Clovis parents urge schools to transport medically fragile students to therapy in Fresno

Andrew Kuhn

A group of Clovis Unified parents is asking the district to transport a small number of students with several medical needs to a specialized therapeutic afterschool program.

The parents say the facility — Loretta’s Little Miracles — is the only one in the region that provides the specific services these eight or so students require.

But Clovis Unified has declined to transport the students because the facility is outside district boundaries and isn’t among the listed exceptions of the district’s transportation policy. Additionally, such transportation isn’t part of the students’ Individualized Education Plans.

The parent group addressed the school board at a Jan. 18 board meeting and asked the trustees to help them find a solution. The parents said the district could include transportation in the students IEPs or change the transportation policy. They said the district could also simply exempt their students from the existing policy.

“We ask that you support CUSD’s exceptionally disabled and medically fragile children to obtain equitable services,” parent Katie Bewarder told the school board during that meeting.

Superintendent Eimear O’Brien said the request asks for a “unique exception to a longstanding policy.”

“We’re being asked by a private business to make an exception to a transportation policy that is very intentionally crafted to be sustainable within our staffing and equipment resources and equitable to every parent within our district,” O’Brien said in an emailed statement.

Providing that transportation to students when the transportation isn’t a part of their education plans would not be equitable for all CUSD families, district officials say.

“Given that we are a public school system, if we do something for one group, we set precedent that we would potentially be providing for a number of (groups),” district spokesperson Kelly Avants said.

The board couldn’t discuss the matter during its regular board meeting because the parents spoke throughout the public comment section reserved for issues not on the meeting agenda.

With the help of the daycare center’s owner, Katelyn Ashton, the parent group prepared a packet of materials with more than 50 pages, including information on district practices and programs, CUSD denial letters, doctors’ letters supporting the transportation, and an “All About Me” section showing the “faces behind our pleas” with stories about the students and their specialized needs.

Parents say they depend on Loretta’s Little Miracles

In their packet presented to the board, the parents say they depend on Loretta’s Little Miracles for afterschool care so they can work and for their kids to continue gaining life skills beyond school hours. Little Miracles cares for medically fragile and developmentally delayed or disabled children by providing medical and therapeutic care.

It’s three miles outside of Clovis Unified boundaries, parents say.

No daycare center in the surrounding areas can care for the needs of the students who attend Little Miracles daily, parents discussed, noting the necessity for licensed nursing staff and, in some cases, one-on-one care.

“Typical daycares cannot and are not licensed to accommodate their complex needs, constant medical interventions and monitoring which could negatively affect their lives,” the parent group said in the documents prepared for the school board.

Five doctors, on behalf of six students, backed that by saying Loretta’s Little Miracles is the only licensed pediatric day health care facility in the region providing skilled nursing services for medically fragile children.

Bewarder said Little Miracles is the only option for her 3-year-old Beau, a Maple Creek Elementary student, because he lives with a rare neurodegenerative condition, affecting his ability to walk, talk and see.

Transportation before and after school will “prevent any further morbidity and mortality related to improper care” and will “foster a more intimate and balanced relationship with his parents by allowing them to participate in the work force and have a balanced life,” Dr. Nidhi Mehrotra said in a Jan. 9 letter on behalf of Beau. The letter was included with the packet from the parent group.

Dr. ShafÍ Rahman said the same about 9-year-old Elyas, a Mountain View Elementary student.

His mom, Rose Shafi-Pailing, had to quit her job this school year when Clovis Unified shifted to earlier elementary start times but wouldn’t transport her son to the center.

Elyas, known by everyone as Yassi, has cerebral palsy and is legally blind; he’s attended Little Miracles since 2018.

Maple Creek Elementary and Mountain View Elementary are, respectively, 5.5 miles and 4.5 miles away from the daycare facility.

Clovis Unified transports special education students, including severely disabled children, to and from their home or to a daycare facility within the school district. CUSD employees cited the district’s transportation handbook requiring daycares to be within the district’s boundaries.

Parents and Little Miracles argue that the district provides exemptions to their transportation rules and questioned why a similar exemption can’t be made for the only pediatric skilled nursing facility in the Fresno area.

The district has an extracurricular activities clause in the transportation handbook that says CUSD will provide transportation for students with exceptional needs to the school they attend, the school they’re zoned for or a coordinated meeting spot after extracurricular activities.

Students’ IEPs dictate services

School districts’ obligations to special education students are defined by their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), which are created with students’ parents and a team of district staff.

“When it’s not included in their IEPs, they are asking the school district to break our existing policy, set a new precedent and provide transportation to go outside our school system,” Avants said.

Parents said they requested transportation to Little Miracles as part of their children’s IEP, but the district has refused to include the accommodation.

Even when a transportation service is a part of the IEP, the boundary requirement is what district officials base the service on if a private facility such as Little Miracles isn’t named.

Transportation outside of the district boundaries is parents’ responsibility,Theresa Pafford, a CUSD administrator over special education, told parents in emails sent in October 2022 and in January.

“I have always hoped that Loretta would open a facility within the Clovis Unified boundaries. Maybe one day she will,” Pafford said in one email that was included with the parents’ information packet.

She commended the care Loretta’s Little Miracles provided, expressed disappointment in the facility not being in CUSD and questioned if it had resources to provide transportation in another email.

CUSD leadership is evaluating alternative options such as non-emergency medical transport through insurance providers, O’Brien informed families and Avants confirmed with The Bee’s Education Lab.

Board President David DeFrank would support those efforts, he said in an email to the Ed Lab.

District could provide transportation but is it feasible?

Avants said the district would have to hire more drivers to provide the transportation requested by the parents, but an ongoing shortage of bus drivers further complicates the issue.

“We really do not have the resources to change our transportation policy at this point in time,” Avants echoed. “That doesn’t mean that we are not incredibly sensitive to the realities facing families of students with exceptional needs.”

O’Brien said she couldn’t support changing the district’s policy.

“While I have compassion for any parent who faces challenges in arranging afterschool transportation to daycare for a child, my responsibility to all of our students and our team who supports them is such that I can’t recommend we make exceptions like this to our policy.”

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