Oregon Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin said she received a call from Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday that a bill she sponsored, Senate Bill 1578, would not pass during the 2022 short legislative session.

The bill, which was supported by both Republicans and Democrats, is aimed at directing the Oregon Department of Education to more quickly investigate and resolve allegations brought by families of students with disabilities who say they are not receiving an adequate public education.

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Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, said the bill is for students who have had their school days shortened, or educational experience limited due to decisions made by school administrators.

“For me, it’s not a bill, it’s the question of whether kids can get back in school,” Gelser Blouin said. “The kids that we’re talking about, have been denied access to quality education, full-time education, not just this school year, but last school year and the spring of COVID-19.”

The bill received a public hearing and work session in the Oregon Senate with a recommendation to pass with amendments, and has been referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. Thursday, Feb. 24 is the deadline for bills to be heard in their second chambers — meaning the House, for SB 1578.

In a statement provided to OPB, Brown’s deputy communications director Charles Boyle confirmed the call to Gelser Blouin.

“The Governor has always valued being upfront and honest with her colleagues,” Boyle said.

“Because they had discussed the bill recently, she was giving Sen. Gelser Blouin the courtesy of a direct phone call to tell her that, based on her conversations with legislators, it’s clear that the bill isn’t moving forward this session.”

The current process for families concerned about their students’ access to education includes exhausting all efforts at the district level before filing a complaint with the state. At a legislative hearing earlier this month, parents shared problems they’ve had getting assistance from their local school district for their children.

Nicole Tucker’s daughter Lucy attends school in the Bend La-Pine school district. Tucker said in her testimony that Lucy, who is considered medically fragile, was not supported in kindergarten and first grade. Tucker said the district did not follow an individualized education plan, or IEP, for her daughter.

“I tried everything, I asked the school district for help, the school, to resolve these issues,” Tucker said.

Flags on the Senate floor at the Oregon State Capitol, May 18, 2021 in Salem, Ore.

Flags on the Senate floor at the Oregon State Capitol, May 18, 2021 in Salem, Ore.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

She filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Education, who substantiated all of the claims and called for 160 hours of compensatory education for Lucy.

Tucker said it’s been difficult to squeeze in those hours with her school and medical needs.

“Technically we won, it does not feel like a win for us, and it surely is not a win for Lucy,” Tucker said.

“This bill is so important to students like Lucy so they do not lose an entire year of education, and then don’t have the time or capacity to make it up.”

Earlier in the year, Gelser Blouin surveyed families who may have been denied access to their education. She shared some of those stories in a tweet thread Wednesday after the governor told her the bill is not moving forward.

The bill received support from FACT Oregon and Disability Rights Oregon, two groups that support people with disabilities in the state.

DRO recently shared an alert, asking supporters of the bill to push legislators to advance the bill.

Gelser Blouin said the bill could’ve helped students facing increased health risks once the state’s school mask mandate ends next month.

“When the masks come off at school, the face coverings, there are going to be students that are medically fragile or have high-risk conditions… those kids, some of them, aren’t going to be able to go to in-person school anymore,” Gelser Blouin said. “And without any lever to require a quality comprehensive distance learning for these students, I don’t know how they’re supposed to get it.”

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The apparently dead bill promised help for families like Christy Croghan’s.

Beaverton family creates school experience for medically fragile student

Last school year, Hayden had an hour a day of school at Beaverton High. It wasn’t ideal, mom Christy Croghan said, but it was something — an opportunity to keep Hayden involved with school without risking his life. Hayden is medically fragile.

“They had the teachers on there, the nurses on there, and as many students as could attend each day,” said Christy Croghan. She said it was interactive, with different opportunities daily for Hayden to participate in.

“They at least had something every day,” Croghan said.

But this year, Hayden was offered two options for his junior year of high school: go to school, where he is at severe risk for COVID-19, or participate in a one-hour zoom, five days a week with a teacher one on one.

Christy Croghan and Hayden’s father, Kevin Toon, asked for any opportunity for their son to feel part of a classroom.

“Why can’t a kid like Hayden at least be on audio, in a typical classroom? Listening to history? Listening to math? Listening to music?” Croghan recalled.

“All he has to do is be on audio to get some of that peer interaction that’s really key to their development.”

But the district said no. And while the district offers FLEX Online School, a fully online educational experience started during the pandemic, it is not “appropriate for all students.” It was not considered appropriate for Hayden.

“FLEX accepts students that are in the SPED program if they are in a general education classroom and need resource room support,” according to a message FLEX administrators sent to Croghan last August.

“We do not have the programs or resources to work with students who have specialized classroom placements.”

During a school board meeting earlier this school year, a Beaverton board member noted a 10.72% drop in enrollment for students in self-contained special education classrooms, 103 students.

“Unfortunately, FLEX is not set up for students with complex needs and disabilities,” said BSD’s Danielle Hudson during the Oct. 25 meeting.

It’s the kind of sentiment that led Sen. Gelser Blouin to draft legislation giving state education officials more opportunity to step in. But it led many parents in places like Beaverton to leave the local public school.

Croghan and Toon disenrolled Hayden from the Beaverton School District, instead creating their own educational experience for their son. Hayden receives physical therapy, and he spends time cooking with his brother, and other students.

“I’ve reached out to every neighbor, every kid that I know in the Beaverton School District…we’ve created little Zoom meets for him where they read to him,” Croghan explained.

“So they’re not only working on their reading, but we’re getting that peer voice, that peer interaction, that laughter, that connection.”

But she wishes her son could still participate in an after-school buddy program the district offers to enrolled students. For now, they’re figuring out their son’s schooling on their own. Croghan worries about other medically fragile students whose families don’t have the time and resources that she has.

“There’s kids out there that don’t have parents that work at home, that don’t have the neighborhood support like we do, they don’t have a lot of the things that Hayden is blessed to have,” Croghan said. “Those are the ones I really feel bad for because those kids have totally probably fallen through the cracks. These are years lost, developmental years lost.”

Under multiple federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, public schools are required to provide equitable instruction for students who have disabilities.

At the state level, Oregon Sen. Gelser Blouin said she’s going to keep working to pass SB 1578, to ensure schools fulfill their obligations to underserved students.

“This isn’t a convenience, or a nice thing to do, these kids have been guaranteed access to public education on the same basis as nondisabled students,” Gelser Blouin said.

“This isn’t a new law…it’s not an ‘extra’, it’s not a ‘nice to have’, this is a basic right of children to access a public education.”

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