Angie Watson wants her daughter to have a chance at a normal life.
Alexis Watson, 13, was born with a rare chromosome irregularity, 4p-11p maternity Trisomy, and communicates through simple words, gestures, and American Sign Language. Watson said she is one of two survivors of the abnormality in the world.
"We try to live as typical a life as we can within her chromosome abnormality," said Watson.
In an effort to give her some semblance of normality, Watson moved from the Salt Lake City area to Hotchkiss this summer in search of a school that would accept her as a traditional first grade student.
In Utah, Alexis went through two schools and eight years of special needs programming. The system didn't have much hope for her, said Watson. During her eighth year in the public school system, Alexis, then enrolled in sixth grade, started showing signs of increased reading and verbalization skills. Watson then requested an alternative placement to allow her to learn to read and write at her level of ability. She believes that if her daughter can be immersed in a first grade classroom setting, she will have more opportunity to learn.
School officials told her no, that they would allow Alexis to enroll in a sixth grade special needs classroom, and that she needed to be socialized with kids her age. "I grudgingly accepted it," said Watson. "I felt like it was my only option."
Last year, an exasperated Watson home-schooled her daughter while researching other options.
After moving to Hotchkiss she found the North Fork Montessori School in Crawford, and took Alexis to the Aug. 10 registration. For both, said Watson, it was the first time to attend a "typical registration."
School staff and administration were very welcoming and positive, said Watson. "I miraculously found a school that would support her. That school is a dream come true. It's not just a school that's saying yes, it's a Montessori school, the curriculum, the way they focus on unique individuals."
Watson said she was told by principal Bill Eyler that Alexis would need an IEP, or Individual Education Plan to determine a starting point. She was also referred to Sandie Jungers, district director of special education, whom she said told her that Alexis would likely be enrolled in fifth grade in a special needs program, which is basically what she left behind in Utah.
The Delta County School District's policy appears to be very clear on the matter. Assistant superintendent Kurt Clay said Watson is welcome to enroll Alexis in school. However, said Clay, the district can't, by policy, enroll any student in grades lower than already completed. "We can't take a sixth grade student back, by policy," said Clay. "However, we can, absolutely," meet their educational and social needs.
Watson believes there is confusion within the educational system as to what is "age-appropriate" for her daughter. "My problem is, why are we pushing these developmentally delayed kids through the system so fast?" said Watson. "Why can't we apply those years to a good, strong foundation?"
She has researched laws, "and what I was asking seemed to fit right in with all the laws and federal regulations." The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disabilities by any program receiving federal assistance. Specifically, Section 504 of the act requires educational and other services to ensure that individuals receive "the educational services they need to succeed in school" (www.disability.gov), and trumps the district's decision, said Watson.
"The district wants each individual student's needs to be met," said Clay, "but we also have policies and procedures we have to follow."
After sharing her story, a local individual offered to petition for Alexis and her cause, and collected more than 100 signatures in Hotchkiss. He was also petitioning in the Paonia area. Watson said she understands the petitions probably won't make a difference, but she wants others to know about her plight in hopes that it will benefit her daughter and others.
For now, Watson said she has registered Alexis at Hotchkiss K-8 school and is awaiting an IEP team meeting. In the meantime, she said, "I will keep an open mind and see what they have to offer while exploring other options."