I Make Schools Put Their Bad Decisions in Writing

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In my previous post, I told how I like to make districts expand on their prior written notice. The important thing is to get in writing all their reasons for a decision they make which goes against my client’s wishes (and best interests).

Dear Ms. Special Education Director,

At last week’s PPT, you refused my client’s request for additional resource room time for small group special education instruction, even though we all agreed that she learns better in smaller group settings. You specified reasons, besides the fact that it is not, in your opinion, the Least Restrictive Environment. Your additional reasons are not noted on the Prior Written Notice pages of her IEP, and not specified in the minutes.

Please explain to me why you refused to allow my client more time in resource room. Please be specific as I do not recall your reasons and am still unsure as to why you made the refusal.

It is often like pulling teeth trying to get case managers, or administrators to provide their reasons. Often they will write back something like “. . . I have already given my reasons at the PPT,  please check your notes.”  I refuse to let them off the hook.

I will pursue “. . . I am very sorry that I didn’t write down the reasons – maybe because they didn’t make any sense to me. I do not have the information. Your prior written notice does not give specific reasons except to say ‘student’s progress  indicates that there is no need for additional services.’ If you truly feel that is your full and true answer, then your refusal obviously did not take the child’s unique circumstances and needs into account. I am asking you again to please explain to me the specific reasons you refused the request.”

I will not allow them to circumvent answering.  Parents are entitled to a full and forthcoming answer to their questions regarding their children’s special education. I will not let an administrator off the hook until they have given the information parents are entitled to.

Once I have the information, I find the weak points, and exploit them.

 

 

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Always Make it Formal

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So many parents are utterly frustrated that their child’s school district won’t listen to their requests for changes in the child’s IEP, or for additional services, or for outplacement, etc. The school doesn’t come out and say “no,” they just deflect the request with “he is making good progress with his current IEP” or “she is making excellent progress on her goals and objectives, so we see no need for additional services” or “the program here at the public school is working so well for your child, I would hate to see him outplaced”.

Here is how you get your request truly addressed: You make it a “formal request”. Instead of saying “I think my son needs to go to a different school where they know how to meet his needs” you must say “I am making a formal request that my son be outplaced at a school that is appropriate to meet his needs.”  Then be sure to get an answer. It will be a “no” or a ‘yes” or something in between like “lets put in place the recommendations in this IEP and see how he does.” The latter is still a “no” and you must call them out on it. “So you are refusing my request at this time.”

Here is why that is important. The school is obliged to give “Prior Written Notice” whenever they propose a change in the IEP or refuse a request for a !change in the IEP.  Most schools try to avoid this by ignoring requests. Some simply don’t do it because they know the parents don’t know any better.

Prior written notice is an important safeguard for parents. Schools aren’t supposed to just be able to say “no” without giving a reason. They often do, but they do so in violation of the IDEA.

When I make an important request; one that I am willing to fight for, I make it formal. The school usually gives a pathetic reason on the prior written notice page like: “educational performance supports proposed action”. I refuse to accept that as an answer. So, I will ask the highest administrator in attendance to elaborate fully. They usually come back with more pathetic answers.

In the event of a due process hearing, I will object to any further elaboration on the subject as having been withheld from the parents prior to the due process.

This is how to use the law to win.

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.

IDEA Special Education Law – A Funding Law

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The IDEA (special education law) is a funding law. States receive federal funds for special education each fiscal year as long as the state can prove to the Secretary of the US Department of Education that the State has in effect policies and procedures to provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to all children with disabilities who meet the criteria set forth in the IDEA. The state’s policies and procedures may not be more restrictive than the federal law, IDEA.

A Free appropriate public education must be available to all children residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21.

As each state is obliged to make FAPE available to each eligible child residing in the State, an IEP or IFSP (Individucal Family Service Plan) must be in effect for the child by the date of his/her third birthday. IEPs are created with the child’s school district, while an IFSP is provided by birth to three (in CT).

A child’s eligibility for special ed and related services is determined on an individual basis by a team specifically put together by the Local Education Agency (LEA) qualified to determine eligibility for such services.

Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or stayed-back in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.

It is  not true that the child must be failing out of school or classes in order to qualify for special education services.

When a school district violates a special education law, it is putting its qualification to receive federal funding at risk.  Each state is given ample opportunity to make good on a finding of neglect or non-compliance; however.

Unfortunately, it generally works in the district’s favor to push noncompliance as far as it can go, in order to avoid having to pay large amounts to give some disabled children services. If they get caught, they can back-peddle, usually with not much more than a slap on the wrist. Too often, they don’t get caught due to parent’s ignorance of the law.

This is the unfortunate truth. But one we must deal with. And we can deal with it effectively if we educate ourselves.

 

 

 

The Buck Stops With the Board of Ed

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Ultimately, bad choices by Directors of Special Education in any district impact the elected officials trying to do good by their town – the Board of Education.

When a special education due process hearing is filed, it is filed as “Student v. Our Town Board of Education.” This usually isn’t too embarrassing for the BOE because the hearings are often shrouded in secrecy. Attorneys for students and for the Boards of Education don’t want the general public to know what is going on behind the doors. This would expose how really ineffectual, time-wasting and expensive the whole process is.

When ignorant administrators deny Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) they must file due process immediately to prove that their own evaluations were adequate. When administrators are stupid and arrogant enough to do this, I immediately send letters to the district’s Board of Education telling them that because of a decision by their underlings – usually a special education administrator – asking them if they are aware that they have just filed a due process against a disabled child in the district.

Of course, they have no idea. The administrators stay insular so to save themselves exposure of their bad choices. But the wonderful response from BOE members is almost always that of shock and embarrassment.

Guess who they get mad at?  The administrator who made the bad decision. To top it off,  I add that the hearing will be public, and held on public property to add the extra measure of embarrassment. Not that I really want to embarrass these elected officials, but to let the administrators realize that their actions directly affect their ultimate bosses – the town’s elected officials.

Due Process Open to the Public

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Request a Public Due Process Hearing if you ever get that far. Why? Because it is ugly. School districts, especially wealthy ones here in Connecticut, hire hard-nosed attorneys who torture parents in cross examination, are purposely intimidating and mean to parent’s witnesses, and groom the school’s own witnesses to, at best, stretch the truth beyond recognition. They make it a traumatic experience for families.

With  public sunshine on the proceedings, these attorneys must behave much better – which diminishes their power. Usually, they will settle the case rather than expose themselves to the public.

Public hearings can be a powerful defense for parents. Unfortunately, parents often have to badger and insist that their own attorneys be willing to hold a hearing in public. It seems that no attorneys like  to be exposed to the public.  I wonder why?

I can’t stress the power of having a hearing open to the public enough. At best, you will force the district to settle quickly in your favor. At worst, you will be dealing more subdued opposing attorney.

One last piece of advice. If your own attorney openly opposes a public hearing, consider finding another attorney.