SIOUX CITY -- The mother of a North High School student who was bullied online said the Sioux City school district has approved a requested transfer to West High, but she won't allow him to return to classes until he receives a new teacher's aide and assurances of a safe and timely bus ride.
Kristi Rice, who has kept her 15-year-old autistic son, Spencer, at home since early January, was instructed to send him back to school this week, but she refused, citing failed attempts since Jan.8 to set up a safety plan for him.
In the cyber bullying incident in December, a poll posted online by an unknown user asked other students whether Spencer Rice should be killed.
In an email Kristi Rice sent to school officials on Feb. 19, the day Spencer, a sophomore, was asked to return to school, she wrote, "Spencer will remain out of school for his safety... I am honestly unsure why you refuse to provide a different aide. I will be providing the picture(s) and emails to whomever it takes in and out of the district to ensure my son's safety and educational success by changing his aide."
In a statement Thursday, Sioux City School District Superintendent Paul Gasuman said federal privacy laws prevent him from addressing specifics involving Spencer Rice's educational plans.
"I can tell you that district leaders are solution-oriented and always look for scenarios that will best accommodate the individual needs of each student’s case," Gausman said in the statement.
Rice has told her story publicly since January, and this week said there were several long meetings on Feb. 12 with Gausman and other top district officials aimed at updating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with special education elements for Spencer. She said delays continue, as she received only a draft of a new IEP on the evening of Feb. 16, a Friday, when school officials also asked him to return to school on Feb. 19, following the weekend.
In an email Kristi Rice shared with the Journal, an administrator discusses the approved transfer to West. But Rice said administrators haven't followed through to include elements the family believes are important for him to return to classes.
"Per your earlier correspondence, a safety plan was to be drafted at the IEP meeting. It was not. Now you are asking Spencer to write his own safety plan. It is not a 15 year old student (sic), with autism and cerebral palsy, job to write a safety plan," Rice wrote to one administrator.
In early February, the Rices told the Journal they were disappointed there has been such a long interruption in Spencer's school year, after he stopped attending on Jan. 3.
This week, Kristi Rice in an interview said the current aide has not given Spencer sufficient oversight and has been absent for chunks of days. Regarding the bus, Rice said the projected 35-minute morning ride is acceptable to the family.
However, Rice said the proposed 75-minute afternoon bus trip from West to the Rice's home in Morningside is fraught with difficulties.
She said the Siouxland Regional Transit System bus "allows for non-students, random adults with varying physical illnesses, mental illnesses and such to be picked up and dropped off, and so is unsafe for the most vulnerable students in the district."
Gausman said he couldn't discuss specifics of busing for the Rice family, but spoke generally about the district approach.
"With regard to transportation, when a unique student case is presented which requires the district leaders to develop individualized transportation arrangements, families are given more than one option to choose from in order to accommodate the student’s specific needs. Individualized transportation routes can be developed using district transportation or board approved contract transportation services," Gausman said.
"Families may also be given the option to forego use of the transportation services offered and instead collect mileage reimbursement from the District at the Federal rate."
In the most recent Sioux City School Board meeting on Feb. 12, Rice and four other people said district officials have an unresponsive environment when it comes to processing claims by students who say they have been bullied.
Gausman has repeatedly said the school district gives a full review of bullying incidents, through school building administrators and the District’s Student Services and Equity Education Department.