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Family Debates Effectiveness of Autistic Education

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POPE AIR FORCE BASE — The Fort Bragg school system is in the middle of a lawsuit. The issue-- how to provide special education for autistic children.

"I want my son to have a free and appropriate education," says parent, Amy Sparks. "I want my son to have a chance at a life."

The controversy surrounds five-year-old Jarred Sparks. Jarred is autistic and his parents believed he was regressing in the Fort Bragg school system. So they took him out and started him on the popular but controversial one-on-one Lovaas Learning Program. That's when they say they begin to see major improvement.

"Our son was doing things we didn't even know he could do before," Sparks says, "and I feel that the Ft. Bragg school system never challenged our son, never really knew his true potential."

The Sparks and the school board officials couldn't agree on what education program would work best for Jarred, so the sparks filed a federal lawsuit alleging the school system was not providing the education Jarred was entitled to. They won, and school board officials filed an appeal.

"We provide a full continuum of service for all of our students who have been identified as disabled students," says Rita Shupe of the Ft. Bragg school system.

Still, Amy Sparks insists the school could have done much more with her child. Jarred is now starting to talk, whereas more than a year ago, he didn't even know his parents existed.

Sparks is confident the appeal will fail. If they lose, she says she's prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

A decision on the appeal is expected on Monday.

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John McDonnell, Reporter
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