My Letter to Atlantic County Special Services School

                                                                                                                            2/22/19

To whom this may concern,

       My name is Dominique Soverall and I am the mother of Jaden Deshaun Soverall. Jaden was born in Virginia May 11th, 2007, 6 pounds and 9 ounces. Jaden passed all his newborn screenings and we were sent home promptly. Jaden was a joyful baby who was making milestones at his own pace. During his 15-month checkup, his pediatrician recommended we seek intervention because Jaden had not met most of the 15-month milestones. That appointment was the beginning of a journey that has changed our lives forever. When Jaden was 2, he was diagnosed with a mild but rare chromosomal disorder called MECP2 duplication syndrome. There are many symptoms associated with MECP2, but Jaden’s symptoms are epilepsy, hypotonia, acid reflux, and global delays.  

        Continuing, one of the reasons we moved was because the doctors were struggling to control Jaden’s epilepsy. In May 2014, he fell terribly ill, spent 48 hours in the PICU and was in the hospital another four days. The joyful boy that I had seen make progressive progress despite his challenges was gone and a different child came home with me in May of 2014.  I diligently began searching for doctors that could control his seizures so my joyful baby would come back. My search led me to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and we began the moving process. After two years of continuous road trips to the tri-state area, we settled in New Jersey march of 2016. Our transition to NJ was not easy, as Jaden has an extensive medical history and leaving our school family in Virginia was heartbreaking.

    Furthermore, I am a product of the Newport News public school system. While I was in school, I was challenged with teachers who were prejudice and students who teased me because I was overweight. Despite those things, I persevered and now have 2 college degrees. My son began his educational journey in the Newport News Public School system at age 3. Pre-K through 3rd grade was amazing for my son. He was in educational environments where he thrived and was constantly supported by teachers, aides and his class mates.  Jaden has missed a great deal of school due to the medical challenges he faces. Whenever he missed school or fell ill, his teachers and class mates would always check on him. To this day I still receive emails or text from his past educators asking me how Jaden is doing. Jaden had the pleasure of having my elementary principal as his elementary principal and the security team that worked at my high school as his security team in elementary school. Knowing that Jaden was around familiars gave me great comfort! Even though Jaden thrived in his educational environments, there was never enough resources available to assist teachers, parents and students. Newport News persistently cut budgets and the special needs children were the first to feel the effects. Jaden also attended a before and after school program adapted for special needs children and adults but because of poor management and budget cuts that program was scratched for the special needs’ community. Therefore, moving to New Jersey was exciting and I was hopeful because medically and educationally Jaden would have more opportunities.

Once we moved in March 2016, I immediately began the process of enrolling my son in school. One thing that impressed me right away was the options of schooling. I was presented with 2 schools that would best accommodate my son and his special needs. The choices were HESS school in a self-contained classroom in a regular elementary school, which was what he had in Virginia or he could go to Atlantic County Special Services. Atlantic County Special Services was a school with an all special needs population and more staff that could provide additional support such as physical, occupational and speech therapy. I was also told that ACSSD would be better equipped to handle his medical needs. By April of 2016 my son was enrolled in Atlantic County Special Services and began class before the end of the month.

 Fawn Butcher was Jaden’s first school case manager and she was very welcoming and tried to accommodate all our needs and concerns. Jaden also qualified for a 1 on 1 aide to assist him throughout the school day which was something not offered to us by the Newport News School System. Jaden entered Atlantic County Special Services at the end of 3rd grade which was the 2015-2016 school year. He was placed in Amy Sykes class and the first experiences were wonderful at the school! My son was excited about ACSSD and his new opportunities, teacher and classmates.  However, Jaden’s excitement soon faded when he returned to school for 4th grade during the 2016-2017 school year. He was assigned to Gail Breeds class and one day when I went to pick Jaden up, I walked down to the class and observed his aide, Nikki, hold Jaden by his wrist when assisting him back to his chair. I also noticed that the class was a lower functioning class which was not like Mrs. Sykes class.  I was very uncomfortable with the way Nikki was handling my son and wanted my son in a class where he would be challenged by his peers, like in Mrs. Sykes class. I request that Jaden be moved to a class like Mrs. Sykes class or a class where my son would be challenge more.

Without delay, Jaden was removed from that class, along with Nikki the personal aide, and was placed in a higher functioning class. Jaden was moved to Devonee Fatcher’s class where he was rejoined with some of the classmates, he met in Mrs. Sykes class. Jaden’s excitement for school had come back and he also received an aide, Aliyah Brown, who seemed like she would be a great aide. Towards the end of 2016, concerns were brought up that Jaden was having mobility issues. One day I had the pleasure of walking him to class and because Jaden was not having mobility issues at home, I wanted to see how he was moving around in school. I walked Jaden into the classroom and spoke to everyone and one of the class aides, not to be confused with Aliyah brown, told me that Jaden displayed “Parkinson like Symptoms.” I was confused as to what the class room aide was referring to and asked why no one had notified me about that observation. The actions that followed were that I was to be notified if Jaden displayed any “Parkinson like Symptoms” and I wanted all of Jaden’s seizure activity to be documented. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, Jaden was in Kate Peckus’s class and Aliyah Brown, who was still Jaden’s aide, told me that she was pregnant. Aliyah was in her first trimester when she told me and planned to work all the way through her pregnancy. Since Aliyah was going to work her whole pregnancy, I thought I would notify Jaden’s principal Brian Kern and Jaden’s case managers Sue Frambus and Jessica Crawford, to see if we could work on finding a replacement aide. When I asked for Nikki to be removed, I had also asked, if possible, could Jaden be placed with a male aide. According the ACSSD, male aides are hard to find, but they would try to find one. That search was taking too long and that’s how Jaden ended up with Aliyah. Because Aliyah notified me in her first trimester, I thought that would be a fair amount of time to find a replacement aide. However, no aide was found and when Aliyah went out to bring life into the world Jaden had a series of regular substitute aides. One of the substitute aides, Najiba, told me that some teachers and other staff members had witness Aliyah being negligent on her responsibilities to Jaden and was happy to share that information with Najiba. I was never notified by Jaden’s teacher or any staff member from ACSSD, other than Najiba, with claims of negligence by Aliyah Brown.

