A Kansas State Department of Education member is standing up for a legally blind student who is fighting for an education.
Brooke Petro began the school year without textbooks.
Before Brooke started kindergarten, her family worked out an individualized educational program, or IEP, with the Blue Valley School District -- her family would pay for Brooke to attend a private school, and Blue Valley would pay to braille Brooke's textbooks.
That all changed this year when the Petro family was informed that the school district would no longer pay for Brooke's materials.
Brooke and her father, Soren Petro, recently went to a Blue Valley School District board meeting to ask the district to reconsider its decision.
After reading their statements, Steven Roberts, who serves school districts in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, stood up on their behalf.
Stevens, who was at the meeting to discuss the school's budget, told the 41 Action News investigators that after hearing the Petros' statements he decided to use his three minutes to advocate for Brooke.
"We have a real problem in education, where we try to say, 'Well, what does the rule book say?' We don't have reason and judgment, " Roberts said. "We don't put people in charge of things. It's the lawyers who are in charge."
Last month, the Petros told 41 Action News that when trying to send Brooke to Blue Valley public schools, the district wasn't offering her what she needed to be successful. According to the Petros, the district didn't offer Brooke enough minutes with a teacher of the visually impaired. The Petros offered to pay for the extra minutes by bringing in their own TVI, but said the school wouldn't allow it.
Brooke addressed this before the board when she read a braille statement.
"The school district refused to give me the time with a teacher of the visually impaired that was recommended," Brooke said. "The school district also refused to let my parents pay for a TVI to work with me, so, my parents sent me to a private school where I could get the services I need to be independent like my friends."
Brooke said she's struggling to keep up with her classmates now that the district is no longer paying to braille her books.
"It's really hard to work on math problems or maps that I can't see or feel because I don't have textbooks anymore," She said. "I have to flip back and forth between my iPad and braille sheets. It is very hard."
Brooke's father, Soren, also spoke about his frustrations with the district's decision.
"She's already independent because we have picked up where you have failed her," he said.
Stevens said he thinks the school district could do more for Brooke.
"She just wants an opportunity like everyone else," Stevens said. "Her opportunities are going to be a little bit more expensive than the average kid; we have to recognize that."
The Blue Valley School District cannot comment on situations involving specific individuals. The district declined to speak generally about its policies and procedures. It did however, provide this statement to KSHB:
"It is always our goal to reach consensus with Blue Valley families regarding special education services. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, there are difference in opinion and consensus is not reached. There are two sides to every conflict. Nevertheless, Blue Valley respects confidentiality and cannot share details that could be helpful to the public in developing a greater understanding of the issues and decisions that have been made."
Stevens wants school districts to start looking more at individuals and less at the rules.
"We have to go the extra mile for these people," Stevens said. "Her reading is beautiful for a 9-year-old reading with her fingertips. She needs more enhancement, more enrichment, and if it costs a little bit more, it costs a little bit more."
Jessica McMaster can be reached at email@example.com.