Monday, July 14, 2008

A Race To Remember

LS Tribune Saturday, April 12, 2008
A Race to Remember
Matt Bird-Meyer
Tribune Editor

Voters had an option Tuesday of four board candidates for three
seats. Maybe the outcome was indicative of lazy voting habits, where
the candidates at the top of the ballot get the most votes. Check,
check, check and move on. But maybe the outcome was indicative of
growing displeasure with the entrenched members of the board.
Whatever happened, newcomer Sherri Tucker came close. She was just 2
percent shy of overcoming incumbent Jon Plaas, who won 5,065 to 4,679.

Plaas had a slim 386-vote separation from Tucker. However the top
vote getter, Jeff Tindle, had 2,246 more votes than Tucker, and Jack
Wiley had 1,878 more votes than the newcomer. Tindle was listed
first on the ballot, followed by Wiley, Plaas and then Tucker. The
top two candidates were so far ahead of the bottom two that it
appears voters were gravitating toward Tucker. I like to think the
people who make time to visit the polls are going in there knowing
how they will vote, or at least with some knowledge of the
candidates. Personally, I would never vote for someone I know
nothing about. Sherri Tucker never hid the fact that her only
platform was special education. She is the mother of a special-needs
son and is part of a group of 40 people who feel the R-7 district is
not providing adequate services for their special-needs children.

Tucker didn't go about this alone. Members of the Lee's Summit Autism
Support Group picked Tucker to run against the three incumbents.
This was her first time running for office, and she's pledged it's
not her last. Plaas and the others circled the wagons during the
campaign, supporting one another and alienating Tucker as a single-
issue candidate. Plaas said single-issue candidates belong on the
other side of the podium from school board members.

And to an extent, he's right, Candidates should be savvy enough to
know that and campaign accordingly. That doesn't mean the candidate
should never hold a single issue close to their heart. To me, that's
how the system works. If you think government isn't working, then run
for office or at least get involved. And when voters respond like
they did here, we should all take them seriously. I can't say whether
there's a problem with special education services in the R-7
district, but there's a growing movement of families out there who
are saying that. "I don't feel like we lost," Tucker told me during
a telephone interview. "We got our message out there and to me
that's a win."

I agree, and to run up right against sitting school board members in
Lee's Summit is admirable. The incumbents here are typically strong
candidates with almost instant support from community leaders. The
topic of special education is an emotional and complex one. These
students have different needs and different individualized education
programs. Some students have to find some services outside of the
district and some are able to stay in regular classrooms. The bottom
line is they are students, and they deserve as much attention as
anyone else.

Lee's Summit R-VII and Autism

If you have an advanced kid, this is the best place in the world to be," Sherri Tucker says of the Lee's Summit School District. "But if your kid isn't going to help win at football or get a high ACT score, if they're just special-ed kids, the feeling is, they don't deserve anything."

Tucker, whose 15-year-old son, Jake, attends Lee's Summit High School, narrowly lost a campaign for a seat on the Lee's Summit School Board in April.

Two years ago, Tucker founded the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group with another mother, Deb Shaumeyer. Both had moved to Lee's Summit for its reputedly impressive special-education services, and both had filed complaints over the district's handling of their autistic children.

Shaumeyer filed for due process, claiming that the district had refused to provide her son with required services. She eventually dropped her case, partly because the mounting legal fees had forced her to refinance her home but also because of her sense that she could not get a fair hearing.

DESE regulations for due process specify that a case be chaired by three hearing officers — one chosen by the school, one by the parent and one assigned by DESE. The regulations mandate that the hearing officers be chosen from a list of approximately 70 officers designated by DESE. Almost everyone on that list is a school administrator, a teacher or a lawyer retained by a Missouri school district.

Only two have backgrounds as advocates for special-needs children.

"When my hearing chair is a school district attorney, the school's representative is a school administrator, and the one I get is a parent advocate — and on the whole list, only two are parent advocates — what chance do I have?" Shaumeyer says. "The odds were stacked against me, and I was out of money, so we ended up settling."

