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Parents of students with autism want behavior therapists allowed in Colorado classrooms

Colorado school districts are pushing back, arguing that they need to retain authority over who comes into the classroom and over deciding what services children need to be successful at school

David Quinlan’s 9-year-old son, who has autism, has experienced great progress in how he communicates and copes thanks to 30 to 35 hours a week of applied behavior analysis therapy.

But the only way Quinlan can fit that much specialized therapy into the week is to pull his son out of his Cherry Creek School District classroom halfway through the day, every day. Even so, he doesn’t get home until well after 6 p.m.

“If therapy happened in school, his day would look a lot more like a normal kid,” Quinlan said. “He could go to karate or swimming after school and be home in time for a normal dinner.”

Quinlan and other parents of children with autism are pushing for legislation that would require all school districts to allow applied behavior analysis therapists into the classroom. Parents say ABA therapists can be more effective when they work with children in the classroom and can be an asset to general education teachers.

But school districts are pushing back, arguing that they need to retain authority over who comes into the classroom and over deciding what services children need to be successful at school. The Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Rural Alliance, and the Consortium of Directors of Special Education all oppose the bill.

So does the organization that oversees the Medicaid Student Health Services program in Colorado. Its director is worried the legislation could open the door to other private providers in the classroom and undermine a funding model that has paid for school nurses, health aides, and medical supplies that benefit all Colorado students.

Faced with so much opposition, bill sponsor state Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat, is planning to significantly amend the bill when it’s set to be heard Tuesday by the House Education Committee. Instead of requiring that therapists be allowed into the classroom, it would require school districts to set a written policy on whether to allow them.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.


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