Recently fired employee says Beacon School in violation, superintendent denies claims

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A recently terminated speech-language pathologist at Beacon School claims the school is allowing non-licensed individuals to perform speech therapy, a violation of the Ohio Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology law. The superintendent of the school acknowledges doing so would be a violation, but he adds the school isn’t doing that.

Andrea Littler was fired on Sept. 9 from her position at Beacon School as a licensed speech-language pathologist after serving with the school for 12 years.

“This termination was unnecessary,” Littler said in a written statement.

Beacon School is overseen by the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The school is considered an educational service provider for the five local school districts in Athens County, tasked with providing specialized educational services for students who are developmentally or physically disabled.

Littler was terminated for failing to renew a professional license administered by the Ohio Department of Education. Since her termination, she said the school has not replaced her with a licensed individual, yet continues to offer therapy.

Supt. Eric Young said he or his administrators have never allowed an unlicensed person to practice clinical speech therapy. It is, however, permissible for unlicensed personnel to develop communication goals and provide training to increase communication skills, he said via email. Beacon School has done this on a regular basis to supplement direct speech therapy services that are provided by a licensed practitioner, he said.

Young acknowledged the students experienced a gap in therapy services between the time Littler was terminated and the time he brought on a temporary person, hired on through a private contractor.

“I can’t get someone at the drop of a hat,” Young said.

The length of the gap was not provided prior to The Messenger’s before deadline.

The school posted the job opening, but Young said he did not find a suitable replacement, adding it’s difficult to recruit professionals this time of year. Littler, who eventually had her license renewed retroactive to her expiration date, reapplied but was not granted an interview.

While the school continues to look for a permanent replacement, a licensed individual was hired temporarily. The person initially was going to stay on until Nov. 18, but she recently notified the school that she has made arrangements to stay on for three days per week at 18 hours per week. Young added the Nelsonville-York City School District sent its speech therapist last week to assist the school’s teachers and administrators review students’ Individual Education Programs. IEPs are reviewed annually this time of year, a process that involves parents.

As of Nov. 15, Young said he secured another individual through Ohio University at nine hours per week starting Nov. 19. Together, these two individuals will provide the school with 27 hours of therapy services per week, three hours shy of what the school needs.

Failure to provide regular therapy sessions could result in regression, which is one of Littler’s main concerns. Beacon School is required to make up that lost time, she added.

Young said this will be done either by adding therapist hours through the remainder of the school year or by extending the services into the summertime.

Adam Herman, spokesman for the Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities, said it’s not uncommon for any school to temporarily lose a professional for a number of reasons. While there is no formal protocol for replacing a professional who is required in a student’s IEP, Herman said it’s essential a school work quickly to replace the individual as soon as possible.

“It appears Beacon School made a good-faith effort to find a replacement on a temporary basis,” Herman said.

Littler has said her main concern is with the students, and she feels it’s only right that parents be notified that there have been gaps in the services the students should have been receiving. Some of the students at Beacon School are non-verbal.

Young acknowledges the school could have done a better job at informing parents and others. He sent a letter home to parents on Nov. 14 explaining the situation.

In addition to her concerns about what’s going on in the school, Littler is disputing her termination. She has since filed a grievance, which was ultimately denied.

Young said this is the second time in six months that Littler has allowed a professional license to expire, which “calls into question her commitment to the school and students,” he said. She was given a warning on Jan. 17 of this year after she allowed her professional license with the Ohio Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology to expire on Dec. 31. The warning, which was provided to the Messenger through a public records request, stated “should the unacceptable/unsatisfactory job performance or behavior continue, you may be subject to more serious discipline including termination.”

In her letter of apology to the school after the first occurrence, Littler said her and her mother’s battle with cancer has been stressful on her and her family and has left her “a bit weary.”

Matt Conrad, of the Ohio Education Association, argues when an employee’s performance is questioned, “I say show me the evaluation,” he said. “Looking at her evaluations, there were no issues.”

From Conrad’s perspective, Littler’s failure to renew her license — on both occasions — were clerical errors. Renewing a license requires a professional to complete a certain number of hours of professional development courses, which Littler completed.

“She just didn’t file the paperwork,” Conrad said. “This has happened before; teachers forget or it slips their mind. I was disappointed that they couldn’t work this out.”

Littler and Conrad are waiting to find out if the school’s union, the Atco-Beacon Education Association, will take her dispute to the next level, to a process called arbitration, when a third-party person hears both sides of the story and makes a decision on whether or not her termination was substantiated.

Littler, who said she has served Beacon School well during her tenure, has indicated she would like to have her job back.