According to Wanda Allen, a secretary with the DESE's Division of Special Education, the people listed as hearing officers are qualified people who apply to DESE for the position every 18 months. But it's been years since anyone new was considered for the positions. "Last year, we just updated the list of people we already had," Allen says.

The Division of Special Education does not track statistics comparing how many due-process complaints are filed against a particular school or district or the results of those complaints.

Keimig's name is on the list of hearing officers. He believes that DESE has set up a fair system. "The thing I like about the formalized complaint process is that you have people looking at it who are not tied up in the emotional aspect, because obviously the parents feel strongly about it, as they should," he says.

Rather than filing a due-process suit, Tucker complained to DESE's Office of Civil Rights in 2005, when she believed that Jake's teachers were not following his IEP as mandated by state law for special-needs children. The civil rights office determined that the district had violated the law but imposed no penalties after determining that damage to his education had been minimal.

Tucker's Autism Support Group now includes approximately 40 members who meet once a month to discuss their children's progress and the effectiveness of the district's special-education programs.

She decided to run for the school board, she says, because the growing number of parents with autistic children needed some representation.

At the first debate, on March 28, Tucker was the only candidate who wasn't an incumbent. She arrived at the Lee's Summit Performing Arts Building unsure of what to expect, then spent the night scrambling to collect her thoughts as the candidates were questioned.

After incumbent Jack Wiley suggested that he understood her feelings about her son because his wife taught special ed and they'd baby-sat autistic children, Tucker replied in her closing, "Saying that is like me going to a male gynecologist and him trying to tell me he understands what labor pains are. Unless he's ever had them, he doesn't know."

For the next night's forum at Lee's Summit West High School, Tucker was prepared. With the members of her support group in the audience, Tucker argued with the three incumbents. During closing statements, Jon Plaas, a board member seeking his third term, labeled the district's disabled children as a special-interest group.

"I have a great deal of empathy for Ms. Tucker and her situation," Plaas said, according to the Lee's Summit Journal. "If we set aside a board seat for this special-interest group with 300 students, then we have another six special-interest groups (that want a board seat), pretty soon we have seven seats set aside and 2,100 kids covered. What about the other 15,000 students? And, by the way, what about the other stakeholders — the parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators?"

In her closing, Tucker shot back: "I don't want you to give me a board seat, Mr. Plaas. I just want the people to vote me into it."

Tucker almost unseated Plaas, coming within 386 votes of her closest competitor's 5,065. (All of the board members ran against one another for the top three positions.)

Martin, the district's autism education specialist, says the close election results aren't cause to believe that other parents are as upset as Tucker.

"I can't say why anyone voted the way they did," Martin says. "Some may have voted for her because of her issue, but some might've done it because she was the last name on the ballot, and some may have done it because she's a female."

"Voices of Autism" Anthology Shares Real-Life Accounts of 40 Patients and Caregivers

“Voices of Autism” Anthology Shares Real-Life Accounts of 40 Patients and Caregivers


[Lee’s Summit-May 9, 2008] – Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. As more is learned about the disorder, more resources for patients and caregivers are being developed. 1 in 121 children in Missouri are diagnosed with autism. One of these resources is a new anthology, Voices of Autism: The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength, which chronicles the stories of more than 40 families living with autism including [Sherri Tucker, Lee’s Summit, MO].

Each contributor shares a poignant, heartfelt and often inspiring true account of experiences with autism spectrum disorders, from the frustration of an autistic teenager unable to speak, yet knowing he is being left out of conversations in “The Price of Talk,” to the sadness and fear of a mother as her son becomes a man in “Postpartum Blues Plus Twenty.”

In addition, the book features essays by authorities in the fields of research and treatment of autism spectrum disorders including Dr. Lynda Geller and Aaron Liebowitz, MSW. There is also a unique special section in which the mother of an autistic son, his doctor, and the son himself examine the challenges and ultimate rewards of his successful treatment.

