Breaking News
More () »

Parents of students with special needs fear impacts of school closures

Amy Miller says her son Andrew has benefitted from the Autism Spectrum Disorder Program at Wilmore-Davis and worries switching schools will cause him to regress.

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — Of the 16 schools that are proposed to be shut down in Jefferson County, 10 of them have some kind of specialized program for students with special needs, also known as Center Programs. 

Four of those programs are for students with affective needs, meaning it provides additional support with social and emotional needs. Three of them are for significant support needs, such as cognitive-related needs or students that may need nursing care. New Classical Academy at Vivian in Lakewood houses a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program and Wilmore-Davis Elementary in Wheat Ridge houses an ASD program, which is for students who have been diagnosed with autism. 

The Miller family learned of their son Andrew's autism diagnosis five years ago. It led them to choice into Wilmore-Davis so their son would have more individualized learning. 

Earlier this year, Andrew's mom Amy learned that Wilmore-Davis was on the chopping block. She immediately thought of all the progress her son had made under the program and worried what a change of school will do to his progress. 

"Stability and consistency is so important for kids with autism. You can’t just underscore that enough. I know it’s going to set him back," said Miller. 

She attributes much of the progress to the staff at Wilmore-Davis and the program. 

"It’s hard because we have seen so much growth in Andrew from being at Wilmore-Davis. When he was first diagnosed five years ago, people who weren’t able to see him during the pandemic, or didn’t see him for whatever reason, they see him now and they can’t believe it was the same kid," said Miller. "He wasn’t talking. He wasn’t interacting with very many people. He barely spoke, and now he has friends. I get texts for birthday parties." 

Amy knows her son doesn't react well to change. They're trying to prepare for what change may look like next year, but it's challenging to see how he will be able to move forward without backtracking. 

"We’ve gotten to a really good place and now we are  going to have to start all over again," said Miller. "We will figure it out. That’s the thing about being a special needs parent -- just when you think you have everything figured out, something changes." 

The district says they are working with students and families to make the transition smooth. 

"It's our job to prepare students for successful transitions," said Matt Palaoro, Chief Student Success Officer. 

The district is ensuring that any staff member who works with a Center program at a closing school will be guaranteed a job at the transferring school. 

That's another thing that is very important to us. We recognize that sometimes it's the relationship that our educators have with our students and vice versa," said Palaoro. 

Palaoro also says that when they were looking to consider schools to close with a Center program, the district took into account and tried to make sure that the transitioning school had a similar program in place. 

According to the district, 93 students who are impacted by the closures are currently enrolled in a Center program. It also says 48% of Jeffco elementary schools district-wide have a center program. 

RELATED: Two JeffCo principals navigate possible school closures together

RELATED: DPS school consolidation plan presented to Board of Education

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Education stories from 9NEWS   

Before You Leave, Check This Out