Education law reason for LPS dismissal schedule change

Updated: May. 9, 2017 at 10:01 PM CDT
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LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Tuesday was the first day of the new dismissal schedule for Lawton Public Schools. From now until school lets out for the summer, special education students and students heading to day care centers will be released at the same time as the rest of the school. Normally, they were released 15 minutes before.

The end of the school day can be chaotic. But to help ease that transition, Lawton Public Schools has let special education and day care students out a little early. But the Oklahoma State Department of Education said that is cutting down on valuable class time.

Tonya Shortt said for the last days of school, she is checking her daughter Ashtyn out early.

But to Ashtyn, that's the normal time the Tomlinson 6th grader leaves school every day with her classmates in the special education classroom.

"That's worked for her. She seems to do well coming out with a smaller crowd," Shortt said.

With the district's new dismissal schedule, Ashtyn is supposed to leave school the same time as all the other middle school students in LPS.

But Shortt said doing that causes unneeded stress on her daughter at the end of a long school day.

"She doesn't like loud noises," Shortt said. "She has a little anxiety issues but if anything is out of the normal then she is very repetitive about things. And they bother her in her mind."

LPS Special Services Director Chris Sharkey, who is in charge of this change in schedule, said the State Education Department sent them a letter at the end of 2016, saying shortening certain students' days is against the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"It can't be shortened due to transportation reasons, or for administrative convenience or anything along those lines," Sharkey said. "So we're ensuring our students are going to have the same length of school days, same amount of instruction time. We're trying to make sure we are within or in compliance with that."

Implementing the new schedule at the end of the year is like a test for the district. To see what works and what doesn't for each school.

Sharkey said some schools have moved the pick-up and drop-off location for the special education and day care students, and some have made sure those students are the first out of the door at dismissal time.

"Any new year is always hectic," Sharkey said. "If we can eliminate some of these problems before next year starts, we'll be better off. The students will be better off, and the parents will feel more comfortable with it."

Shortt said, at this point, she felt more comfortable making this choice for her daughter, and encourages other parents to reach out to LPS Special Services if they have similar concerns.

"We are our advocates for our kids," Shortt said. "We are their voices. Some of them can't speak for themselves so we have to stand up for what we think is fair and right for them because a lot of people won't."

You can expect to hear from Lawton Public Schools on the results of this trial run schedule change this summer, and what their plan is starting next school year.

LPS Special Services Director said to call them at 580-353-0334 to resolve any issues you might have with the new dismissal schedule.

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