PARENTS, YOU MUST CREATE A PAPER TRAIL BEFORE YOU HIRE AN ADVOCATE, OTHERWISE YOU’RE JUST SPINNING YOUR WHEELS
Lots of things that school districts get up to these days don’t pass the smell test but few of the actions taken by school district employees and special education lawyers are so egregious, so blatantly against the law, and so obvious as to produce a paper trail of criminality that can be utilized in legal proceedings. This is an important point for those of us working as advocates to remember. The fact that an action, or a refusal to act, is clearly wrong doesn’t make it illegal. And, if what the school has done or failed to do for a child is illegal (the district has committed one or more procedural violations of the child’s right to a FAPE), then we, as advocates, have got to do more than simply rail against the injustice of it all. We’ve got to be prepared to go into court and prove our allegations, piece by piece, step by step. To accomplish this goal, we’ve got to have the child’s parents working cooperatively with us.
Parents, you must document every communication that occurs with your child’s educational providers. Get yourself a three-ring binder, a three-hole punch, a printer that makes copies, and log and file your child’s educational records every single day. Period, full stop, end of sentence. Regardless of any child’s unique circumstances, parents cannot employ an advocate to help them obtain a FAPE for a child if the parents are unable to provide the advocate with the material that she needs to work with.
I’m not just talking report cards and the parent copy of the FIE and the Initial ARD and mom and dad’s recollections of all the things that this or that teacher said at some time in the distant and not so distant past. The report cards and SE progress reports will get the parents in my front door. The parents and I will talk for one, two, or even three hours as I learn all about their child’s situation. At the end of our meeting, no matter how much we connect and how sympathetically I feel toward a child’s school situation, I’m going to say this to the parents: “I need documentation collated by date in a binder before I can do anything at all for you. When you have these materials ready, call me and we’ll look over them together, still without charge. After that, we’ll decided how to go forward.”
I’m not going to even guess how many times that I’ve walked a parent to my front door saying some variation of this spiel, not to ever hear from them a second time. I don’t think this is because the parent can’t be bothered, if that were the case, I’d never have heard from them in the first place. I think most parents just become as beaten down by the corrupt system as their kids do. They give up and I don’t blame them. Fighting city hall has never, in my experience, been more difficult.
Bringing a school district to account for FAPE violations becomes increasingly difficult with every year that the child sits in public school classrooms. Kids having trouble learning to read and write are almost invariably labeled by the school system as behaviorally troubled. That way the child’s failure is on the child, not the school. We saw this very clearly in Aleczander’s case.
From the first FIE, to the IEE, and lastly to the REED/EVALUATION just completed (8.14.19) ECISD continues to write that Aleczander has “no known medical condition that would indicate a need for SE” even though they have an 11.1.16bOHI eligibility report from Dr. Tomasovic documenting the fact that Aleczander has a congenital medical condition–developmental coordination disorder–that causes his dyslexia, dysgraphia, and oral motor disfluency. At ECISD’s most recent assessment appointments (March 2020) they once again evaluated him for ADHD and ignored Dr. Henry’s September 2019 OHI Disability report noting developmental coordination disorder NOT ADHD. This has got to be deliberate, surely they aren’t this stupid. Or are they? You decide. Even if they are, we certainly are not.
Aleczander’s first IEP goal, written at the end of kindergarten after he had been qualified for SE services in the area of speech, was: “Aleczander will keep his hands and feet to himself.” The takeaway here: if he’d start talking and quit running away and kicking and hitting when pinned down, the school would be real happy with him. Nine weeks into his special education program, the SE teacher documented this progress on the behavioral goal that Aleczander would keep his hands and feet to himself: “Aleczander is making progress on this goal. He no longer screams and runs away, he just sits at his desk and cries.” If this doesn’t turn your stomach, then I don’t know what else I can say to you. In my mind, SE and ECISD are documenting actual institutional child abuse. Bear in mind that Aleczander, at that time, was unable to produce a single word that anyone other than his mother could understand. Yet they continued to yammer at him to “use his words” and to plop him into time out when he “refused to do his work.” Continue reading