• New bill could give parents of special needs students control over their education


    ORLANDO, Fla. - A bill that gives parents of special needs students more control over their children's education is gaining momentum in Tallahassee.

    Right now, parents who don't agree with a district's plan to move their child into a special diploma track or to a new school have to request a hearing before a judge.

    But new legislation would give parents the final say.

    Channel 9 talked to an Orange County family who said the changes are long overdue.

    Tyler Chandler, 12, has Down syndrome, but he has surprised everyone with his progress. Tyler has learned to ride a bicycle and even wants to go to college.

    Tyler's parents were frustrated when Orange County Schools moved him from a regular diploma track to a special diploma track, which could keep him from getting into college.

    "They basically told us this is the decision they had made and that is what was going to happen and that was the end of it," said Tyler's father, Jason Chandler.

    The Chandlers said it was too tough to fight the district, so they moved Tyler to a private school.

    "No parent should have to go through the types of things our family has had to go through," said Jason Chandler.

    Currently, parents who disagree with the district can request a hearing with an administrative law judge.

    A new bill filed by Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford would give parents the final say while the district could challenge parents before a judge.

    "This really empowers the parents to make better decisions for their students," said Brodeur.

    The bill also allows private therapists to provide services to students with disabilities on public school campuses, something the Chandlers tried without success.

    Channel 9 learned some school leaders plan to fight the bill's constitutionality, but Orange County school board chair Bill Sublette has a different take.

    "I think a lot of the concerns are overblown," he said.

    Sublette said there are 25,000 students with special needs in Orange County. Only 17 families contested the district's plan for them last year and all those cases were resolved before going to a hearing.

    If the bill passes, the Chandlers might consider moving Tyler back to public school.

    A companion bill was filed in the senate by Andy Gardiner, who also has a special needs child. The bill cleared the Education Committee and will now will be voted on by the House and Senate.

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