Despite those review channels and efforts to improve outreach, there are many parents who struggle desperately to see that their children are properly taken care of, said Nicole Whitfield, the founder of the Trenton Special Parent Advocacy Group and a mother of special needs students herself.
“There are tons of parents going through this and there are tons of parents in the district who don’t know the law and the code,” Whitfield said.
She has helped many parents of students in the Trenton school district get the assistance their children need and get placements out of district when the city’s schools are unable to provide for the children.
Whitfield learned the hard way, fighting for her own special needs children. She said her 10-year-old son who has autism was in the school district for three years, and in that time Whitfield became very familiar with the laws surrounding special services for students with disabilities and the workings of the district’s special education department.
“I had issues getting him speech and occupational therapy, problems with transportation,” Whitfield said. “Every year I was fighting.”
She said that although she and her family have moved to Willingboro, she still strives to make sure Trenton parents know their rights.
Meanwhile, the struggle continues for [Riickeema] Potter, a single parent who has three children under the age of 13. She would be willing to wait for the bus to pick up Mahkeen and solve the problem that way, but she has other family responsibilities. She has to get her 8- and 13-year-old sons to school, and she has to get to work on time. Potter is struggling to make ends meet, earning $1,800 a month working a temporary job as a clerk at the Department of Labor. She said because she was laid off from February to July she is trying to pay back bills and support her family.
“We’re not totally broke but it is difficult,” she said.
Potter said she recognizes that her son is missing out on important therapy that could help him to make progress more quickly, but right now it is not feasible to leave her job so that she can be there when Mahkeen’s bus comes.
If the district would bend the rules just slightly, it would make a huge difference to her son’s progress, Potter said. “I think he would benefit from it,” she said.