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Tourette Syndrome group honors PA Cyber

Sep 15, 2014

PA Cyber officials display the 2014 Accommodating School Award from the Pennsylvania Tourette Syndrome Alliance: (from left) Special Education Teacher Jenny Fath, Special Education Acting Director Megan Lindner and CEO Dr. Michael Conti.

The Pennsylvania Tourette Syndrome Alliance Inc. has presented its 2014 Accommodating School Award to PA Cyber.

PA Cyber is the first charter school in Pennsylvania –  cyber or brick-and-mortar charter school – to receive the award, an Alliance spokesperson said. PA Cyber was nominated by parent Wendi Riddle on behalf of her son Kevin, 15.

Wendi said in her written nomination that in PA Cyber, “Kevin is accommodated, not punished, for his Tourette’s, for his obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD. PA Cyber has promoted Kevin’s learning, and understands his basic teenage boy development along with his disabilities.”

Involuntary muscle movements and vocalizations, called tics, are classic manifestations of Tourette’s. Kevin said teachers at the local classroom school he previously attended believed he was intentionally being disruptive.

“They didn’t understand,” Kevin said. “They would sit me in a corner and tell me to just do something.”

Kevin and Anna Riddle

The PA Tourette Syndrome Alliance’s Sherrie Sponsellor said she advocated for Kevin several times at his previous school and repeatedly offered free training for the educational staff there.

“We tried desperately to get training in there but they wouldn’t budge,” Sponsellor said. “They definitely thought Kevin was doing things on purpose. Tourette’s is so misunderstood. A tic can be absolutely anything. It waxes and wanes, and may look different every time. They wanted to do disciplinary action on him when he was quite small.”

Wendi recalls, “He was not allowed to go to the library and not allowed to have books on his desk. They gave him an aide but all she did was punish him. He was angry, and cried all the time. When he got off the bus he would just bang his head against a tree, he was so frustrated.”

After years of trying to work with the local school, improved Internet access at their rural home finally made it possible for Wendi and Randall Riddle to withdraw Kevin and enroll him in PA Cyber in 2009.

Wendi said, “The first thing that PA Cyber did, that instructional supervisor Jenny Fath said, was, ‘How can I help you? How can we help your child?’ That was something that had never been said to us.”

Wendi and Randy Riddle reside with their children in Kennerdell, a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. Kevin enrolled in PA Cyber in 2009 and is a junior this year. His sister Anna, 14, also is a special needs student enrolled at PA Cyber. She is in eighth grade.

Sponsellor, an administrator and counselor for the Alliance, said PA Cyber is the fifth school overall and the first charter school of any kind to receive the award. The annual recognition was inaugurated in 2010 in response to a legislator’s question.

“Really this came about because (state Rep.) Tom Murt asked us, ‘Who does this well?’ My answer at first was, those aren’t the people we hear from. We hear from those in the schools that are having problems.”

She said staff counselors at the Alliance answer complaints and advocate for approximately 40 individual students with Tourette Syndrome each year, and conduct training in 50 to 100 Pennsylvania schools. She believes the number of complaints is declining slightly as teachers and administrators gain a better understanding of Tourette’s and how to deal constructively with those students.

The Pennsylvania Tourette Syndrome Alliance states that the award “is presented to a school for its extraordinary acceptance of a child with Tourette Syndrome and for its willingness to accommodate to meet the child’s educational, social and developmental needs.”

Jenny Fath, Kevin’s former instructional supervisor at PA Cyber, said, “He is an exceptional young man with a heart of gold. He goes above and beyond in his classroom and in his community.” Outside of school, Kevin is active in Boy Scouts and the 4-H Club.

Fath said she and other teachers and staff have worked many times with Kevin and his parents in person, as well as online and by telephone. “When we came to visit, Kevin always welcomed us with the homemade pies, cakes or cookies that he enters in the county fair.”

With success instead of stress in school, Kevin’s Tourette’s symptoms have greatly diminished, his mother said.

“We cannot sing our school’s praises loud enough,” Wendi said. “The only regret we have is that we did not start with PA Cyber earlier in Kevin’s educational journey.”

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.