ARD Meetings Aren’t Supposed to be Run by Lawyers

12 THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION WHEN DEALING WITH SCHOOL DISTRICTS

“I’m retiring,” my friend said.

“You aren’t old enough to retire,” I replied.

“Yeah, I am. I’ve been a teacher in this district for nineteen years and I’ve never lied to a parent; I’m not going to let the district force me to do so now.”

That conversation occurred in March 2013. “I was just up at TEA last week, I’ve got to work  a minimum of three more years,” I said. “I wish you’d reconsider, selfishly, I’m going to hate it here without you.”

Our campus, ECDC, had a nice retirement party for Bernadette on her next to last day, May 29th, a Wednesday. I made a movie for the occasion, one of those testimonial sort of things that celebrated her years in the district, almost all of them spent on the early childhood campus. I got written up for it too, playing with my camera at work. Technically, I’d used the camera on my personal iPad, but what the heck, I signed the form and shoved it back it my principal’s face. “You know the drill, please make me a copy and put it in my box,” I said. I had no idea how I was going to carry on without Bernadette, for over ten years, she’d been the key player on my early childhood assessment team. She also happened to be hands down the best teacher of children with autism that I’d ever seen.  Continue reading

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Let’s Roll!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:   Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, I’m going to define the “strong” as our government officials industriously imposing restrictions upon the “weak,” American taxpayers, with no consideration provided for the costs borne by those of us who must live with the results of what our progressive leaders are calling our “new normal.” The “possible right of the strong” will be the justifications given for the imposition of harsh governmental control of individual freedom and liberty such as: flattening the curve and solving systemic racism in our police departments.

One fact for us all, liberals and conservatives alike to keep in mind, is that none of the government employees, even those who haven’t been out of their houses in three months, have lost one dime of salary or benefits during this government imposed shutdown. You and I have kept right on paying our taxes and our elected representatives and bureaucrats have kept right on drawing their salaries. For these officials now to assert that they are “in this with you” and that they “have skin in the game just like everyone else” is both a blatant lie and insulting to boot. As my Aunt Lillie would have said, “When San Antonio mayor Ron Niremberg tells you he’s protecting the innocent against discrimination with an edict such as his hate speech proclamation, he’s lying to you with his own teeth in his mouth.” Resolution voted on by San Antonio City Council labels terms “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Fu Virus” as hate speech and “all persons are encouraged to report any such antisemitic, discriminatory or racist incidents to the proper authorities for investigation”.

This is all so very wrong. Last Thursday I visited my chiropractor, whom I generally see once a month, for the first time in three months. I didn’t cancel my appointment March, April and May appointments, he did, as he was forced to do by the petty tyrants that we’ve allowed to take control over our lives.

Except for the doc, the entire office suite, consisting of an outer office/waiting room, a secretarial station, and four treatment rooms was empty. You know how a house can start to feel once the family has begun packing boxes to depart, that’s how the office felt. Not desolate, or depressed, just sort of empty, as if the life had gone out of the building.

My doctor’s office reminded me of the way my classroom felt the day that I left my first teaching job after working for two years as an inner city school’s journalism/English teacher. The school was in the midst of change when I got there, but it was all new and exciting to me. The neighborhood that the school building sat in had gone down, no nicer way to state this, changing from affluent old Orlando families to poor working class if they were lucky families. The educational attainments of the students had also deteriorated. Howard Junior High School rarely received any accolades.

Of my one hundred and twenty English students, one third of the ninth graders read at below the second grade level. When I arrived, the ink on my Florida teaching certificate still wet, half of the staff consisted of first and second year teachers. The other half of the faculty were old timers, hanging on until they could retire and bemoaning the fact that the kids who came to Howard Jr High these days not only couldn’t read their textbooks, most of these kids didn’t even pretend to try. Continue reading

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Without a Paper Trail, We’re Toast!

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

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Just the Facts, Ma’am; Just the Facts

Today I’m going to talk to you about special education law, specifically special education case law. Case law isn’t all that interesting, however it is much less boring than I previously believed it to be. The trick, for me, has been in learning the language that lawyers employ to make their legal code impenetrable. Once you’ve mastered the vocabulary used by these scoundrels, which they do NOT wish you to do, then you’re more than halfway home. If, as an advocate, you have acquired the ability to read published cases and understand exactly what a judge has already ruled regarding a certain school district providing SE services to a certain handicapped child, then you’ve significantly upped your advocacy game.

