My Northern Wisconsin

Covering Ashland, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Vilas Counties



A group of parents with students in the Phillips School District are reaching out to other parents with concerns they have presented to administration and other staff members.  They are inviting other parents who may have similar concerns to attend the May 20, 2024 school board meeting to bring light to their concerns.

The main issue for these parents is that they feel some members of the school are not properly implementing and over-looking the details of the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for their children.  Two of those parents gave us more details regarding their concerns.

Carol Noftz has been a foster parent for a number of years, fostering 26 children, the majority of who had IEPs over the last twelve years.  Carol stated she noticed changes in the 2022-23 school year.  Carol has a son that was at the third-grade level last year.  She stated they pulled him out of his special education class and put him in a mainstream sixth grade class.  "He was so lost and causing behaviors and problems," Carol shared, "not only for himself, but for all the kids in his class.  It's not right to throw a child three grades ahead and expect them to be able to do it."  Carol said it took her about six weeks to get that situation resolved, which included going all the way up the ladder, from case manager to pupil services to the superintendent, which was the position held by Rick Morgan last year.  She felt she got nowhere and had to demand an IEP meeting and that her son be pulled out of sixth grade math.

Carol stated that she feels this year her other son, who is in first grade, is not getting the education program he needs.  She feels they don't write what is discussed in his IEP, and she feels they do whatever they want instead of following the program.  "The principal and his teacher have been trying to work with me, but his case manager just does what she wants and does not follow what I am asking them to do," Carol shared.

"My son's first grade teacher and the principal have been phenomenal through this whole experience.  They are now trying to help my son without using the special education teacher because she refuses to follow the IEP, and they are doing great.  I have talked to the superintendent [a position now held by Rachel Hoffman] about trying to correct this, and she says she is working on it, but I just don't see it," Carol stated.  "I loved this school five years ago when I moved here.  Just the last two years have been a major struggle for me with a few people who don't believe they have to follow the rules.  I have been fighting with them for the last two years, trying to get justice."

Carol said she has talked with the superintendent and members of the school board but added, "Most of the school board did not have any idea that any of this was going on."  Carol understands that the superintendent wants the issues to be brought up to her so she can handle it.  Carol added, "But, in my case, she is not handling much of anything.  She does try a little bit but probably 3/4 of the time does not even respond to the issues.  I have gone in front of her and brought many things to her attention and have not always gotten answers."

Carol stated that the Director of Pupil Services, Kate Peterson, is working to get students back in mainstream classrooms.  She said, "Putting kids all back in mainstream classes, that are years behind, is just not going to work."  Carol feels the school is not meeting the state's requirements.

Carol is asking other parents with concerns to attend the May 20th school board meeting.  "Three years ago, this school district cared about all of the children and helped all of the children,...but with this management, we will never have it.  We need to stand up for our kids and bring our caring school back," Carol advised.

"I would like to encourage all parents to go and tell the board what problems they are having with their child's education....Everybody needs to look into their children and see exactly what is going on with their kids so that their children can get the education that they deserve, not what the state thinks they need," Carol stated.  "Unfortunately, I know that so many of the community are tied to the school in some way, shape, or form."  Carol feels people may be scared about losing their jobs or how their children will be impacted if they speak up.  She added, "I am one of them that are dealing with that right now.  I am a paraprofessional at school....Thank God for me that my children are much more important than my job, and I can go anywhere and get a job, but my kids cannot go anywhere and get a different education."

Another parent, Wendy Marie Watkins, has a son in 4th grade with autism, sensory disorder, and dyspraxia.  Given her son's medical needs, it was recommended that he take his schooling virtually.  Wendy said, "We tried so many different ways to get my son the schooling he needed, but, in that process, the school fought me on every single angle all the way from kindergarten to now.  We’ve battled and battled and no change.

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"Last year, as a third grader, my son was virtual but still enrolled through Phillips School with a specific IEP and direction of instruction.  My son's teacher was to log in for 45 minutes to an hour daily at exact, specific timing.  That teacher never logged in and many times I had reached out to Kate Peterson who kept telling me she would be sure things changed and his IEP could be followed.  Days went by to weeks to months and still no change.  With many ignored e-mails and phone calls, I had enough.  I finished out the year teaching my son on my own.  Fast forward to this year for 4th grade, we had yet another IEP meeting to set ground expectations of what my child’s schooling would look like."  However, Wendy feels his IEP was again not followed and she feels excuses were made when she reached out to the director of pupil services and the superintendent.  She also said she recently found out her son was never tested with the Woodcock-Johnson Test for him to have an IEP to determine his cognitive needs, so he was given that test recently.  With the difficulties she has felt in getting her son the education he needs and deserves, she said they decided to fully pull their son out of the district due to lack of communication and results. 

