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Cover-up in Johnston schools?

12/16/2015

On Oct. 29, a 15-year-old special needs student (occasional seizures) in the Johnston School District, Christian Suarez, boarded a bus intended for regular students. He assaulted the bus driver both verbally and physically. The school administration has never explained why this student was not on a bus intended for special needs students with a supervisor trained to deal with the behaviors of such students. The bus driver, Robert Scarbrough, reacted to this assault much like any parent would react if confronted by a hostile 15-year-old teenager shouting vulgarities and throwing missiles. But the bus driver was immediately arrested and taken to jail. The person who started it all, the so-called special needs student, was ignored and not charged with anything. He appeared on live television at the office of his lawyer Kim Baer on Nov. 2 and admitted to the assault. So why was there not an arrest and charges filed? I posed this question to Assistant Polk County Attorney Frank Severino, Johnston City Manager Jim Sanders and Johnston Schools Superintendent Cory Lunn. All told me that there needed to be an investigation made before any action could be taken against the student. On Monday, Nov. 9, I attended the Johnston Schools Board of Directors meeting. Superintendent Lunn said the investigation into the bus incident should be finished by the next meeting. At that meeting on Nov. 23, there was no mention of the bus incident. I could not go before the board and ask about it as public input is severely restricted by this public body. Any citizen who wishes to address the board must have the appearance approved by district staff no later than the Wednesday previous to the Monday meeting. I noticed the presence of Johnston police at both meetings apparently to protect the board against my right of free speech. On Nov. 24, I emailed Superintendent Lunn about the results of the investigation. He told me that it’s all a secret! A secret! The Superintendent wrote: “The district is not at liberty to make this report public.” This all smacks of a giant cover-up to protect the powers that be in the Johnston Community School District from liability. Why was this special needs student not on a bus for such students, with a supervisor on board to regulate behavior? Why was the student involved not arrested and charged as a juvenile even though he admitted to the assault in a public press conference? Why did the powers that be decide to only discipline the bus driver when he was clearly only reacting to an assault against his person? Why is the report of this public body a secret? Secret or not, why have the authorities not taken legal action against the guilty student? I am not a fan of presidential candidate Ted Cruz. But recently I heard him say that all good Christians should take their children out of the public schools. In light of the above incident, I have to agree with him.

Gary Thelen
-West Des Moines

Not ready for Medicaid Managed Care
With 25 days before the launch of turning Iowa Medicaid, which delivers needed services to 560,000 Iowans, to private Managed Care companies (MCOs), legislators on the Legislative Medicaid Managed Care Oversight Committee heard how the MCOs are not ready for the Jan. 1, 2016, beginning. However, in a partisan move, a motion to delay privatization of Medicaid until July 2016 lost by a five-to-five tie. In MCOs’ reporting to the legislators, there were a number of examples of this not being ready to deliver services to recipients. Of 29,000 Iowa providers, a rough estimate by the MCOs, only 800 providers have contracted with at least one of the MCOs. These contracts are vague and confusing in terms and duties. Oftentimes, wrong contracts were sent to wrong providers. The amount of time to adequately train providers to be familiar with the MCOs’ systems and knowing with which MCO(s) to network is in question. Some of the recipients hadn’t even received their enrollment packet, not giving them time to learn about the MCOs and their providers. The whole infrastructure and communicating system is not yet well formed, leaving the recipients, their family members or caregivers to spend enormous amounts of time finding required information on their own. In some instances, multiple members of one family had troubles in receiving the information. The concerns of Medicaid privatization aren’t based on fear of change, but the fast pace of its rollout and the unanswered questions. Clearly, there isn’t readiness for this movement.

Kathleen O’Leary
-Des Moines

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