About Autism

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. Other ASDs include Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will have autism. Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

Voices Of Book Series

The Voices Of book series was conceptualized by Debra LaChance, a breast cancer survivor who, when diagnosed, found solace in the personal account of another breast cancer patient. The series is designed to give that opportunity to all patients coping with chronic and life-threatening diseases. LaChance is also a Senior Vice-President at The Corcoran Group, a major real estate company in New York City.

LaChance Publishing is donating 100% of profits to LaChance’s other entrepreneurial venture, The Healing Project (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and support of those living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

Voices of Autism and all of the Voices Of books are available at bookstores everywhere and online at The Healing Project website

Title: Voices of Autism: The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength

Author: The Healing Project

Publisher: LaChance Publishing

Distributor: Independent Publishers Group

Publication: May 2008, $16.95 (CAN $18.95)

Paper, ISBN-10: 1934184055; ISBN-13: 97819341840595

Details: Health, Paper, 288 pages, 6 x 9

Media Inquiries:

Sherri Tucker

President and Co-Founder of The Lee’s Summit Autism Support Group


Carrie Goldstein

Impact Image, Inc.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects more than a million Americans and is more prevalent than childhood diabetes, hearing loss or visual impairment. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It impacts individuals and families in virtually every community, including ours.

In the new anthology Voices of Autism; The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength you will find my story, What My Son Has Taught Me. It is the true story of what Jake’s autism and his unique gifts have taught me.

Voices of Autism is filled with true-life accounts by people like me: parents, caregivers and individuals personally touched by this disorder. They are a testament to the courage of those who face the many challenges of autism:

· The fear and apprehension as parents worry if something could be “wrong” with their child;

· Then shock—and often relief—of finally receiving an autism spectrum diagnosis;

· The bureaucratic indifference many parents experience as they seek the right schooling and medical care;

· The straining, and ultimate strengthening, of family and personal relationships that can result from facing difficult challenges.

The book shares over 40 poignant and revealing personal stories by parents, doctors, and even by individuals who are on the autism “spectrum,” who speak candidly about their fears, frustrations and, ultimately, their triumphs. You’ll also find essays by healthcare providers who have spent their careers researching best practice techniques and resources for families living with autism.

The impact of autism in our community is significant. I hope you will help me share my story with your audience, so that others can benefit from my experience.

Kind regards,

Sherri Tucker
President and Co-Founder of The Lee’s Summit Autism Support Group

Local Autism Support Group Co-Founder Featured In New Book


Chase Jordan
Staff Writer

A Lee's Summit parent is featured in new book about autism along with other families across the nation.

Sherri Tucker, co-founder of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, is featured in the anthology, "Voices of Autism: The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength." The book has more than 40 contributors and is published by LaChance Publishing in New York.

"Because it's from a family's point of view I hope it helps people understand our children better," Tucker said.

Tucker heard about the anthology while researching autism on the Internet and decided to submit an essay about her son Jake, who was diagnosed with autism. The essay in the book was also sent to her son's IEP (individualized education plan) team at the Lee's Summit R-7 School District.

"When I wrote it, I wrote it for the school when he started high school," Tucker said. "I wanted them to know him before I got there. It wasn't written with this in mind."

In the book, Tucker said her son has taught her many character traits, including compassion, honesty and being assertive.

"There are many gifts Jake (has) given me that I'd never have if he had never been in my life," she said.

Tucker said the book has inspired her to do more writing. She said her family and fellow support group members were excited when her essay was published.

"It's the power of motherhood...what a mommy would do for her baby," Tucker said.

She hopes the book raises awareness about autism nationwide.

"I think it's excellent, not just for me, but because these are stories of encouragement," Tucker said. "There are a lot of people that know about autism, but they think it's like 'Rain Man.' They only know what they've seen. If you knew nothing about it and read this, maybe you'll get a better understanding.

"This can help people understand what it's like to live this life and that truly is the best gift of all."

The book is the fifth book of the "Voices Of" series, which includes alcoholism, Alzheimer's, breast cancer and lung cancer by The Healing Project. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2005 by Debra LaChance, a breast cancer survivor. The organization promotes the health and well-being of individuals with life-threatening illnesses and chronic diseases.

