Broward parents demand more rigor for special-needs students


Some Broward parents with special-needs children complain the school district pushes their students off the path for a real high school diploma.


The Broward School Board on Tuesday approved salary raises for employee groups that include clerical staff, cafeteria workers, and school principals.

The roughly 2 percent raises are the first for these employees in about four and a half years. Broward’s teachers recently received a similar raise.

In testimony that was at once angry and tearful, a group of Broward mothers told School Board members Tuesday that their special-needs children are being forced into less rigorous classes that don’t result in a standard high school diploma.

The parents insisted their students are capable of earning a regular diploma, but the children are instead placed on the path to a “special diploma” that has little practical use.

Parent Nancy Linley-Harris told board members that the district’s methods of evaluating special-needs students are “toxic” and for parents the process amounts to “being in a war zone for our children.”

Nearly 33,000 special-needs students — with disabilities ranging from minor to severe — attend Broward district schools. In interviews after the parents’ harshly critical public appearance, district leaders stressed that it was only a small group of parents (joined by a few children and other supporters) who were complaining.

School Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson said thousands of parents with special-needs children “are thrilled with the education they’re receiving.”

“You have, just as you do with anything, some parents who are dissatisfied,” she said.

Some of the upset parents told The Miami Herald they’d been forced to pursue legal action to fight the district.

Linley-Harris said her 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, who has Down syndrome, was placed on the special diploma track last year. Mariah wants to one day become a veterinary technician, and attends Parkway Middle School’s STEM magnet program.

Mariah’s new classes, her mom said, are “a very expensive babysitting service for our kids. They water down the goals.”

Linley-Harris has a pending legal case against the district, alleging her child’s “due process” rights were violated.

Those lawsuits are the last resort for parents unhappy with how their special-needs child is being served by the school system. But Kathrine Francis, executive director of Broward’s Exceptional Student Education department, said there are other ways for parents to resolve disputes with the district.

A simple talk with the child’s school might be enough to solve any problems, Francis said, and when that doesn’t work, the district offers its own in-house conflict-resolution service. Francis said parents filing due process lawsuits represent less than 1 percent of special-needs students served by the district.

Still, Francis said the district is always looking to improve and is conducting a satisfaction survey with special-needs families in the coming months.

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