Special Education

Walkiria Ramos is frustrated about not being able to send her seven-year-old blind and autistic son to class at Edison Park Elementary School in Miami. Ramos claims that since December 1 public school officials have been slow to provide the special care second-grader Joel Rodriguez requires in order to function in a classroom setting. "They keep telling me they are doing everything they can to help," Ramos said. "But it's been more than a week and he is still at home. I'm afraid to send him to school by himself."

Federal law as well as local district rules require Miami-Dade public schools to make necessary accommodations for all handicapped students. Ramos says she didn't have any problems when her son attended Tropical Elementary in Kendall, a school equipped to handle children in Joel's situation. But when Ramos moved to Miami at the end of November, the boy had to transfer. Ramos says she met with representatives from Miami-Dade Public Schools to pick a new school that could meet her boy's needs. She settled on Edison based on assurances that the school would be ready to take care of Joel.

Schools spokesman Joseph Garcia insists district officials are working to make provisions for Joel, but claims Ramos was informed that Edison Park was not equipped to handle blind or autistic children. "It was explained to her that we would need to completely retrofit Edison to accommodate her son," Garcia says.

Garcia adds that district officials will ask Ramos to consider placing her son at Arcola Lakes Elementary, which already has a blind and autistic student population. "We are going to work this out," he says.

Ramos, however, disputes Garcia's assertions that Arcola Lakes is up to the task. That school's assistant principal told her Arcola does not offer support for autistic youngsters. "It's all a game so some people can cover up their mistakes," Ramos says.

Both Garcia and Ramos agree that Ramos was told the school would indeed be modified to accommodate Joel's needs. The boy requires a monitor to guide him through the day and help him get from class to class as well as reading lessons designed for the sight-impaired and sessions for his autism.

Ramos had originally moved from Kendall to Miami in order to be closer to her job and because she had found a less expensive apartment to rent.

But the delay in getting Joel into class has cost the former security guard at Design Place Apartments in Little Haiti her job, as she missed too many days of work taking care of the boy while he wasn't in school.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.

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