Victor Starsia, of LaChance Publishing, said the book was written by people who struggle everyday with the challenges of autism.

"Each story provides a different perspective on autism," Starsia said in an e-mail to the Tribune. "Some write about what it's like to live as an autistic individual on a daily basis, others write about small but important victories in the development of their children, but each ultimately describes people rising to meet the challenges of the disease and lets other people know that they can do it, too."

Starsia said the book also features informative and easy to understand essays written by leading scientist in the field of autism research and health care professionals. The book includes a research section that provides contact information for organizations.

Profits from the book will be donated to The Healing Project. For more information, visit or

Lee's Summit Autism Support Group Provides Lee's Summit School District With Donations/First Place

Why didn't the district newsletter show that the school district got first place with the help of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group? That is what helped the district get first place. I feel as though the district should share the recognition with us. When team members sign up they have to put what school district that they attend. Then that district gets credit for all members that go to that district. The Alliance stated "If you add the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group to the Lee's Summit School District team, it is very clear they are the winners for the school district."

Lee's Summit R-7 School District team captures first-place award
for participation at annual KC Walk for Autism Awareness

The Lee's Summit R-7 School District captured a first place award for participation in the fifth annual Kansas City Walk for Autism Awareness held April 12th at Unity Village. Awards were presented in three categories, and the school district team won in the school/organization-based team division.

The R-7 team, lead by autism specialists Kelly Lee and Stacey Martin, included a total of 90 walkers. The team raised nearly $2,000 and consisted of school district staff members and parents. The district will receive a $750 grant as first-place winner. Funds will be used to benefit children in the district with autism spectrum disorders.

This was the second year that the R-7 School District team received this award for participation in the walk.

The walk is organized by the Autism Alliance of Greater Kansas City and is designed to increase public awareness for autism spectrum disorders and to fund projects and programs within the metropolitan area. In all, the Walk for Autism Awareness raised $102,000 this spring. Award winning teams were announced in mid-May.

(Posted-May 22, 2008)

Autism alliance rewards LS groups
By Brett Dalton
The Journal Staff
It’s no secret that the R-7 School District and members of the Lee’s Summit Autism Support Group don’t always see eye to eye.

Their disagreements were brought even more to the public’s attention earlier this year when LSASG co-founder Sherri Tucker vied for one of the three open R-7 Board of Education seats.

However, despite their differences of opinion, the two entities collaborated during an event last month to bring home two notable honors.

The LSASG and the R-7 School District both won first-place awards for fundraising during the 5th Annual Kansas City Walk for Autism, which took place on April 12 at Unity Village. The awards were announced last week by the Autism Alliance of Greater Kansas City.

The LSASG won for the team with the most donations, raising nearly $3,700 from approximately 40 participants.

For their fundraising efforts, the group won an engraved trophy and a $300 Visa gift card. Debbie Shaumeyer, co-founder of the LSASG, said the gift card funds will be used to support the group and the families in the Lee’s Summit and Greenwood communities.

“This is truly a humbling honor and very exciting for our support group,” Shaumeyer said.

With 90 walkers at last month’s event, the R-7 School District raised nearly $2,000, easily eclipsing its goal of $1,000, and earned the first-place prize for school district donations. According to Robin Russell, spokesperson for the Autism Alliance, the R-7 School District won first-place with the help of the money raised by the LSASG.

As the winner, the R-7 School District will receive a $750 grant, which will be used to benefit children throughout the district with autism spectrum disorders, according to R-7 information.

This year’s Kansas City Walk for Autism Awareness raised more than $102,000 from the more than 1,400 adults and children who participated in the event. The walk consisted of a 1.5-mile family fun walk and resource fair in a carnival-like atmosphere, according to the event’s Web site.

Money raised through the event will be distributed to area organizations through a grant process to support programs that serve the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families. The KC Walk for Autism Awareness is the signature fundraising event of the Autism Alliance of Greater Kansas City. All money raised from this event will remain in the Kansas City area, according to the Web site.

