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Parents lash flagpole protester

Thursday, September 07, 2000

By Monica L. Haynes and Janice Crompton, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

While Deanna Lesneski maintained a vigil at the flagpole outside Blaine-Buffalo Elementary School last night, about 70 parents met inside and angrily complained about her tactics and what they said have been problems with having her son in class with their children.

Deanna Lesneski of Buffalo Township in Washington County hugs her son, Ryan “Max,” 7, as he heads for school yesterday at the Blaine-Buffalo Elementary School. She retied herself to a flagpole outside the school Tuesday, and as she continued her vigil to press demands over her son’s special education needs, angry parents complained about her tactics at a meeting. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette) 

"Call the police and have her arrested," one parent yelled about Lesneski, whose son, Ryan "Max" Lesneski, is in second grade and has Down syndrome, asthma and a hearing disability.

"If your child has special needs and you have time to be tied to a flagpole, how come she can't spend that time in the classroom with him?" another said.

McGuffey School District's beleaguered acting Superintendent Frank Zito tried to answer questions and address comments as best he could as parents complained, saying Max had been aggressive with fellow students and that their children lost instructional time because their teacher had to attend meetings regarding Max.

Zito assured parents that if there were any problems involving Max and other students, the school would notify parents of everyone involved. He also said any meetings with Max's teacher would be held after the school day.

When Diane Ilgenfritz, an advocate for children with special needs, tried to address the group, she was shouted down.

"We don't need you in here," yelled one man. "Get out."

One man stood up and looked as if he might grab Ilgenfritz, but Zito stepped between them.

After the meeting, Ilgenfritz said the reason parents are so angry is because they are misinformed.

They don't realize, she said, that the Lesneskis have followed all the proper procedures and that they have court documents indicating the district has not met Max's educational needs.

Parents believe that Lesneski would be less disruptive if she moved her sit-in protest from the flagpole to the school entrance near the road.

But for right now, Lesneski said she's staying put.

Yesterday, a teacher for the deaf hired last week for Max submitted her resignation.

Zito said the teacher, who has a master's degree in education of the deaf and other sign-language credentials, told him Tuesday night she was resigning, less than 24 hours after she started work. She felt scrutiny of her may be too high, Zito said, and also expressed concern that the dispute could affect her future career.

"We're back to square one, where we were last week," Zito said. "We're in the process of trying to find someone else."

The teacher was hired Friday, temporarily ending a five-day standoff at the western Washington County school that began Aug. 28, when Lesneski began her protest, saying district officials told her they would not administer medications this year to her son.

Lesneski, 47, of Buffalo, maintained the district has mishandled her son's education by not providing him with a qualified sign-language interpreter and refusing to administer his medications.

She retied herself to the flagpole Tuesday, after she said school officials reneged on promises they made Friday over the teacher's job description.

Lesneski said it was her understanding that the teacher would work one-on-one with Max daily and would serve as his primary educator.

Zito, though, said that was never the district's intention.

Zito said he and other district officials spent most of yesterday afternoon in meetings with representatives from Washington County Intermediate Unit One and others trying to resolve the matter.

He said it's unclear if the district will be able to find another qualified sign-language teacher anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Lesneski was served with court papers yesterday informing her that the district plans to seek an injunction in Washington County Common Pleas Court to have her and other protesters removed from the flagpole area to a spot at the edge of the school property.

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