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School Dilemna

12-year-old’s surgery poses dilemma for Frederick school – the Longmont Daily Times-Call doesn’t maintain online archives, so I’ve reprinted the story below.

I find it interesting that it takes 13 paragraphs to get to the point, which is that the school is not wheelchair accessible.

12-year-old’s surgery poses dilemma for Frederick school

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT – Monique Schmidt loves to hang out with friends, go shopping at the mall and try new things. She’s a peer mediator at Frederick Middle School, helping others resolve their disputes, and she hopes to one day become a veterinarian.

The only thing holding the 12-year-old back is a condition she was born with – arthrogryposis, or frozen joint disease.

It basically limits the range of motion in her joints, which caused some of her muscles to not develop properly.

Schmidt is not able to bend her legs or arms, making it very difficult for her to get up and down stairs and do other things, like put on her socks, that everyone else takes for granted. But it doesn’t stop her from learning how to do many things people didn’t think she could do, like play the drums or ride a bicycle.

She added that she’d love to learn how to play volleyball.

For most of her school years, Schmidt had minimal troubles getting around because her classes were always on one level, but this year, as a seventh-grader, most of her classes are on the second floor of the main building.

She is able to make her way up and down stairs, with help, but she is going in for surgery on her leg Thursday and will be in a wheelchair for at least three weeks. Her mother, Teresa Day, said she is worried about her daughter?s school options after the surgery.

Monique’s surgery will attempt to give her more mobility in her right leg. The doctor will break her femur bone, twist the leg around to make it point forward and put a metal plate in it so she can walk more straight, said Day. Right now, when she walks, her leg swings out a bit every time she takes a step, twisting her pelvis and causing strain on her knees.

Unfortunately, technology isn’t at the point where Schmidt could undergo muscle-transplant surgery.

The doctors would have to pull muscles from her back or her stomach to place in her arms and legs, “but I’m not willing to do that. I don’t want to weaken something that is strong to do that,” Day said.

The school proposed that after her daughter’s surgery, she could do her schoolwork from home. The Homebound program through the district would provide a tutor for Schmidt one hour per day.

Her parents are worried that Schmidt will fall behind a grade with this option and she is not happy about being away from school and her friends for three months while she recovers.

The problem is the setup of the school. It isn’t wheelchair accessible and most of Schmidt’s classes are on the second floor.

The school assigned an adult paraprofessional to Schmidt to help her up and down the stairs and help her at lunch, but Day has never been satisfied with that option.

“We had a meeting (before school started) and they asked me my concerns and I voiced my concerns,” Day said. She told the school that she didn’t want her daughter going up and down the stairs because she was afraid Schmidt would fall and get hurt. “They?re waiting for a lawsuit to happen. If my daughter falls once, that’s it.”

Schmidt said she “almost fell once, but the para was right there to catch me.”

Since then she has been a little more timid about her treks up and down the stairs.

Day said that she understood from the former principal of the school, Gary Barnett, that when it came time for her daughter to attend seventh grade, the sixth-graders would be moved into the two-story building and the seventh-graders would be moved out into the smaller one-level buildings. But that never happened.

Built in the 1930s and 1940s, the two-story building on the Frederick Middle School campus was never set up for people with disabilities. And although there is a ramp leading into the first floor of the building and there are handicapped accessible bathrooms in the school, there’s no ramp or elevator going to the second floor, said Paul Talafuse, principal of the school.

“This really points out the need for a new school,” he said. The new middle school in the area broke ground this month and should be ready for occupancy in the fall 2005.

The Frederick Middle School campus used to serve as the elementary school, but after the new elementary school was built, the campus fell into disuse.

It was only after Frederick High School became overcrowded three years ago that the district decided to move the sixth- and seventh-graders over to the old campus, which is made up of numerous small buildings.

“That is a tough situation over there. When we started that program over there, everybody knew there was no access to the second level,” said Rex Hartman, director of operations and maintenance for the school district. “It was never our intent to put an elevator in that school simply because my plans are to tear the building down.”

The district always knew the possibility existed that a student or students with disabilities would attend that school and they figured they would cross that bridge when they came to it.

Talafuse said that he did talk to Schmidt’s mother about her surgery and “we asked that her doctor tell us what would be needed. We haven’t to date heard an answer to what that’s going to be,” he said.

“We?ve never had a student in a wheelchair. If there’s going to be a wheelchair at the school, we’ll certainly have to let Rex Hartman know,” he said.

Day said she doesn’t remember the school asking for a doctor’s note about her daughter?s condition.

The big dilemma this year is science class. The school’s science lab is on the second floor and there is no way to move it and all of its special equipment down to the first floor, Talafuse said.

The upstairs room has numerous sinks and storage facilities for the science equipment. The location didn’t matter so much when Schmidt was in sixth grade because “we didn’t do any experiments,” she said. “This year, we’re dissecting and we need the sinks to wash up.”

So, even though the school is willing to change Schmidt’s schedule to bring the rest of her classes down to the first level, science is still a major problem. Talafuse said the school actually scheduled most of Schmidt’s classes on the second floor so that she wouldn’t have to make more trips up and down the stairs than was absolutely necessary. And since she had to be on the second floor for science anyway, it just made sense to leave her upstairs all day.

Day said that instead of having to go up and down the stairs once during the day, now her daughter has to go up and down a couple of times because she has to walk over to the elementary school for lunch. She’s really afraid for when the weather gets bad. She?s afraid her daughter will slip on the stairs and fall.

Talafuse said that one possible option after Schmidt has her surgery would be to transport her over to the high school for her science classes.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.

Katja

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