BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The parents of a 7-year-old special needs student at Enterprise Elementary are fighting on their son's behalf after Brevard Public Schools suddenly denied his therapist access to the school, citing a rigid interpretation of a 2013 state law.
As a local representative prepares to take the fight to the state legislature, the school district is seeking a way around a statute it says bars certain therapists from the classroom, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Andrew Pogar, a second-grader at Enterprise, started showing "autism-like" behaviors just before his fifth birthday, symptoms of a condition called seronegative autoimmune encephalitis, or a swelling of the brain caused by the body's own immune response.
"Right before he got sick, he played tee ball and got the game ball. He played a couple seasons of soccer," said Jonathan Pogar, Andrew's father. "He was so happy."
Virtually overnight, Andrew went from developmentally normal to nonverbal, his family said, displaying other symptoms like aggression, poor eye contact and compulsive behavior.
The change obliterated Andrew's progress in school and he was moved to a special needs classroom. Through private insurance, his family paid for an RBT — industry shorthand for "Registered Behavior Technician" — to work with Andrew at school three days a week, beginning in August.
After only a week, however, his parents got word from their provider that Andrew's therapist would no longer be allowed.
"The school told the RBTs they can no longer work with the kids because of Senate Bill 1108," Pogar said.
The bill, passed in 2013, specifies which kinds of therapists can work in schools, including Behavior Analysts and Speech-Language Pathologists. But the RBT designation didn't exist until 2014; as a result they aren't on the list.
"These private instructional personnel are not permitted ... as they are not considered licensed or certified Behavior Analysts," wrote Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Christine Moore in a Sept. 3 letter to principals.
The move baffled Andrew's parents, who are worried their son may lose the progress he's made. Since his therapist was booted in late August, his father said, Andrew has had emotional outbursts in class and an incident with another student.
Andrew's Behavioral Analyst has been filling in, Pogar said, but insurance approved the more expensive professional for only six hours a week. His RBT was budgeted for 34, including 17 hours in the classroom.
"If anybody knows anything about behavior therapy, the key elements are consistency and repetition," Pogar said.
"That's been our biggest concern," he added. "It's just so frustrating."
The situation caught the attention of State Rep. Rene Plasencia. The District 50 representative has sided with the Pogars, arguing RBTs should qualify because they are certified under the same statute regulating Behavior Analysts.
The school district's reading is "a misinterpretation of the intent of the law," Plasencia said. He plans to submit a bill in the coming legislative session adding RBTs to the statute to eliminate any confusion.
School Board member Misty Belford defended the district's decision, but said the board is now exploring options to allow RBTs until the law is fixed.
"We want to do the right thing for the student and their family but we also want to make sure we're not opening up the district to liability and getting into trouble," said Belford, who represents the Pogars' district on the board.
Belford has brought forward the item for discussion at Tuesday's school board meeting.
"I've known the Pogars personally for years," Belford said. "I think we're working toward a temporary solution until the statute can be changed."