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Parents criticized Mesa Public Schools superintendent placed on leave

(Facebook Photo/Mesa Public Schools)

PHOENIX — Prior to being placed on non-disciplinary administrative leave, parents had criticized the superintendent of Mesa Public Schools over changes to special education programs that led to students having to switch schools.

The school district’s governing board voted to place Dr. Ember Conley on paid leave at a special meeting Monday morning. Details on why this was done were not disclosed.

Some parents, like Nikki Werner of Mesa, said she and other parents had criticized Conley’s support to consolidate programs for severely intellectually disabled students, also known as SID programs, this school year.

“I know a lot of parents were trying to get ahold of Dr. Conley, but she just ignored them,” Werner said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM reached out Monday to the special education department at Mesa Public Schools for comment but did not hear back.

Previously, the programs were split up. Schools offered the program for kindergartners through third graders while others offered it for fourth through sixth graders.

This school year, the programs were merged so that students don’t have to move schools midway through their elementary school education. Two schools now offer the SID program for K-6th graders.

“It sounds really, really great, especially with these kids that are so vulnerable to change and they don’t handle it well,” Werner said. “The problem with it is the implementation of the program was very poor.”

She said Conley and others on the Mesa Public Schools governing board “didn’t consider the hardships that it would actually take on the student and on the families as well.”

Werner said she had to move her daughter, who has Down syndrome and can’t walk due to brain damage, first to Lowell Elementary School and then to Franklin East Elementary School this school year.

Both schools are about 10 miles from Werner’s house and are the only schools remaining in the district with a SID program.

Werner said it now takes her daughter nearly an hour to get to and from school on the school bus. It’s due to distance and the time it takes to load and unload students’ wheelchairs.

Werner said a note from her daughter’s doctor saying she can’t be on a bus for more than 20 minutes due to heat intolerance was ignored.

Michelle Campuzano, an advocate for students with special needs, said about a dozen parents from Mesa have reached out to her with similar concerns as Werner. She said they feel they weren’t given enough notice before SID programs were consolidated.

“Decisions were made and never was the impact on families who are servicing vulnerable children considered,” she said.

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