Parent Cindy Pagan addresses Fort Mill School Trustees on March 5, 2019.

A Fort Mill parent criticized the board of trustees this week for forcing students with autism to move to a new high school next year.

Cindy Pagan said exceptions should be granted for certain students with special needs.

“Specifically, students with Autism that next year will no longer be able to either stay at, or start at, their assigned high school before the attendance lines were changed,” she told trustees Tuesday during the public participation portion. “Their families asked this district to make a placement exception based on the needs of the child….and this district said no.” (Click here to read her full statement.)

Pagan said she appreciates the district’s growth issues.

“But what I cannot accept is that for those students with Autism that did have a valid case supported by true medical, psychological and/or behavioral data, this District was unwilling, or incapable, to be flexible; flexible by granting these students the opportunity to attend the high school environment that could offer a greater chance of success,” she said.

Catawba Ridge High School front entry

As the district prepares to open Catawba Ridge High School, zoning changes are forcing some students to switch schools in the fall. While the school district can’t talk about a specific case, Chief Communication Officer Joe Burke said the district serve students with special needs at all schools and each student will have access to any support needed.

“We understand that the possibility of changing schools is an emotional prospect for students and families,” Burke said in a statement to The Fort Mill Sun. “The new high school attendance areas will effect more than 1,000 students in our Fort Mill family and our schools have been actively working to both welcome and support students as they make these transitions. Our district has some of the top-rated schools in the state and nation. No matter what school students attend, they will have access to a high quality education along with equal opportunities and support at all schools.”

Tobie Presler, Clinical Director of the Chrysalis Autism Center in Rock Hill, called the district’s response “incomprehensible.”

“At the time these students with Autism will be facing one of the biggest challenges of their education thus far, they are now unwilling to make an accommodation in their high school placement. It does not add up,” Presler said.

In her 5-minute speech to school trustees, Pagan said she hopes the high school experience will still be a good one despite the disruption. She also suggested challenges were possible.

“I hope the District does not have to revisit these denials in a different venue, under a different process, in an undesirable atmosphere for all parties engaged,” she said. “Because, unfortunately, by then more damage may have been done.”

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