ASHVILLE – One teacher’s aide at Springville Elementary School says she and the students she serves are being treated unfairly.
Brenda Leopard addressed the St. Clair County Board of Education Monday regarding issues with special needs children with which she works. Leopard is in her 12th year as an aide, and is also the parent of a special needs child who attended all three Springville schools.
In her 11 years, Leopard said she had been through some difficult times.
“I have had my wrist broken,” Leopard said. “I have been stabbed with scissors by a child while I was pregnant. But nothing compares to what I have to do now.”
Leopard said she has been asked to take care of three special needs children. One is a child with no limbs in a wheelchair that requires Leopard’s help all day. Leopard also said one of the other two children can and will attack a teacher or classmate in a moments’ notice if not strictly supervised.
“Year after year, we are asked to do more and more,” Leopard said. “And that is not fair to these children. I’m not here for the money. I am here because I love these children. What is being done to these children is not fair. It’s not fair to these teachers, and it’s not fair to me.”
Leopard told the BOE she previously sent an email to Special Education Coordinator Teresa Arnold trying to address issues as she sees them.
“She basically told me to talk to my principal because it was not her problem and don’t address anything else to her,” Leopard said. “My principal’s (Bobby Byrd) hands are tied.”
Leopard stated during her remarks that the Central Office staff had doubled in the past few years she had been an employee.
“We can find money for that, but we can’t find money for these special needs children?” Leopard asked. “That’s crazy, and I don’t understand it. When is it going to stop? That’s what you were elected for – by the people of this county. Because they thought you were going to do what was right for their children.
“In all the years I have been here, we have never been through this issue. It’s always been children first, children first. Children should not have to come to school and worry if they are going to be attacked today. I’ve never questioned one thing you have wanted me to do as a teacher’s aide. But it is ridiculous when you want one person to do more than one person’s job. I wish you would start looking at what’s best for the students. Right now, this is not what’s best for the students.”
Contacted on Tuesday, St. Clair Schools Superintendent Jenny Seals said that Leopard’s statement about central office staff doubling is not accurate.
“All we have done is replace and restructure after some employees took teaching positions and an administrative position in another school system,” Seals said.
BOE President Scott Suttle asked Leopard Monday to keep the board informed on what goes on the next few days because he understood some issues were in the midst of being addressed.
“I think the board would be interested in some things that you might not even be aware of at this point,” Suttle said. “The board would be interested in knowing if this gets better or worse.”
Board Vice President Marie Manning said she thinks every member of the board appreciates those who work with special needs children.
“I know that can be a very difficult job at times,” Manning said. “We appreciate what you do.”
Board member Terry Green said the only reason he serves on the board is because he cares about the kids of St. Clair County.
“I disagree with you on the response you got from your principal and the special education coordinator,” Green said.
When Leopard said she did not have a problem with Byrd, Green said he was not going to argue with her.
“He is responsible,” Green said. “He is who you work for. He’s your supervisor. He is who works for us. He should be here with as much passion as you have. Same thing with the coordinator. That’s just how I feel.”
On Tuesday, Byrd said solutions to the situation are being considered.
“There is no short-term answer for it, because we are talking about students with special needs,” Byrd said. “There are a multitude of aspects I have to consider before I make a final decision. I hope to have a resolution by Monday.”
Arnold was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Contact Gary Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.