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Aurora parents worry about kids after school's autism program is reduced

Aurora parents worry about kids after school's autism program is reduced
Aurora parents worry about kids after school's autism program is reduced 02:21

Parents of students requiring special education programming express concern over imminent changes as Harmony Ridge P-8 plans to consolidate its three autism classrooms into one for the upcoming 2024-25 school year, dispersing programs to additional schools.

April Reedy and Sarah Valenzuela, both mothers of children with autism, laud the current ASD program at Harmony Ridge, where their sons, Patrick and Luke respectively, are flourishing.

"It's night and day," Reedy remarked about her 6-year-old Patrick. "He talks more. He hugs and shows affection. He has friends and he comes home happy."

Valenzuela echoed Reedy's sentiment, stating her first-grader Luke is "meeting his goals on his IEP this year. I couldn't be happier with what is happening at school."

However, their contentment was disrupted when both mothers received calls around spring break informing them that their children would be relocated to ASD programs at other schools.

"I went and met with the principal, and I asked, 'what is going on? Is this true?' He had no idea that a final decision had been made. He kept apologizing," Reedy recounted. "How do you explain to a 6-year-old nonverbal child that he's no longer going to have his friends or his teacher or his therapist? You just can't."

According to Aurora Public Schools, students with autism from multiple communities east of E-470 attend the autism program at Harmony Ridge P-8. 

To accommodate students closer to their residences, APS will introduce two additional autism programs this fall at Aurora Highlands P-8 and Murphy Creek P-8.

In a statement to CBS News Colorado, APS expressed its commitment to providing necessary support for all students. 


"We are proactively addressing parent concerns regarding changes to programs for students with disabilities," the statement read.

APS further explained, "Moving a portion of the Harmony Ridge students to these schools now will allow families to have fewer disruptions or school changes in the future as the communities in eastern Aurora continue to develop and grow."

However, parents are apprehensive about potential regressions and disruptions in their children's education due to the transition.

"Leave the ASD kids at Harmony alone and bring in what other children they have into these new schools. Uprooting these kids is not the proper way to do it," Valenzuela argued. "This is already a population that has so many barriers in life. Why would you create more for them?"

Valenzuela emphasized the vulnerability of these students, who heavily rely on routine and have built trust with Harmony Ridge's teachers, staff, therapists, and neurotypical students.

"The Harmony students have spent time with autistic children. They know Luke is sensitive to loud noises and to be quieter for him. How am I supposed to expect this new class to be able to meet his needs when they've never been around autistic children?" Valenzuela questioned. "He's getting older, and children are not as kind."

Despite touring the suggested schools, Valenzuela and Reedy expressed doubts about the compatibility for their children.

Affected Harmony Ridge families convened with APS this week for a poignant discussion about their children's future, expressing comprehension for the need for more programs but not the rationale behind their children's suffering in the change.

"I've asked the director of ESS how this is in my child's best interest? She can't answer me," Valenzuela asserted. "But I can tell you why keeping him in Harmony Ridge ASD program is in his best interest."

APS reassured it is "working to engage with our families throughout this upcoming transition and to reassure them that their students will continue to receive the best educational programming and support at their new schools."

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