Wendy explained that they needed a final IEP meeting with the school to determine what her son's school day would look like if he was re-enrolled into the district in 2024-25.  Due to Wendy's work schedule, she e-mailed the school stating the meeting would need to be rescheduled, but she says she never heard back with a new meeting date.  She stated she asked Superintendent Rachel Hoffman about the meeting and was told they had the IEP meeting without her and finalized it on their own, but Wendy says a parent is supposed to be present for IEP finalization.

"We did get some relief when Nicki Kaufman, [special education teacher], got involved, and my son was doing very well working with her daily for 45 minutes, and then he would come home," Wendy said.  "Rachel Hoffman then stepped in and stated my son would have to be in the district in regular classrooms for eight hours a day, but that’s not possible with everything he’s got going on, and so here we are home schooling our son due to the district not making efforts to fix the problem or correct their wrongdoings."

Last year, a school board member told Wendy to write a letter to explain her concerns, so Wendy wrote a letter, but she said she never heard back from the school board.

She further said, "I feel our district doesn’t have enough professional teachers to do the job for all the students who have IEPs in our district.  I feel all paraprofessionals and teachers should be aware of every child that’s in the school and their conditions.  There should be someone else other than one person to reach out to when things aren’t being followed.  I could go on for days about many things we’ve struggled with, but it would be like writing a book."

Wendy added, "My advice for other parents who are attending [the school board meeting] or who happen to read this article, please step up and come forward if you're going through any of these same struggles.  So many parents have spoken up and something has to change.  Our children deserve a good education where they are safe, and they have their direct IEPs followed."

In an attempt to have all viewpoints represented, we reached out to Superintendent Rachel Hoffman and Phillips School Board President Jon Pesko, letting them know, "Some parents have reached out to us feeling that their children's IEPs are not getting followed.  They stated they plan to attend the upcoming school board meeting to voice their concerns, though they state they have made attempts to talk with two superintendents, a principal, the director of pupil services, some teachers, and some school board members.  They stated that the principal and two teachers are trying to help them.  They feel they are not getting much help beyond that.  While we realize you cannot comment on any one child specifically, please let me know if you want to provide any information about how the school handles IEPs or parent concerns or anything you would like to state about these situations in general."  We did not hear back from Rachel or Jon before the deadline we gave them.  If either of them shares information, we will update this article.  (Read the response from Superintendent Hoffman updated on 5-22-24, which can be found at the end of this article.)

The school board meeting will be held on May 20, 2024 at 6 p.m. in the Phillips High School Performing Arts Center (auditorium).  Any parents with concerns or community members who would like to support either these parents or the school are encouraged to attend the meeting for public comment.

UPDATED 5-20-24:  Four people spoke during public comment regarding this issue.  Since the topic was not on the agenda, no action was taken at this time, but the school board has been informed about the concerns.


UPDATED 5-22-24:  On May 22, 2024, Superintendent Rachel Hoffman replied to our request for comments about IEPs and the concerns of parents.  She stated she was out of the office early in the week and appreciated our patience with her response time.

Regarding IEPs, she stated, "As you noted, I can't speak to any particular student or individual case, but I can share about the process that the district uses when working with students who need IEPs.  We follow state guidelines and timelines in regards to the procedural aspects of completing the IEP process.  This includes creating and convening an IEP team that includes many people including the parents, school staff, and others that may provide information that's helpful in creating a program for each student.  This is a team process."

As for concerns of parents or students, the superintendent shared, "They can share those concerns with any of the following people for initial help:  case manager or special education teacher, regular education teacher, building principal, Director of Pupil Services, or myself.  If parents or students believe their concerns aren't being adequately addressed, then they can reach out to DPI for additional support.  I have met with families this year and provided that information to them which includes contact information at the DPI where they can request mediation, IEP facilitation, file a complaint, or request a due process hearing."

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(This post was last modified: 05-30-2024, 03:09 AM by My Northern Wisconsin.)