Students with disabilities face setbacks, safety risks as Oregon special education systems struggle

Last year, Andrew and Sara Weith went to Glencoe Elementary School to see their son Oli, then a first grader, present a project with his class. Each student had to plan a farm, name it, pick out the animals that would be there, and decide what the farm would look like. Oli’s Rainbow Dragon Farm presentation was a big moment for the family.

“It was really emotional for Andy and I,” Sara Weith recalled. “He did the entire project with the help of an aide, but he did the whole thing by himself and was able to be in a big room and [he] presented to people and all the things.”

Oli has autism spectrum disorder. He had a bumpy start to last school year. But after advocacy from Oli’s parents and the principal, Oli received an aide who would help him for about 80% of the day. The aide would intervene with Oli if his behavior escalated or if he got upset.

This year, Oli is in second grade at Buckman Elementary, another Southeast Portland school. His parents moved Oli to Buckman after hearing he wouldn’t receive the same support as he had in first grade, and instead could be moved into a separate, specialized classroom. But when Oli changed to Buckman, he didn’t get one-on-one support. His parents say the school didn’t set academic expectations for their son who spends his school day in a special ed classroom focused on social and emotional skills. Oli’s teacher is often left as the only adult in the room with several students with high needs.

OPB’s interviews with parents and staff members suggest the difficulties Oli is having aren’t simply the differences between one neighborhood elementary school and another. Entire systems of special education are fraying, as teachers, administrators and support staff try to stretch limited resources to meet intense needs.

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Updated: January 12, 2023 — 8:50 am