Parent Aggravated by Patronizing Comments from Legislator During Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship

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MacIver News Service | March 3, 2014

[Madison, Wisc…] Tempers flared at the most recent public hearing for Assembly Bill 682 – better known as the special needs scholarship – when a parent was aggravated by seemingly patronizing comments from Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains).

AB 682 would provide funding for students with disabilities, who have been denied a transfer through the open enrollment program, to attend a different public or private school anywhere in the state.

Many parents testified in favor of the bill during the public hearing, citing they have no other options aside from home schooling or moving to another district.

One parent, Kristen Glaser, got in a heated debate with Pope after the Representative told Glaser she should just sue the school district for not implementing her daughter’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Glaser made it clear she could not afford an attorney, which Pope responded with, “You asked me what I would do, and I told you. I would find a lawyer who would work pro-bono.”

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Glaser’s daughter has special needs and is currently attending a school that has a dual-language curriculum. She said it is very difficult and confusing for her daughter to try and learn in both English and Spanish. On top of the language barrier, Glaser’s daughter has gone multiple years without a special education teacher that is certified, and sometimes had no full-time teacher at all.

She wants to send her daughter to another public school in the district but has been denied each time. Glaser explained that her daughter’s IEP has not been followed for four years, even though the district told her numerous times it would get better. She has considered filing a complaint with the Department of Public Instruction, but fears retribution from the district.

“It takes years of frustration and trying, and trying, and trying. So what do you say to people like me who want to go to a public school, who are denied?” Glaser asked Rep. Pope during the hearing.

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Watch the video here to see Glaser stand up to Rep. Pope and express her frustration with the current system.

In an interview with the MacIver Institute after the hearing, Glaser said she is frustrated with lawmakers that think the system works and just wants what is best for her children.

“It’s disappointing to hear that people don’t want us to have any other options,” Glaser said. “I think it’s sad that [Rep. Pope] thinks the only way is to sue.”

Rep. Pope also came under fire at the hearing for a statement she made that some parents might not have the “ability” to consider other schools.

In reference to Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown), who has a daughter with special needs, Pope said, “I can assure you that not every parent of a special needs child is going to have the ability to investigate and follow to the degree that you have.”

Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) called Pope’s comment “mind-blowing.”

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“These parents have already hit up against a brick wall over and over and over again with people telling them, ‘No, there’s no option for your child,'” Vukmir said. She felt it was wrong of Pope to say that parents were not capable of finding the best school for their children.

Pope said, “Those certainly weren’t my intentions,” in response to Vukmir’s comments.

A video of that exchange is below:

Pope did not respond to the MacIver Institute’s request for further comment on her remarks.

The special needs scholarship has yet to be scheduled for a vote in committee or on the floor.