Here is the full statement made Tuesday by parent Cindy Pagan to the Fort Mill Board of Trustees:

“Good evening.  As some of you may know, my name is Cindy Pagan. I have been a resident of the Tega Cay/Fort Mill area for almost 20 years.  I feel compelled to address you tonight about the impact the new approved high school attendance lines had on 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, their families asked this district to make a placement exception based on the needs of the child….and this district said NO.

I can appreciate the difficult position this District has been placed on; having to manage the fastest growing student population in the State under time and resources constraints, while striving to maintain the quality of Education Fort Mill is known for.  I realize that granting exceptions to the residency policy can create a dilemma for the Administration.  I also recognize that not all exceptions requests are truly valid.

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.

I believe high schools in this district are equally great.  But children with Autism are not all equal.  What may be manageable for your “traditional” student, like an unexpected high school assignment change, can be insurmountable for a student with Autism, especially those operating in the regular classroom. It feels like they [students with Autism in the regular classroom] are victims of their own success.

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Based on the attendance data you published back in November, I believe that when you work through the complaints and the rumbles the rezoning decision created, the number of valid placement exception requests you received was manageable, and a number that you could accommodate.  Your high schools are not at capacity, and as you shared with the community, should not be for the next 5 to 7 years.  The seats are there now for these children.  But the District still said NO to these exception requests from children with Autism.

Personally, I find it interesting, and honestly a bit unfair, that if you work for the District you do have the opportunity to choose what school your children with/without special needs, attend.  So I ask myself, do they really understand the impact of these placement denials have on this children with Autism and their families.

It is my hope that for those families struggling to minimize the impact this rezoning has caused, that the high school experience next year of their children with Autism is the best ever.  After all, it is all about the children.  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. Because unfortunately by then more damage may have been done.

I also hope that the District sees this feedback as an opportunity to revisit the residency policy, its procedures and how placement exception decisions are made.  I am not suggesting we become an open enrollment / school choice environment, but rather allow flexibility in the assignment process.  To really look at cases, not from an administrative convenience, or, this is how we have always done it, or even a legal risk perspective.  But rather from the perspective of the unique needs of a child.

It is no secret that rezoning is not going away any time soon.  Please, let’s try to find a better way.

Thank you for your time.”

Greg "Ricky Bobby" Rickabaugh has lived in the Fort Mill and York County community since 2006. He has covered the area while a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and a freelance writer for The Fort Mill...

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