All of us have many lessons to learn in the advocacy arena. Short of going to law school yourself, you’re going to have to adopt strategies employed by inmates who hang out in the law library and turn themselves into jailhouse lawyers. Lesson # 1 for today: the ability to recite the provisions of IDEA isn’t going to take you nearly as far as you hope to go. You have to be able to reference specific cases and provide details about what federal and state judges have written in response to some other parents’ due process claims. You read and internalize case law, particularly 5th circuit case law, in order to be able to quote what some judge said about the educational entitlement of some other child in circumstances similar to the situation of the child for whom you advocate. Continue reading

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Granddaddy’s Favorite Cow

Macy Rose: I dreamed of Claire Louise last night. She was speaking to me, saying that she feels much more alive since her passing than she ever did back when she was alive. Death is nothing more than another dimension, Macy Rose. Nothing more, nothing lessThink of it this way, a person who dies doesn’t go away, she exits the body she’s in and emerges in a newer, nicer, and extremely toned if I do say so myself, body. I’m in the best shape ever, and I’m not alone. I’m having a great time. Showstopper One, Two, and Three are here, and Old Bessie, she’s here too.

Grandma chimed in at that point, although I’m not clear on whether Claire Louise could actually hear the words that Grandma was saying. During the night time, things aren’t as clear to me as they are during the day. During the daytime for sure, both of them can be speaking to me at the exact same time and I know that Grandma hears Claire Louise’s words because Grandma will respond to them. But Claire Louise, from the things that she says, you can tell that she doesn’t hear a word that Grandma is saying. Come to think of it, Claire Louise never was all that good a listener so this habit of hers shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise to me.

Last night provides an excellent example. Right after Claire Louise told me that she now resides in a presumably eternal location where all three of her horses, all dead, and our dead Longhorn cow also reside,  Grandma said, “You know your grandfather and me, we never did hold with that New Age lunacy that Claire Louise used to spout. My best advice to you, honey, just ignore her.

Carlton wasn’t real impressed with what either one of them had said when I reported in over breakfast in the morning. “Doesn’t sound like she’s made it to heaven if all she’s got to say is that her body’s in better shape than it used to be and she’s living with animals,” constituted his take on the matter. It was seven-thirty and we were eating breakfast. He planned to leave for his office in Molly’s Point, five minutes away by car,  in thirty minutes. Continue reading

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PLAAFPs are supposed to be the Foundation of every IEP

Today’s lesson to parents and advocates: No matter how many times the members of your child’s IEP team tell you that “they’ve got your child’s best interests at heart,” you are advised not to believe them. At best, go ahead and trust, but always verify. By their deeds, not their words, will you know them.

I should have known this long before I began advocating for Aleczander. Shirley, a friend of mine, now deceased God rest her soul, retired as an elementary principal from NEISD. After serving as administration representative for no telling how many ARD meetings, she’d finally had enough of hearing SE directors reassure parents in this manner. After an ARD meeting one day, out of the hearing of parents, Shirley said to the NEISD SE Director, “I’m sick of listening to you lie to parents. You don’t care about what’s good for the child, you only care about what’s good for special education. So I’m putting you on notice; if you ever utter those words in my presence again, I’m going to repeat to you at the meeting exactly what I’ve just said.” Shirley had already announced her retirement so there wasn’t anyway for the district to retaliate against her directly, however her daughter, a 25-year veteran NEISD teacher whose annual reviews had always been exemplary, didn’t fare as well. Her contract wasn’t renewed. Quick update, we truly do serve a risen Lord. Shirley’s daughter immediately found another job, one which paid her more, provided improved working conditions at a charter school. Praise God!

