even as the rest of the district remains all virtual through at least January 15.
"It's been amazing to watch him,” said Erin Dague. “It's so important for him to be in person because he requires very specific supports that can't be done virtually."
Dyllan participates in a Life Skills program along with a teacher, aides, and half a dozen other students, according to his mother.
She says peer interactions is extremely important for her disabled son.
"He doesn't have friends in the neighborhood,” said Erin Dague. “No one knocks on the door for Dyllan to play because he can't talk. His relationships and his support are at school."
Erin’s attorney, Tom Blessing, says school districts have to follow federal law including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, even if the district goes all virtual.
"I think it's great, and I appreciate the school working with us to get the case resolved, although it shouldn't have taken litigation to make that happen— but it did,” said Blessing.
Blessing says as COVID-19 surges and schools go back to e-learning, he’s getting flooded with phone calls from parents asking what they should do.
His advice—be wary if your child’s school district asks to make changes to the Individualized Education Plan or IEP.
"They're asking parents to agree that their child's IEP ought to provide for virtual instruction,” said Blessing. “My advice to parents is don't do that and don't agree to change anything. Consult with someone before you do that because that IEP is really your best protection."
You can reach out to:
- INSOURCE at 1-800-332-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Arc of Indiana
- Indiana Disability Rights
- The Joseph Maley Foundation
Hamilton Southeastern Schools currently has approximately 200 students receiving in-person services, although not everyone is attending each day.
“A virtual instruction plan has been developed in collaboration with families via Case Conference meetings in order to better meet the needs of each student,” said district spokeswoman Emily Abbotts in an email to WRTV. “These individual plans will be implemented in times of virtual instruction. In the event, virtual services and/or therapies are not feasible or are unavailable, compensatory services and/or therapies will be considered by the Case Conference committee. At times, in-person services have continued for students or have been implemented for periods of time based on student’s individual needs.”
You can also read up on the latest from Exceptional Learners in HSE's Operations Plan:
“He’s had the best semester ever,” said Dague. “He’s doing sight words, he’s counting. It’s incredible how much development he’s had.”
Dague says she knows how hard it is for parents juggling work and virtual learning, and encourages parents to advocate for their kids—especially one that can’t advocate for themselves.
"We have a responsibility to speak up and make sure that they are seen and heard and cared for in an equal way,” said Dague.