The Autism Alliance of Greater Kansas City is a bi-state community organization comprised of individuals committed to the development of a network of resources targeted toward fostering an informed community that facilitates the independence, acceptance and emotional well being of individuals with autism spectrum disorders throughout their entire life span, according to its Web site.

The Alliance will “strive” to be a collective voice for the Kansas City autism community by implementing programs and events, which will aid families while increasing public awareness and acceptance of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, according to its Web site.

For more information about the Alliance, visit its Web site at For more information about the LSASG, visit its Web site at

DESE Picks Two Districts To Present Autism Programs To Superintendents

Missouri education officials select Lee's Summit R-7 School District to
present program on autism education at state-wide conference
Selection based on district's exemplary services for special-needs students

The Lee's Summit R-7 School District was recently selected to present information on the district's services for students with autism at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators, scheduled for early August. Just two districts in the state were chosen for this presentation, and selection was based on the district's outstanding programs for students with autism, according to state officials. (Who made these decisions? Lee's Summit has had quite a few due process cases and child complaints filed because of the lack of services that they offer children with autism)

Lee's Summit R-7 and Kirkwood School District officials will share their exemplary practices in the area of autism education at the conference, which is attended by superintendents and other school district leaders from across the state. The presentation is designed to showcase these two outstanding programs and to help other districts better serve their students with autism spectrum disorders, a growing population regionally and throughout the nation. (The families in Lee's Summit would like to see these wonderful programs implemented. They look good on paper, but they are not put into practice.)

Among the 17 Missouri school districts with enrollments of more than 10,000 students, the Kirkwood and Lee's Summit R-7 School Districts rank first and second statewide when comparing Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test scores among special-education students in both communication arts and math. (Lee's Summit didn't do well on the MAP test scores according to DESE and the district. "Although repeatedly recognized for our students' outstanding scores on the Missouri Assessment Program tests, our district has still been placed in the "District Improvement Level 1" category based on the scores of a very small number of students in two sub-groups. These students were in the sub-groups of special-education students and "English language learners" (students who do not speak English as their first language). Although we do single out these two sub-groups as part of this explanation, I want to make it clear that we are proud of these students and their efforts and believe that they did their best on the state-wide tests, demonstrating improvement in a comparison of 2006 and 2007 test scores.") (Kirwood's enrollment is 5267)

KIRKWOOD R-VII District Status Not Met Y









The R-7 School District currently serves approximately 250 children who have an autism spectrum disorder. The district is recognized for both its excellent special-education programs as well as the comprehensive training it offers for staff members.
(They only serve 83-88 students with educational autism. Out of the 250 that have a diagnosis of ASD the district will only give 83-88 and educational diagnosis.)

For the past 10 years, the R-7 School District has offered training in the area of autism for staff and parents. "Working with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Educational Environment" began as a two-day workshop but has grown to be an intensive 4-day training. Approximately 125 educators and parents attend this intensive session each year, including a number of attendees from other districts and other regions. The program has been recognized by districts throughout the state and has drawn participants from as far away as Illinois.

In addition to the popular four-day workshop, the R-7 School District offers workshops on functional communication, applied behavior analysis, and other topics related to the field of autism. The purpose of these workshops is to provide staff and parents with quality training on a variety of issues facing those working with children with autism spectrum disorders. (According to Jerry Keimig, regular education teachers and paras will only receive this training if they do it on their own time. The district will not pay them to attend this workshop. Many children with autism are in regular education classes with teachers that have no training in their disability. )

Just as important as the intensive workshops are follow-up training and assistance provided for R-7 staff members by the district's four coordinators focusing on autism and behavior disorders. These coordinators help conduct assessments, design programming and work with teachers and families on each child's individualized education plan. They also work with R-7 staff members to help educators effectively use materials and equipment, including specialized technological equipment designed to help children with autism in the areas of instruction and communication. (These four individuals are not full time employees and according to Stacey Martin, she has to attend to all of the children in Lee's Summit with an educational diagnosis of autism.)

