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Blind student starts school year without books after district opts out of paying for them

Posted: 9:39 PM, Sep 19, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-20 11:54:58Z

A student in a Kansas City-area school district, who is blind, is starting the school year without textbooks after Blue Valley Schools decided it would no longer pay for the braille books.

Brooke Petro, 9, is legally blind. With blue eyes and a contagious smile, she reads braille faster than most kids who are visually impaired. She reads 130 words per minute and has even won a national braille competition.

Brooke's parents, Lyn and Soren Petro, said they met with the school district more than four years ago before Brooke began kindergarten. It was decided then that Brooke wouldn't be able to get the education she needs to succeed at Blue Valley Schools.

"They (students in public schools) get some braille materials here and there, they get audio books, or they have a paraprofessional who sits and reads to them or fills in their papers," Lyn Petro said. "Does the work for them, basically."

An education where braille textbooks are omitted isn't one that Lyn and Soren Petro believe will set their daughter up for a lifetime of independence.

"They wouldn't be able to sit down at a job and read the manual, they wouldn't be able to sit at a job and communicate via email," Soren Petro said. "If they're going to have a personal assistant with them for the rest of their lives, then they can be productive."

Kansas City-based KSHB investigators spoke with someone at Kansas State School for the Blind. A spokesperson said, at Brooke's age, because she's still learning vocabulary, receiving instruction through braille books, as opposed to audio books, is crucial.

The Petros told KSHB investigators when they sat down with Blue Valley Schools, the district agreed to pay for Brooke's braille books while she attends a private school. The Petro's cover the costs of everything else.

The couple showed KSHB investigators the written agreement between them and the school.

While the agreement must be renewed every school year, the Petros said they were shocked when the school told them in January they'd no longer pay for the books.

"They called us into a meeting and said they are no longer going to braille our materials," Lyn said. "They said they didn't want to set a precedent for other blind children coming into the school and expecting the private school materials to be braille."

The Petros have filed a due process complaint against the school district.

"We agreed to meet them half-way," Soren Petro said. "We would like her books back."

Lyn Petro spends several hours a day typing Brooke's textbooks and materials into a word document that she sends off to a braillist.

"Some things we just can't keep up," Lyn said. "My daughter's sitting in class without books."

The 41 Action News Investigators reached out to Blue Valley Schools to find out why it will no longer cover the costs of Brooke's books.

A spokesperson for the school issued the following statement:

"Although the district is unable to comment regarding specific students, we can share that students with visual impairments attending our public schools are provided Blue Valley materials in a Braille format when that format meets their individual needs. Private schools are in the best position to consider whether they have any obligation to provide their materials in a Braille format to students with visual impairments attending their schools."

While the school district is not required to pay for a student's materials when that student attends a private school, the Petros want Blue Valley Schools to hold up its end of the deal. Adding that Brooke's future depends on it.

"If you fully educate a visually impaired person, they can get a job and be employed and live a normal life," Soren Petro said. 

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Jessica McMaster can be reached at jessica.mcmaster@kshb.com

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