LEBANON, Mo -- Parents of special education students aired their concerns on Monday to Lebanon School District administrators about segregating their children from the rest of the district.
"He is a human being who has emotions. I'm about to get emotional. He has emotions, too," said Leslie Johnson tearfully as she spoke about her 10-year-old son with special needs.
It was a passionate discussion.
"My son needs to be included with his peers, not hidden in a trailer across town," said Jennifer Stark, parent of an 8-year-old boy with special needs.
It was led by the Advocates for Lebanon R-3 Special Education.
"Oh my gosh. these kids -- they are treating them like they are some kind of rabid animal," said Johnson.
Right now, special needs children are housed in two trailers behind Lebanon Junior High School. Parents want that to change.
At the heart of this entire issue is inclusion. According to the Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks, numerous studies say children with special needs succeed better in life when they are included in regular classrooms.
Parents say their children spend nearly 90 percent of their day inside the trailers with little interaction with other kids their age.
"We're not asking that they be put in the same class or regular education class. We're asking simply that they have a classroom in the building," said Valentine Shiverdeck, who has a child with special needs.
Lebanon Superintendent Duane Widhalm says it's a matter of funding and space.
"We don't have unlimited funds in our district to do everything we would like to do and we would like to see done. So we continue to spend it the best we can," he said.
Some parents don't like that reasoning. The believe children with special needs are getting the funding cuts first in the district.
"That's their expression and that's why we are meeting to discuss these concerns," said Widhalm.
The advocates aren't looking to pick a fight, but they do want an open discussion about how to fix the problem.
"If they are in the 4th grade, we'd like to see them with 4th graders. If they are in the 12th grade, we'd like to see them with 12th graders," said Shiverdeck.
The school district hopes for a peaceful solution as well.
"We are very interested in meeting and discussing options that are available out there," Widhalm said.
The superintendent says, ideally, he'd like to eventually see all the trailers close on all campuses. Until that happens, he said the district will work on some short term solutions to help integrate the special education students with the rest of the student body.