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Kindergarten student with down syndrome wanders campus several times, mom fights for proper IEP

Saige Timmons
saige doc.jpg
Posted at 11:21 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 06:01:16-04

BALTIMORE — An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document that details personalized learning needs and goals for an individual student.

Each school reviews a child's needs to create a proper IEP.

RELATED: Advocating for students with disabilities in schools

One Baltimore City mother contacted WMAR-2 News, stating her daughter with down syndrome was not getting the proper services needed for her IEP.

Six-year-old Saige Timmons has speech therapy, occupational therapy, and special education through her IEP.

Her mom, Shon'Ta Timmons, said Saige is also supposed to always have a staff member with her but that's not the case.

"One on one is supposed to be with her throughout the school day to sit and write and focus and learning time so she can do what the other children do. If we’re practicing inclusion, then she needs something to help her be included," said Timmons.

When she doesn't have this one-on-one service, Saige wants to explore. After all, it is her first year in a big girl school. Saige is in kindergarten at Mount Washington Elementary School.

"It’s a nice new place so it’s just a child being a child but it’s a child with a learning disability who doesn’t quite understand," said Timmons. "She sees stairs she can’t go up; she sees another classroom she can’t go to and she’s like well why? It’s there! Why can’t I?"

Since she wants to explore and doesn't have that personalized care, she tends to explore on her own anyway... even though she's not supposed to. Her school calls it "elopement," and she's had as many as 11 in one day.

"The very first day she was out on the playground, and she completely walked away... no one saw this child and she got past the office up to the third floor and was wondering around roaming around," said Timmons. She's just happy she wandered back into the school and not into the street or off school property. Timmons added, "if she gets hurt, the only thing they can offer me is an apology and that’s not good enough."

Timmons stressed the staff at the school is doing everything they can to help but they're limited on resources, so she wants the school district to step in.

We reached out to Baltimore City Public Schools, and we were told they don't discuss specific student cases, but they did release the following statement.

'This year, City Schools simultaneously had record-high teacher retention and hired more teachers than any we did in any other year in over a decade. Because of this, City Schools began the year with the most active teachers (more than 5,100) in many years. With over 98% of teacher positions filled, we had fewer than 100 first-day-of-school vacancies for the third year in a row and only the third time ever. Since the first day of school, we have seen a low and typical number of teacher resignations. In the context of a pandemic, we are very actively monitoring retention and recruitment numbers, recognizing the significant workforce challenges most school districts and other organizations are experiencing.The Mount Washington School is following the legal process for creating an Individualized Education Program for each case in which a student with a disability requires additional services. Where an IEP requires an additional adult, City Schools' special education team works to identify staff to meet this need.'

Special education positions are some of the harder-to-fill positions, as special education is a Maryland-designated critical worker shortage area. In City Schools, 96% of our nearly 1,000 Special Education Teacher positions are currently filled. 94% of Special Education Paraeducator positions are currently filled. We work closely with third party agencies to supplement the supports provided by City Schools employees, including hundreds of "additional adults" who provide services to students with disabilities where their Individualized Education Plan requires these services.

"I understand that there’s a shortage," said Timmons. She added, "what has to happen to my child in order for you guys to understand the importance of this? I’ve called, submitted online, mailed a letter to file a complaint… no response."

Timmons has reached out to multiple levels of the education system. She reached out to the Maryland State Department of Education of a month ago, on September 30th, and got a response saying her complaint is being reviewed. She's not gotten a response since.

WMAR-2 News reached out to MSDE and they stated how they can't discuss specific students. They did state once a complaint is filed to investigate the violations of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, a formal investigation is completed within 60 days. Which Timmons stressed is too long when her daughter's safety is on the line.

She said, "when we as parents go to work and leave our children, we expect them to be cared for. We don’t expect you to parent them but we expect you to care for them."

The U.S. Department of Education declared special education as a critical shortage area in Maryland for the 2021-2022 school year. At the beginning of the year, there were 446 vacancies in this area. To help fill these empty spots, a spokesperson for MSDE stated college students preparing to teach in critical shortage areas can apple for state grants and scholarships to work and local school systems can rehire retirees from the Maryland Teacher Retirement System without restricting income.

MSDE also released the following information. 

Maryland Educator Preparation Programs produced 367 special education teachers in 2019 and 340 in 2020.   Aslo, Maryland imports approximately 50% of our teacher workforce from other states.   The Blueprint for Maryland's Future prioritizes teacher recruitment and retention, and MSDE will continue to work directly with Maryland educator preparation programs to assist in recruiting a diverse pool of future educators. Since 2019, the MSDE has targeted Maryland high school students in particular through the Teach in Maryland campaign. MSDE is also actively engaged in a public service announcement campaign with the Council for Chief State Officers, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the quantity, quality, and diversity of the teacher pipeline. Additionally, MSDE developed the teach.in.maryland.gov [teach.in.maryland.gov] website as a one-stop destination for those high school students, college students, career changers, and out of state educators interested in pursuing the teaching profession in Maryland.