Wood County BOE pledges to review special needs, IEPs

PARKERSBURG – Members of the Wood County Board of Education apologized Tuesday for the “Bad Kid Fort” incident and pledged to review issues of special needs education in the county school system.

Beth Dean was one of several speakers who addressed the board Tuesday to highlight issues with the individual education plans (IEPs) and special education needs. Dean is the mother of a boy, Caleb Richards, who was placed in a cardboard box at Parkersburg High School with the words “Bad Kid Fort” written on the side.

Dean and Jeff Richards, the boy’s father, met with school officials regarding the incident, but remain frustrated.

Dean told the board she believed several violations had been committed against her son, including Civil Rights violations, an indecent act, bullying, humiliation, intimidation and abuse.

She said her son was not receiving his full IEP services, stating he missed 50 instructional days of service with regard to his IEP.

“He’s just one student. Just my kid,” she said.

She was not alone.

About 70 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, which was moved to nearby Jefferson Elementary Center Auditorium to accommodate the large crowd. The meeting was chaired by board member Jim Fox. President Tim Yeater was absent.

Eight people addressed the board Tuesday to discuss what they perceived as issues and breakdowns with special education in the county school system. Most of the speakers were spurred to action by Dean and the “Bad Kid Fort” incident.

Dean, who spoke for more than 15 minutes – sometimes through tears – recounted her son’s ordeal. Tuesday was the board’s first chance to publicly address the matter.

The board took no action on the issue and spoke only after the public comments had been aired.

Fox said board members cannot comment on actions taken against personnel.

“I assure you the concerns were appropriately addressed and received the proper attention from administrators at Parkersburg High and the central office,” he said.

Board member Tad Wilson, reading from prepared remarks, called for a taskforce to study how the school system can expand special education services and better deliver those services.

Board member Lawrence Hasbargen, a former school administrator, agreed that no child should experience the humiliation of the “Bad Kid Fort.” But he also defended teachers, pointing to the “other side of the coin.”

“Teachers are in a room with 30 pupils, some with special needs,” he said. “It’s difficult to meet those needs in a 45-minute block. It’s not an excuse. It’s a fact of life.”

But Hasbargen twice apologized to the parents for what happened.

In addition to Dean, five other parents stepped to the microphone to address problems with the school system and IEP plans with regard to their children. Fox, who noted his own child requires an IEP plan, said the problem was not limited only to those parents.

“They weren’t the entirety of the issue,” he said. Fox said additional discussion and analysis were needed.

Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said it took bravery to speak to these situations. He said the problems outlined an opportunity.

“Their concerns are our concerns as well,” Law said.