Go Right to the Horse’s Mouth

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When school administrators behave badly: like lying to a student, offering an inappropriate placement or program because it is cheaper, deny services, or settling a suit for a student who has been injured,  they leave their Board of Education vulnerable to a lawsuit.  Instead of  “negotiating” with the offending administrators, I contact the Board of Education (BOE) directly.

It’s the Board of Education who gets sued, not the administrators. Most of the time the BOE is insulated from the bad decisions of the administrators (usually, the director of special ed. in the district). Often the administrator leaves it to the Board’s attorney, to negotiate a settlement.

Usually, parents are desperate to get the right program for their child, especially when her needs have been largely unmet for several years. School’s know this (and they don’t care) and so will offer less-than-great terms of an agreement.

I bypass the administrator and go straight to the Board of Education. I send each one a letter describing the condition of a student (my child, or one of my client’s children) in the district, and how it was the school’s fault for not fulfilling its duty.

This can be effective when there has been a particularly egregious breach of duty by the school.  The Board often will step in and authorize the administrators to give the family whatever they want (up to a point) just to get rid of them as a legal threat.

BOE members usually want to be seen as good guys. They often want to go on to run for First Selectman or other service. They don’t want their reputations tainted by a discrimination lawsuit.

So, assuming there is a reasonably good case, I go straight to the BOE with a letter describing the offense, and mention our willingness to go to litigation. I have found much better terms for settlement or additional services this way.

Caveat: do not threaten a lawsuit if you do not intend on following up with it. You will lose your credibility.

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Keeping Schools Transparent

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Transparency and communication. It is a necessity in Special Education. I keep in frequent contact with my client’s school districts. If a parent is denied a request, I will ask for the legal authority by which they made the decision.

As I have said in a previous post, I never take the school’s word for anything that is not explicitly addressed in the IDEA. I will write them emails and challenge their veracity. This is the only way I know to keep districts from taking advantage of parent’s naivete of the law.

Usually, by the time I am called in by parents, the school has already been brazenly lying and bending the truth beyond recognition to parents. So when I ask for verification of their claims, they get very upset and start doing some serious back peddling.
Often, they will say that my questions and requests for information are too many to respond to. They imply that I am trying to intimidate them by persistently asking questions (usually of their unreasonable statements to parents) until I get a REAL answer. I remind the school that parents of children with special needs have every right to communicate with their child’s district. And that by asking me to stop asking questions, the district diminishes parents ability to be full and equal members of the child’s PPT. That usually stops them from complaining more.

One time, a silly administrator thought she was being clever by turning this tactic around on me. She asked where I have the authority to “intimidate” her by asking so many questions. I told her that my obligation is to assure that my client is being treated as a full and equal member of her child’s PPT. The district has the obligation and responsibility to the parent. Not vice versa.

I don’t care how annoying or obnoxious they think I am. I refuse to let districts mislead parents about their child’s rights.

Behavior Problems?

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Behavior problems with special needs kids are especially tricky for parents. Schools are quick to blame family, home life and known issues families have (like divorce, addiction, or financial issues) as the cause of a child’s difficult behavior.

While home life can and does have an effect on a child, his school needs to determine how to help the child cope in school and avoid difficult behavior. Part of his IEP should specifically adress behavior issues.

An FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) is almost always necessary when children have bahavioral difficulties. A good FBA will help develop a hypothesis about the underlying issues that make a child behave the way they do. Many times a child’s learning disability will cause behavior issues as he struggles to keep up with his peers and realizes he is falling short. Or he doesn’t like his paraprofessional. Or he does not know how to express himself due to an underlying language deficit.

Unfortunately, parents are often told, flat-out, or subtly, that the problem is the child’s fault. The school may imply the behavior stems from problems in the home, so the onus is on the parents to get the child therapy and keep him home from school when he has been suspended for the seventh time that year.

Do not let the school railroad you into accepting the entire blame for his behavior. Remember, if a child is not learning, and is becoming frustrated, it is the school’s responsibility to adequately educate him. As soon as you realize your child is having behavior issues, request an FBA. If the school performs it, and you don’t feel it is adequate to meet his needs (which will be obvious if the behavior continues afterwards) request an Independent Educational Evaluation FBA. Do your homework and find the best behaviorist you can who will accurately assess your child and then help advocate for an appropriate program for him.

Most parents don’t realize that if their child misses several days of school because of behavior issues, the school is still obliged to provide an education! That means home bound instruction or some kind of private tutoring. Don’t let them off the hook and allow your child to be short-changed an education if he is struggling with behavior.

Too many parents are embarrassed by their childs behavior, and will accept the the suspensions quietly as part and parcel with his disability. Your child deserves an education regardless, so demand compensatory educating.