CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — They call themselves the “Chesapeake 6”: a group of six Black students with learning disabilities at Oscar Smith Middle School. They were all sixth-graders last year and ended up in the most restrictive setting possible in a mainstream school, even though their education plans did not call for it.
The school had just hired Imani Hill as a special education teacher back in January. Her class included only those six special needs boys in what’s known as a self-contained setting, but Hill says the students were designated for general education by their IEPs (individualized education plans).
“An IEP is pretty much like a road map for a child with special needs,” said Shawn Eure-Wilson, a special education advocate who is assisting the parents of the six students. They say the self-contained setting took a psychological toll, as the boys felt more and more isolated.
“I had one of the parents call me crying – ‘My son wants to kill his self. He doesn’t want to go back to school. He feels like he’s isolated.’ That broke me right there,” said Hill, the teacher for the self-contained class.
Hill was referring to Lakesha Moye’s son Johntae, who she says was mocked by students from the class where her son should have been.
“He said they called him ‘retarded.’ That he’s in the ‘retarded class,’ that he’s in the ‘slow class,'” Moye said.
Hill says a self-contained class “is literally the last resort before we move to an alternative school. So that was crazy to me that we didn’t have an IEP meeting, and the parents didn’t even know they were in there.”
“They kept telling me he was in a regular ed class,” said parent Jada Jones.
Parent Vicki Brickhouse says she “wasn’t aware at all” that her son’s educational setting had changed, and another parent, Letitia Seaborne, agreed, saying she would never have approved of the change had she been notified.
Cassie Powell is a special education attorney familiar with Virginia law as part of the Youth Justice Program, which is not connected to the case. She says if the allegations are true, they would violate both Virginia law and the federal law known as IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
“If the school is proposing to change a student’s education placement from a general education classroom to a special education classroom, that’s something that the parents should be informed about in an IEP meeting, and the parents should have a right to consent to that change or not,” Powell said.
Through their advocates, Eure-Wilson and Cheryl Poe of Advocating 4 Kids, the parents have notified state and federal education authorities of their complaint.
Hill said she had wanted to check the boys’ educational and psychological profiles.
“A lot of them didn’t have psychological evaluations since they were 6 years old. They’re 12 and 13 years old now, that’s outdated data, you can’t use that,” she said.
In a statement, Chesapeake School Superintendent Jared Cotton said he would “not comment on any student-specific matters. Likewise, we work to protect the confidential information of our employees and former employees.”
Hill herself is among the former employees. “I was given the option to resign or to get a non-renewal. To basically get fired. So I did end up resigning.”
Hill resigned in June, but kept getting paid for two more months, which she sees as vindication.
“If I did something wrong, you wouldn’t have paid me all the way up until August,” she told 10 On Your Side.
Without getting into details, Cotton went on to state that he does “not agree with many of the assertions” made by the parents, their former teacher and their advocate. 10 On Your Side also contacted all nine Chesapeake School Board members, and the division’s attorney, none of whom would comment.
“It’s not right in no way, shape or form,” said Brickhouse about the case that involves her son and five other boys. “We must take a stand as a whole.”
Their advocate is the mother of the former teacher, and has fought for the rights of special education students for more than 20 years.
“It’s one of the worst (cases) I’ve seen, and the thing is we haven’t even uncovered all of the layers to this,” Eure-Wilson said.
The students are now in the seventh grade at Oscar Smith. Their parents are in the process of getting an attorney.
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