Representatives speaking on behalf of the Austin County Comets, a Special Olympics organization, addressed Sealy ISD trustees last week expressing concerns about the future of the program.
Comets Coach Gary Morton and Rachel Sontag, the mother of a former student and current member of the Austin County Comets Special Olympics team, spoke to the Sealy ISD school board at its monthly meeting.
The Comets had been working with Sealy ISD over the past several years to send special needs students accompanied by volunteers to compete in a track and field Special Olympics event in College Station.
The school funded lodging and transportation for the students and their families for overnight trips with the Comets. However, due to supervisory concerns, Sealy ISD told Morton to enact stricter guidelines and to limit district financial support to include current Sealy ISD students only. He refused to do so and the school began to look elsewhere to invest their allotted funds for Special Olympics programs.
“I worked with special needs for 33 years and I thought we would be able to continue as always but it seems that the district has a different direction they want to go and water it down if you will,” Morton said during the Feb. 21 school board meeting. “I had a meeting with administrators and was told I had to do it exactly as it was laid out and I will not tolerate that.”
Morton said after the meeting, it was his decision to cut ties with the Sealy ISD. Morton and Sontag both spoke about the school not allowing alumni to participate in the games but Superintendent Sheryl Moore said that’s not the case.
“We’ve had some conversations with parents and after that we were concerned about supervision but the alumni are absolutely allowed to go,” Moore said. The school district can't and wouldn't tell alumni they could not participate, we just can't pay for it with school district funds. Mr. Morton indicated to us that he would secure the funds for alumni students to participate from another source.
Moore said the use of school district funds requires adherence to a strict protocol and asked the Comets to follow that but the organization didn’t want to. Morton said he felt the protocol was a half-hearted version of what they had been doing.
“I did meet with Mr. Morton a couple of weeks ago but we can’t open ourselves up to potential problems or run afoul of spending laws because there are certain parameters we have to follow if we’re using school money,” Moore said.
Sealy ISD has already found four new Special Olympics programs they will now funnel the funding for approximately 50 student participants. Moore said the board wanted to make sure Sealy students still had opportunities to compete in Special Olympic events.
“We are looking at a very broad range of activities from basketball leagues to even bocce ball,” Moore said.
Morton said the next Comets event April 20 will still take place despite cutting ties with Sealy ISD.