A School District’s Hostility Can Have Tragic Effects.

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Just over five years ago, a horrific tragedy happened in Newtown, CT.  This happened twenty minutes away from where I live. My son was in first grade as were the children shot on that fateful day, so I easily related to the extreme grief the parents must have felt.

I invite you to consider some interesting, but not surprising, facts regarding Special Education Services in Newtown, CT.

In 2011, one year prior to the tragedy, about 30 to 40 parents contacted state representatives about their dissatisfaction with the district’s special education services. Some parents complained of being  treated disrespectfully and hostilly.  Some described that school officials refused to recognize the recommendations of experts outside the district. Some described planning and placement team meetings, or PPTs, were not running properly – but in a way that diminishes parent’s ability to be full and equal members. Also, some special education services were being denied to their children.

The situation was significant enough that two state representatives, one from each political party,  attempted to intervene on the parent’s behalf. But, the state department of education did not find sufficient evidence of noncompliance with IDEA laws, although they admitted that some of the reports, if true, described hostile and unprofessional behavior on the part of the school district.

Part of Adam Lanza’s history is that his mother pulled him out of school because she was tired of battling the Newtown Schools. According to her sister  “she didn’t feel they knew what to do with him. She really BATTLED with the district to get help for him.”  So, not only did the district NOT adequately address Adam Lanza’s disabilities according to Nancy Lanza, but they were legally allowed to treat parents, like Nancy Lanza, with hostility. So much so that she gave up on the Newtown school’s ability to give her son the help he obviously needed.

Was the school district’s apathy and hostility a contributing factor in the tragic events of December 14, 2012? I think it was.

Transition Evaluations

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I have been working with a student in a district who has its own, post secondary program. The program has about ten students, all with varying levels of Intellectual Disabilities, and they spend about seven hours a day doing Activities of Daily living, like shopping, laudry etc. and going out into the community to work at a job – like the library, Walmart, a nearby store, etc.

Sounds like a nice program. The only problem is that the student I am representing doesn’t want to go to there. She wants to try college and wants to be around a whole variety of people her age, in a college environment. She has the desire and probably the ability – if she were given the opportunity to give college a try.

Her district does not see her as going to college. It never mentions in on the transition pages of her IEP. She is deeply frustrated.  I have learned from experts in the field of Transition, that the student needs an Independent Educational Evaluation that provides a comprehensive transition assessment and functional vocational evaluation. These will help us gain information to determine the most appropriate fit for the student and her hopes and dreams.

I do not know what these evaluations look like yet, but I will be sharing what I learn in this blog as I discover it.

Disability “Label”

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Mostly, I don’t pay much attention to labels of people. Labels like “she’s a ‘bitch’ – yes, I am to unprofessional and heartless special ed administrators”; “He is “autistic” – is that all he is? Maybe he just has autism and many other interesting qualities?; This child is “Intellectually Disabled” what does that mean? Can the child learn? Is there a limit to his/her learning abilities, or will it just possibly take her/him longer to learn grade-level concepts?

I don’t like that last label, because it implies a limit to one’s ability to learn. I have (too often) seen school districts have low expectations of student’s with an “Intellectual Disability” and, sadly, the student is under-stimulated and shuts down.  I have also seen students labeled with “ID” achieve much more than the school had expected. That is usually because of very involved, strong parents who fight for the child’s future by insisting on a robust educational program for them.

When I work with parents of children with that label, I inevitably aggravate the school because I insist that the child’s full potential be explored so that instead of reading writing and doing math on a second grade level on their twenty-first birthday, he or she is on a high school level.

That is not too much to ask, is it?

School Unilaterally Ending a PPT is Unprofessional, but not Necessarily Illegal

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I was at a PPT for a client a few weeks ago. My client and I were strongly advocating for her daughter and it was obvious that the administrator in charge was overwhelmed. Suddenly, the administrator ended the meeting. The parent said she was not finished, but the administrator said that she had to end the meeting because of a “contractual agreement” with her staff. And the meeting was adjourned against the parent’s wishes.

On investigation, I found there was no “contractual obligation.” The administrator just felt like ending the meeting, and so she did. I filed a complaint with the state.

It turns out that, while the investigator on the state level agreed the school administrator was unprofessional, it did not constitute a violation of the IDEA.

What I will do in the future, is, before every PPT for a client, I will specify that the school-based team be prepared to stay as long as it takes to complete the PPT, and there be no time limit. If they insist on a time limit, I will insist that my client’s issues get to be addressed first.