Friday, December 31, 2010

NC school won't let parents walk autistic son to classroom to ease his anxiety


WILLOW SPRING, N.C. — A Johnston County couple has pulled their special-needs son out of school after the principal refused to allow them to walk him to class to ease his anxiety.

Kenneth and Christy Dawson said their 7-year-old son, Jake (pictured), suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome. He also has been diagnosed with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

This fall, the third-grader developed severe separation anxiety, and getting dropped off at school and having to walk in by himself set him off, his parents said.

"He had such severe anxiety making that transition. It was manifesting physically," Christy Dawson said.

"He did have episodes of vomiting (and) severe diarrhea," Kenneth Dawson said.

After about a month, Jake's teacher at Dixon Road Elementary School suggested that his mother or father walk him to the classroom to ease his separation anxiety. Principal Dawn Alligood approved the idea.

"He knew he wasn't going to have to jump out of the car and face the world by himself," Christy Dawson said.

The process worked well for several weeks until other parents started complaining.

Alligood then told the Dawsons that the school doesn't allow parents to walk their children to class to maintain school security. Other parents didn't like the special treatment given to the Dawsons, so Alligood said Jake could no longer get a daily escort to class.

The Dawsons said Alligood asked for a note from Jake's pediatrician, but when the doctor explained that getting walked to class would help reduce Jake's anxiety, they said the principal refused to budge from the policy.

"Who's getting affected? Jake," Christy Dawson said. "You can only imagine the anxiety level increasing in him. It got so bad that he's seeing a gastroenterologist."

Alligood couldn't be reached for comment.

Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ed Croom declined to comment, citing student privacy laws.

In an e-mail to the Dawsons, Croom wrote, "It is simply not good practice to allow parents to walk children to class. It limits the ability to know who is in the building and, frankly, creates a safety issue for students."

School district spokeswoman Terri Sessoms said Croom deals with parental issues on a case-by-case basis.

The Dawsons now home school Jake.

"Where has the compassion gone?" Christy Dawson said. "Something as simple as walking through a door and getting my child where he needs to be can alleviate so much for him, and they deny him that? I think that's very sad."