Pearson vs. SDMA hearing ends | WisCommunity

Pearson vs. SDMA hearing ends

January 16, 2022 - 5:36pm
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Note that WisCommunity had initially intended to either live-stream or record the public hearing in this case, but judge Sally Pederson ruled that although the hearing was public, that did not allow recording or streaming of the proceedings. We will provide a detailed summary of the hearing later in the week. 

Thomas Pearson and his partner have a first-grade daughter who attends Oaklawn Elementary in Menomonie. Their daughter, Michaela, has Down Syndrome and her parents have been concerned through the COVID-19 pandemic that Michaela was being put at risk by the COVID mitigation strategy of the School District of the Menomonie area. They also have been concerned that the quality of Michaela's education has been impacted by her inability to attend school at times due to the COVID risk.

On October 1 the parents filed for a special education due process hearing with the district. The basis for this legal action is that the School District of the Menomonie Area (SDMA), in choosing not to adopt recommended mitigation protocols for COVID-19, has failed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for Michaela in the least restrictive environment. The redacted legal action is attached below.

Michaela has been in and out of Oaklawn school as the mitigation policy of the district has changed over the past year, particularly in regard to universal masking in the school. She is currently attending school despite the fact that the district rescinded universal masking in the elementary schools as of Dec. 13. The parents made the decision to send her back to school partly because under the new CDC guidelines the student was able to be vaccinated. 

Arbitration was attempted between the parties. The family reached an agreement on January 3 with the district on the subject of providing compensatory education to Michaela to make up for the time that she was out of school due to COVID concerns, but the two parties could not reach an agreement over the issue of the district not adhering to the advice of the CDC, the Dunn County Department of Public Health, the schools Superintendent Dr. Joe Zydowsky, and the advice of health professionals within the district. The school board has changed policy several times in regard to masking in the elementary schools in the past year, and currently masks are optional both for students and staff. The district has never had a policy in regard to vaccination of staff. 

The hearing in this case took place over three days from Jan. 10-12 last week. WisCommunity staff was able to attend most of the hearing and we will provide a summary of much of the testimony later in the week. Much of the testimony revolved around whether Michaela Pearson was in particular jeopardy of being infected with COVID-19 due to having Down Syndrome, whether the district was conforming with Michaela's IEP particularly in regard to contact with unmasked students and staff, and whether staff interacting with Michaela were vaccinated. Issues were also raised in regard to the district's policies for quarantining of students and staff who were either infected or exposed to the virus. 

The attorney for the Pearsons, Jeff Spitzer-Resnick of Madison firm Systems Change Consulting  stated "We want at Oaklawn Elementary School all students to be masked and for quarantine policies for those who have close contacts to be consistent with state, federal, and local guidelines, and for staff who work with Michaela to be vaccinated." 

Judge Sally Pederson was the hearing judge and is expected to rule on the case on March 1, 2022. 

Attached Document

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Steve Hanson
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