Our school district’s past special education director was virtually invincible to the consequences of denying services to our disabled daughter, bullying our family, breaking other special education or IDEA laws and otherwise trampling on our daughter’s civil rights. According to other parents in town, we were not the only family subjected to her malevolence.
Although I had gotten used to her bad behavior, it still was infuriating and frustrating that she was able to get away with her unabashed law breaking and violating civil rights.
Until two years ago when her hubris made her over-confident and she stepped just a bit too far. I delight in telling this story.
Several years prior, because I felt the IEP (Individualized Education Program) our district put together for my child was bad, and I was unsuccessful in getting them to make it better, I took my daughter out of school and homeschooled her. After a couple years of successful homeschooling, I allowed the district to re-evaluate my daughter.
As I did not agree with the school’s re-evaluation, I formally requested an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
According to the law, an IEE is a basic right of all parents of children identified as needing special education, when they are not satisfied with the school district evaluations. School districts almost always grant these, because if they refuse, by law, they must file a due process suit against the child in order to defend the veracity and validity of their evaluations.
Filing a due process suit against a disabled child just looks like bad, bullying behavior so most of the time intelligent school districts grant an IEE request.
I am certain that when I first made the request, our school district was prepared to grant the IEE. In fact, when I sent in the written request, I received a call from the assistant principal’s office saying “We are happy to grant an IEE for your daughter, we just have to meet in a formal PPT (Planning and Placement Team – team that develops child’s IEP) meeting to follow policy.”
Once the meeting was scheduled, the special education director began imploring me to give official notice that I was homeschooling my daughter. I hadn’t given official notice because, if I had, the school would be off-the-hook of providing any services and a good IEP for my daughter.
I wasn’t willing to give official notice until she tricked me.
She wrote me a nice and friendly letter. It was carefully worded to give false assurance that even if I do give notice to the district that I am homeschooling my child, the district will still provide services and work towards a better IEP for my daughter.
So, with this assurance and a new hope of developing a better, more cooperative relationship with the special education director, I sent a note to her stating that I was indeed homeschooling my child but was hoping to develop a good IEP with the school.
At the (PPT) meeting to discuss the IEE, the special education director announced at the beginning of the meeting that since I had given notification that I am homeschooling my daughter, “the school is not obligated to provide any services or an IEP. “ At the end of the meeting the special education director announced that the district would NOT be granting the IEE.
She had cleverly tricked me into writing the note stating I’m homeschooling so that she could deny the IEE without having to file due process against my daughter and look like a bullying jackass.
Here is the hubris: It wasn’t enough to her that the schools evaluations were defective and resulted in a crappy IEP for my daughter. She also twisted the knife in my side by devising a way to further deny my daughter an education by denying the necessary IEE without any repercussions.
I was furious. I thought about what she had done with great anger. She denied an IEE for my child. She was no longer legally obligated to provide a good IEP and services for my daughter.
Then I pondered it dispassionately and developed a plan.
The next day, I wrote a letter to the special education director recanting my previous note notifying the school I was homeschooling my daughter. I told her I was naively mistaken when I wrote it and to please disregard the note and proceed as though I never wrote it.
She then HAD to file due process against my daughter.
When a school administrator causes a suit against a child, the case is officially docketed Town of XYZ Board of Education vs. (disabled child’s name). Our BOE members in town want to appear nice. Filing a due process against a disabled girl made the BOE look like ridiculous bullies.
The special education director then sent me a letter almost begging me to reaffirm that I was homeschooling.
Instead, I immediately sent a letter to each member of our BOE asking them if they were aware that they were filing a due process suit against my 11-year old disabled daughter. My letter was the first time they were made aware of it.
Just days later it was announced that the special education director was stepping down from her position.
The due process hearing took place three and a half months after I requested the IEE. On the day of the hearing, which I insisted be open to the public, the media showed up as well as many special education parents who came to support us.
At the hearing, our town’s board of education attorney, usually an aggressive, rabid pit bull, was very quiet and almost demure. She spoke in a very low voice, almost as if she wanted to crawl into a hole and pull it in after her.
Under such public scrutiny the attorney for the board whispered that the board is withdrawing their case and are now granting the IEE. The hearing officer then pounded her gavel dismissing the case.
Then the board attorney, the outgoing special education director, the incoming special education director and the crooked hearing officer (that is another story worth telling) fled from the room like rats off of a sinking ship. They made no comment to the media.
With public sunshine on their bad behavior, as well as the threat of a civil law suit that they would likely lose, our school district granted the IEE, and has since pretty much done everything the new evaluators recommended and everything we have asked them to do to give my daughter the education she is entitled to and deserves.
My daughter is now thriving – thanks to the Hubris of a no-longer invincible, ex-special education director.
~Nikki Zeoli, Special Education Advocate