Nonverbal Brevard County second grader denied prescribed therapy in school

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — A nonverbal Brevard County second grade student was receiving prescribed, privately paid therapy in his Enterprise Elementary School classroom this year, until the district suddenly stopped allowing it.

Now, 9 Investigates looked into inconsistencies among local districts on what types of therapy children are allowed to have in class.

Investigative reporter Karla Ray learned it boils down to language in a state law from six years ago.

Senate Bill 1108 defines what types of certified private instructional personnel can work in schools, like speech therapists and behavior analysts.  The bill was written in 2013, before registered behavior technicians existed. Even though RBTs are not specifically listed in the bill, State Rep. Rene Plasencia says districts that do not allow RBTs in classrooms are in violation of the law, because the bill covers positions that are certified.

It's sometimes a battle to get 7-year-old Andrew Pogar into his shoes. He's nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, which is a reality that's new to his family.

For the first part of Andrew's life, he was hitting all the milestones; talking, playing with his younger sister, even participating in T-ball; before he suddenly regressed in a case that has baffled his family and his doctors.

"Along the way to make sure he gets the proper treatment, it's been a nonstop battle against one agency or another, and recently we've come up against the Brevard County School Board," father Jonathan Pogar said.

For the first few weeks of the 2019 school year, Andrew was assisted in class by a privately paid and medically prescribed registered behavior technician. Then, through a letter from one of the District's Assistant Superintendents, staff was notified that RBTs are not permitted in class because they're not specifically listed in the language of SB 1108.

"We just worry that there could be regression," mother Heather Pogar said.

The family now has State Representative Rene Plasencia fighting on their behalf. He says even though RBTs are not listed in the bill, they're still covered because they are certified under the same statute that regulates behavior analysts.

"Schools that are not abiding by that are in violation of state laws," Representative Plasencia said. "It's just a matter of making sure we communicate that in our schools."

It's a message that has not been made clear. In fact, Brevard School leaders pointed to a decision out of Broward County to restrict RBTs, but this year Broward has reversed course and is allowing RBTs in school.

Pogar's RBT, who wished to remain anonymous, told 9 Investigates she works in neighboring Volusia County Schools without issue.

When 9 Investigates surveyed other local districts, Orange and Osceola school leaders told us that RBTs were not allowed in class. However, Orange County School Board member Angie Gallo has asked staff to look into changing that rule.

"You go drive five miles over the border in [another] county, and that other school won't let people in," Board-certified behavior analyst Tiki Fiol said.

Fiol doesn't work with the Pogar family, but is on the Florida Association of Behavior Analysts. She points out that RBTs provide the least expensive of this type of therapy, and they're the most hands-on.

"This therapy should not be taken lightly," Jonathan Pogar said.  "This is life-altering for children who need this therapy."

After the Pogar family raised concerns and 9 Investigates started asking questions, the Brevard County School Board now plans to take this issue up at its next meeting, on Tuesday, October 15.

"The point is to get board direction, in the sunshine, on whether BPS should allow RBTs to work with students during the school day on school campuses, something that is allowed in Florida but not required," public information officer Matt Reed said in an email.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.