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Kids of Columbus
By Jessica Schaer
COLUMBUS, KS.--- In the small city of Columbus, Kansas, 16 special needs children are currently bused to surrounding school districts each week. USD 493 simply doesn't have the facilities to give those students a proper learning environment. Tonight, we meet D Ja, an incredible 7-year-old who can't speak, but has an important story to share with her community.
"She likes music, she smiles, she laughs, she cries," said Doug Anderson, D Ja's Father.
Despite being born with toxoplasmosis, D Ja Anderson is trying to experience life just like any other kid.
"Cats carry this disease, and when Deborah had it, it was like she had a cold. But when it transferred over to DJ, it calcified some of the inner linings of her brain and her nerve endings through there stopped," said Doug.
According to her parents, D Ja's brain is about 80% of the size it should be. She's also had multiple surgeries to help her growing body.
"If she's in her wheelchair, this is basically what she's doing. She can move her eyes and her head, and she does move her arms and her legs, but she can't sit up or talk or anything like that," said Deborah Anderson, D Ja's Mother.
D Ja is one of six children in the tight-knit Anderson household.
"The older children have stepped up to the plate, helping care for and play with D Ja anytime they can," said Deborah.
"It's not so much, changed our life, it just changed it into a different direction of what we do. How we think of what we do," said Doug.
The Anderson's must stick to a strict feeding schedule, working other activities around caring for D Ja.
"She needs to have x-amount of calories per day. And her main food intake is Pediasure," said Doug.
D Ja also goes to school, just like any other child, a few times a week.
"She gets on at 7 a.m. and she gets to Riverton anywhere from 7:45 to 8 o'clock, depending on how many extra kids are riding that day," said Doug.
The 15 mile commute to Riverton for school worries her parents.
"It just scares me for her to go that far. It would scare me to have my oldest kids go that far. My oldest daughter lives in Fort Smith and I still talk to her everyday on the phone," said Doug.
It also scares the Columbus School District's superintendent.
"It's a nightmare for a superintendent anytime you have transportation. You worry about health issues, especially with our special education students. Anything can happen on a bus route," said David Carriger, Columbus USD 493 Superintendent.
Right now, the district doesn't have the facilities for 16 special needs students like D Ja.
"We need those kids here to help them. To help those children so they're not placed on a bus two hours a day," said Carriger.
School officials are hoping to pass a bond issue to build facilities to help students who are bused elsewhere every week.
"Riverton has the rooms, the rooms and the space to do that. If we get the new school up here, then a lot of the kids that are bused out will stay in Columbus," said Doug.
If D Ja can stay in Columbus for school, closer to her parents, it will be another way she can be just like any other kid her age.
"People will come up and ask us, 'well, what's wrong with her?' and we'll give them the quick answer. Little kids are the best, though. Little kids don't judge. They don't look down upon her. They look at her as just D Ja," said Doug.
The $30.6 million bond issue is on the May 6th ballot for Columbus School District residents to decide on. Based on new information from USD 493, for a $75,000 home, property taxes would increase nearly $12 per month. A school bond hasn't passed in the district for 30 years, and this one has many components for voters to be aware of. In addition to providing proper learning facilities for special needs students like D Ja, the bond would provide storm shelters to both the high school and central campuses. Renovations would be made to Park Elementary to house Pre-K and kindergarten, and Highland Elementary School would close.
The Central campus would then house 1st through 8th grades. The bond would also provide gym, stadium, and classroom improvements to the high school. If voters approve the issue, construction would begin late this fall and completed in two and a half years. The election is Tuesday, May 6th. Voters can get more educated to decide how they will vote by clicking here to view the Citizens of USD 493 Facebook page, or here to view the Columbus Building for the Future Facebook page.