This team of R-7 specialists also helps coordinate and oversee two very unique programs in the Lees Summit District. STARS (Structured Teaching to Acquire Readiness Skills) is an early childhood program designed to meet the needs of children, ages 3 to 5, who present challenges in early learning behaviors. Lee's Summit R-7 is one of only a few districts in Missouri to offer this exemplary type of programming. STARS began during the 2006-07 school year and provides very intensive services, including a one-on-one aide for each child. (The district will not provide families with any information about this program. Repeated requests have been met with denials of information.)

STARS was so successful during its first year that the R-7 School District implemented PASS (Promoting Academic and Social Success), a similar program for kindergarten students enrolled at Longview Farm Elementary. Both programs have generated interest among other school districts throughout the region. (One student that was in the STARS program regressed so much that the parent had to remove him and send him to a private school in Kansas. Another family had to remove all five of their children because of psychological damage that was done to their children. Still another family had to remove their child from PE because Jerry Keimig refused them the alternative of adaptive PE without any basis. When the family found out that the teacher was the adaptive PE teacher and met with him, he told the family that he knew more about this child than any "Autism specialist, any psychologist, or the mother. He went on to say that he would push this autistic child socially, emotionally, and physically beyond his comfort level. When the administration was notified of this they stated that the family would have to get a note from their physician before the child would be taken out of PE. The family's psychologist quickly complied as to avoid further damage to this child.)

This was posted on the Lee's Summit R-7 Website, it was sent out in an email to all residents, it was in the Kansas City Star, it was in the Lee's Summit Tribune, it was in the Lee's Summit Journal, and it was in the newsletter sent out to patrons. It is full of lies. I have proven that with actual numbers taken from the DESE website. I contacted all of the media outlets, DESE, the superintendent, and United States Department of Education. Still, this is going to happen next month. I plan to be there to greet them. The following is from the Pitch Newspaper

Keimig has a laugh that comes suddenly and loudly, like a burst of machine-gun fire. His detractors tend to compare him to a used-car salesman.
His supporters want him to teach all Missouri administrators how to deal with their autistic students.

As proof of his program's success, Keimig cites two examples: special-ed students' high test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test, administered by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the district's program for training teachers on how to educate special-needs students.

The district's special-needs students performed well on reading comprehension exams in the last round of MAP tests in August 2007. Overall, however, their scores fell far short of the "Adequate Yearly Progress" goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act. (The same was true for students for whom English was a second language.) As a result, the entire district was given a failing grade.

District Superintendent David McGehee made sure that parents knew which students were at fault. "The scores of students in these two subgroups are the sole reason our district was designated in this category," he wrote in an August 17, 2007, letter to district parents.

Keimig touts Lee's Summit's teacher training program: two four-day sessions a year to refresh teachers on recognizing autistic behaviors and dealing with autistic students. But these sessions aren't mandatory, and there are no special incentives for teachers to attend. Of the district's 1,264 teachers, fewer than 80 attended the most recent sessions; half of those who did, Stacy Martin says, came from schools outside the Lee's Summit district.

But, Martin adds, teachers from neighboring states and school districts often pay $1,400 per person to attend the Lee's Summit training sessions. And Lee's Summit is so well-respected within the Missouri education system that Heidi Atkins Lieberman, commissioner of special education for the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has invited Keimig to speak at a conference of state administrators in August. He's scheduled to present a special session for superintendents on effective teaching methods for autistic students.

The Missouri Department of Education does not keep records detailing the progress of autistic students. Instead, it tracks the performance of special-education students as a whole.

In choosing Keimig to lead the special session in August, Lieberman says, she relied on informed friends. "I asked people who were very knowledgeable about autism education, and they all said Jerry would be great," Lieberman says. "I don't think I'm really at liberty to identify anyone I talked to."

The announcement of Keimig's special session infuriated some members of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, a collection of parents that includes Joyce Lindsey.

"If he's going to be there, we are picketing that conference," Lindsey says. "There's no way that he should be in that position."