Client Story: The Cranfields

  • April 9, 2018

Going to school a year ago looked and felt a lot different for 8-year-old Wyatt Cranfield than it does now. Wyatt, who has autism and is nonverbal, experienced multiple school changes within a single school year. In addition to the transitions, Wyatt and his family experienced serious problems with how the new school was addressing Wyatt’s educational needs. Angel Cranfield, Wyatt’s mother and an educator herself, reflects on the year, “[Parents] are the squeaky wheel for your child, and if you have to, you speak up.” 

Wyatt stands in front of his father and brother. They pose by a large black cannon.Wyatt began attending a school in his home county in August 2016. After an emergency IEP, he began attending school for two-hour days, eventually working toward full school days. Despite the shortened days, Angel recalls receiving emails and calls from his school nearly every day asking for him to be picked up early due to behavior problems related to his disability. The shortened days made it extremely difficult for Wyatt to receive essential education services such as speech and occupational therapy on a regular basis. Additionally, Wyatt’s parents were paying for his Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) to attend school with him. .  By December, Wyatt had not transitioned to full days and his disability related behaviors were still occurring frequently.

Angel contacted DRT in January 2017 frustrated, looking for help advocating to increase Wyatt’s time in class. Angel explains that she was glad she called DRT and was connected with Education Advocate Cathy Brooks because the school began telling her that Wyatt needed to be moved to an alternative school due to his behaviors. When Cathy observed the proposed school, she saw that Wyatt, a second grader, would be placed in a classroom setting for children in sixth through twelth grade. This decision was being made because of his height and weight without regard to procedural protocol such as performing a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) to identify the source of his behaviors. Wyatt’s parents and Cathy agreed; this was not the right place for a second grader. After an IEP meeting attended by Cathy, the school began responding but little was changing for Wyatt who was still attending school only two hours per day. In April 2017, Angel and her husband had been patient long enough. Another IEP meeting was held, and with Cathy’s help, they demanded a plan for their son. The school system agreed to a plan developed in collaboration with DRT and Wyatt’s parents in May, just as the school year ended.

According to the plan, Wyatt now attends Charlotte Elementary School where he is embraced. His mother says it has been a wonderful change for Wyatt. She explains, “We go into the school and he’s not anxious…he’s happy to go to school”. The district developed an appropriate functional behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention plan, provides transportation to and from the school as well as occupational therapy, speech, and a full time one-on-one paraprofessional paid for by the school. Wyatt attends class all day and has not been sent home this year. Angel even has a video of her son crying because he wants to go to school, a stark comparison to the previous year when attending school prompted behaviors. And Wyatt’s classroom success is not the only significant change. Now Angel reports that everyone involved in Wyatt’s education are working as a team. They keep her and her husband involved and informed, making sure to call and check in with them. Rather than covering up or blaming, they are meeting ‘hiccups’ head on, an entirely different experience than her family had a year ago.

Angel spoke up. And her voice created a systemic ripple effect far beyond her son. 

When Angel reflects on her work with DRT and the school system she says, “I hate that it went this far, but look what it did.” Beyond getting help for her son, Angel is most proud of how her advocacy impacted the district. Her advocacy efforts brought to light that the alternative school was not an appropriate placement for students with disabilities and subsequently students were moved from more appropriate placements. In addition, the school district hired a district BCBA to serve all of the county schools. Like she says in her squeaky wheel metaphor, Angel spoke up. And her voice created a systemic ripple effect far beyond her son. 

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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