DOE blasted for shift in service
Parents say the changes in service providers for autistic students will disrupt kids' progress
Parents of autistic children lashed out at the Department of Education yesterday over changes in autism services taking effect tomorrow that they fear will harm their children.
In emotional testimony at a state Capitol informational hearing, parents accused the department of ignoring the interests of their children by not renewing the contracts of some private providers of specialized services to autistic students.
The service disruptions could prove highly stressful for children who, due to their condition, need predictability in people and routines, they said.
"This would be a horrible setback. I can't imagine what this would do to him," Clarice Selby said of her autistic boy.
Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the transitions result from a normal contract bidding process.
The department had to adhere to state procurement laws in judging the provider's qualifications, which resulted in three providers losing contract extensions, she said.
Hamamoto declined to elaborate on the process due to a pending lawsuit by one of the providers, but said the department might issue temporary contract extensions to ensure smooth transfers of services.
"We are working hard to accommodate the needs of students and parents during this transition period," she said.
But parents questioned the need for any transition at all, saying the department has offered no indication it would benefit students.
They also decried the DOE's gradual move toward a system of more direct care by department employees, saying it lacks the expertise.
Autism is a range of neuropsychiatric disorders affecting a person's ability to interact socially and communicate, causing unusual and repetitive behavior.
Parents said shifting providers will stress children who take years to get fully comfortable with the individual trainers who work with them on communicating, socializing and learning.
Kim Uluave of Laie, referring to her son, said, "Through his therapy, our lives started to resemble something peaceful. We won't stand by and watch this happen."
Naomi Grossman of the Autism Society of Hawaii said the changes represent a steady "dismantling" of services for special-needs children once enforced by court order linked to the landmark 1993 Felix consent decree. The case was terminated in July.
Hamamoto denied services were being eroded, but admitted funding was a "challenge." She noted that the department intends to ask the Legislature for an additional $10 million in funding for autism.
Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Alewa Heights-Kalihi), who called the hearing, suggested that parents had grown accustomed under Felix to a higher standard of services than is now required.
Later in the afternoon, a Circuit Court judge dismissed a request by service provider Alakai Na Keiki Inc. to order the state to extend its contract. A similar suit by another provider is pending.