CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Some Hamilton County parents of special education students claim their concerns have long been ignored by school district administrators. They say a recent wave of personnel moves and mistreatment issues should be investigated, so they took their concerns to the County Commission. Finally, they say, school officials are beginning to take notice.
For four straight weeks, parents have taken their complaints to the Commission. Their numbers are growing. D. R. Fraley, who began the crusade after his daughter experienced problems at East Lake Academy, told Commissioners, "There would be more people here if they could be here. These parents are struggling, and if you have a special needs child in your family, you know what that's like," he said, fighting back tears.
After the meeting, parents shared stories of children who are afraid to go to school due to mistreatment, and inattentive teachers and aides. They say they come to the County Commission because the School Board won't listen to them.
Parent Christa French said, "I have not received a phone call back from them. The School Board does not want to help us."
Superintendent Rick smith did not attend. He says meeting with parents in a Commission setting would not be productive. We did catch up with him at a PTA meeting. He says he's willing to talk and listen to the parents, but there are some issues he can't talk about.
"I don't comment on personnel matters," Smith said. And I'm waiting on information from some of these folks, which I asked for three weeks ago. But complaints like this, we take it seriously, we've done that."
Commission Chair Larry Henry says he's sympathetic to the parents' needs, but he and his colleagues have no say-so on school operations.
"We've got the Department of Education in the county and the state. This is their responsibility, there's nothing we can do but listen to you."
But that may be enough to give the parents and their children the attention they've been seeking. Fraley ended his time at the podium saying, "I thank each and every one of you gentlemen on the Commission. Rick Smith finally spoke to me yesterday, and without your involvement that would not have happened. I tried."
Not all parents who attended the meeting share the same concerns. Cynthia Joiner spoke up saying she had no trouble communicating with school administrators, and her special education issues were usually resolved. Later at the PTA meeting, two school board members, Greg Martin and David Testerman said they had not heard from the parents who have been attending Commission meetings. And Margaret Abernathy, the district's Exceptional Education supervisor said she welcomes parental input, and is willing to meet with anyone who is having problems.