Eventually, Jaden was blessed with a permanent aide, Artaya Graham. Artaya started with Jaden right before the end of the 2017-2018 school year. She was one of the substitute aides and when I met her, I knew I wanted her with my son. My mom Renee Soverall, called Insight Workforce Solutions, which is the company used to hire aides for ACSSD, and requested Artaya be assigned to Jaden. Artaya just left ACCSD January 16. 2019 and when she told me she was leaving I cried because I knew things were going to change and they rapidly changed! Not even 48 hours after she left, on January 18, 2019, when I picked Jaden up, I noticed there was dry blood under his left nostril. He was with an aide named Thelma on that day and when she brought him to me, she said he had a good day. I immediately took Jaden to the bathroom and upon further observation noticed there was more blood and dry blood inside Jaden’s left nostril. I cleaned my son’s nose and went out to the security desk and asked him to call down to the class. For the 2017-2018 school year Jaden was placed in Cyndi Palubmo’s class and on January 18, Cyndi was out of town and I spoke with the substitute teacher. I asked the substitute teacher a series of questions trying to find out why there was blood underneath my son’s nose. The substitute teacher told me there were 4 adults in the room and none of them saw anything, he had a good day. I was not happy with that response and immediately called Jessica Crawford who is Jaden’s district case manager.

         Just recently on February 14, 2019, I received a phone call from nurse Yvonne Tracy, stating she had just seen Jaden in the classroom. Nurse Yvonne told me that when she first approached Jaden, he seemed shocked and looked as if he did not recognize her. She said that she observed a cut underneath his left nostril and his bottom lip looked chapped. She also told me that he had a temperature of 99.1 but that he was fine. Nurse Yvonne called me at 1:14pm and I was at the school before 1:30pm. I did not like what I heard on the phone and knew my son was not okay. Cyndi, Jaden’s teacher, brought him to me and explained to me that Jaden was playing on the floor with Legos and that’s when they noticed Jaden’s nose and bottom lip.

            In final analysis, I am furious and extremely disappointed in Atlantic County Special Services School. I moved to New Jersey to give my son a better quality of life. I have fought tooth and nail, for 11 years, to keep my son ALIVE and in good health. I do not see my son’s disorder as a disability, I see it as a power, a strength, something that can be an ability more than a disability. It takes a village to raise a child and we had a wonderful educational village in Virginia. Every teacher that crossed paths with my son educated, nurtured and protected him. Children should always feel safe and wanted in their educational environment and be able to trust the adults around them. During our time with ACSSD, I have consistently complained, at IEP meetings, about the lack of communication in that building. I have been misled by one of Jaden’s speech therapist, with the volunteered offer of flash cards on two occasions but no flash cards were ever made.  My mom has overheard one of Jaden’s previous class aides call Jaden a “BRAT” because he would not engage with her. I am tired of dealing with ACSSD over finding a full-time aide especially when on one occasion there was adequate time to find a replacement. Having a personal aide 3 days out of the week is unacceptable when It is written in Jaden’s IEP that he is to have a personal individual aide for 360 minutes daily. I’ve had to cancel bus services with Shepard Bus Company because drivers and aides were not properly trained to deal with special needs children. There was also an issue with the length of time it took for Jaden to receive his helmet in this school year. Not one person from the physical therapy department or the school kept me abreast as to what the delay was. I had to become Nancy Drew and inquire what the delay was. Once again, the lack of communication at that school is out of control. I have had enough of the bs with Atlantic County Special Services School! I will never ever, allow anyone else at that school to have access to my son, Jaden Soverall. I will not allow another person at Atlantic County Special Services, to smile in my face, make false promises and lie to me about what’s going on with my son. The atmosphere that you have presented to me and my son, no longer fits the educational vision that I have for Jaden. I feel like Jaden’s civil rights have been violated and that is not okay! I asked the supposed educators and teaching staff what happened to my son while he was on school premises and was told he had a good day. That does not sit right with me when Jaden has scrapes and unexplained blood leaking from his nose, and nobody sees anything. You have denied me my parental rights and have lost my respect on all levels!!

        Finally, In September of 2016 a letter was sent home to all students from Jennifer Cruickshank, the Affirmative Action Officer, on a Non- Discrimination Policy that states the following:

  • You have a right to be safe in our school. This means we will not hit you, kick you, push you or hurt you in any way.
  • You have the right to be respected and treated with compassion in our school. We will not laugh at you or hurt your feelings.
*
20 Things Every Parent of Kids with Special Needs Should Know
  1. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, talk to your teacher. If they can’t help you speak to your principal about your problem. We can all get along well and treat each other fairly.

There is more to the Non-Discrimination Policy, but these specific policies really warm my heart and your services are no longer needed.

Thank you for your time,

Dominique Soverall

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