I learned this lesson, don’t trust what public school officials, most especially SE lawyers tell you, the hard way, after I filed a mediation request, a SE complaint, an OCR complaint and a 2nd mediation request during the summer after Aleczander’s disastrous first grade year at ECISD. For any of you who’ve been advocating for more than ten minutes, you can likely guess what happened with that SE complaint. TEA investigated by asking the district for documentation of the special education services provided to Aleczander for the 2014-15 school year. As an aside, I filed that complaint upon the advice of a lawyer who said, “file away, the districts hate it when you do, it creates all sort of paperwork problems for them.” What the lawyer didn’t tell me was that SE complaints are futile and a waste of time. Consider this a word to the wise. If they’ve got a jugular vein, which I seriously doubt, the way to go for the jugular is to file a due process. And don’t even bother with an OCR complaint until after you’ve filed and lost a due process claim. If you do, OCR will treat you really nicely, consume a lot of your time asking for evidence, and then tell you that you have a great case, but that they can’t help you until you’ve exhausted all administrative remedies, which means you have to have gone to due process and lost.  Continue reading

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Don’t Let Anyone Rent Space in Your Head

Sample Letter from Parent to District Articulating Specific Concerns
and Referencing Evidence to Support Parent’s “asks.”
This letter contains three parts: an identifying information opening, a salutation, and a summary of your case. I suggest that you send a letter/email after every encounter with the school district. This becomes the paper trail of your case, and is what you will provide to the TEA hearing officer in the event, highly likely that you end up filing a due process claim against the district. The earlier you start, the easier the summarizing becomes. Don’t worry about how literate or articulate you sound; just write down your understanding of the conversation or meeting and remind the district NICELY of what you are asking them to provide for your child.

Plato was right, I was letting the district intimidate me . . . no more!

Identifying Information: Start with the date, the parents’ name, the child’s name and date of birth, your address, email, and phone number, think inside address to a business letter. Make this information front and center of every document that you create in your pursuit of a FAPE, as it will likely become evidence in a due process case. From personal experience, parents are going to have to demonstrate that they have both the tenacity and the capacity to file one due process claim after another if they want to obtain meaningful SE services from a Texas school district in this post 8.5% cap era. File this fact under the heading of, so very sad, but so very true.

 

SALUTATION: Dear Ms. Pugh, ECISD SE Director & Eric Rodriguez, ECISD SE Lawyer is the greeting that I used for this plus or minus 3000 word email that I prepared for the parents to send to the district on May 14, 2020 as the school district, led by the SE Director and the SE Lawyer continued to deny Aleczander services due to, are you ready for this, the global pandemic? As many of you well know, my advocacy for Aleczander began over 4 years ago. When I started down this road, I thought that the district was terrified that I’d call TEA and “tell on them.” Now I realize that they lie with impunity. To coin a phrase from a former White House official, “we must never let a good crisis go to waste.” Continue reading

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5.17.2020 Texas Special Education Continues to be AWOL

I didn’t write this article, I copied and modified it from the website, educationviews.org

The article was written by writers from Houston Public Media and the Houston Chronicle and is based on four case studies of Special Needs children and their parents as well as interviews with TEA officials, Public Educators, and Advocates/Attorneys. Bottom line, nothing much appears to be changing in regards as to how the school districts are treating children with disabilities. Read on and weep along with me.

For over a decade, Texas illegally denied special education to tens of thousands of children with disabilities — services that are their right under federal law. State lawmakers took action and federal monitors stepped in. But the crisis isn’t over for many families, Houston Public Media found in an investigation with the Houston Chronicle. Continue reading

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Gee-Whiz, I Wish I’d Known all this Stuff Back Then

 

File today’s post under the heading of gee-whiz, I wish I’d known all this legal stuff back then.

From IDEA 2004, (c) Parent-initiated evaluations. If the parent obtains an independent educational evaluation at public expense or shares with the public agency an evaluation obtained at private expense, the results of the evaluation–
(1) Must be considered by the public agency, if it meets agency criteria, in any decision made with respect to the provision of FAPE to the child; and

(2) May be presented by any party as evidence at a hearing on a due process complaint under subpart E of this part regarding that child.

I wasn’t present at the December 8, 2015 parent-initiated ARD meeting when Eva and Amador met with Aleczander’s IEP team to present my assessment information. The IEP team acted as if the written and video documentation didn’t meet their criteria and thus had no standing with respect to the provision of a FAPE to Aleczander. Which was sort of strange, as I’d previously worked for that very same district. For most of those years, I had conducted more evaluations that any of the other assessment members. One year the SE Director came to me and said, “We’re going to have to get someone to help you with the early childhood evaluations, you did more assessments than the entire rest of the assessment staff put together–there were 7 of us–this past school year.” True, this was the same director who had run me off a few years later, but it still seemed strange that, with so many of my reports in the district’s archives, Aleczander’s IEP team had been willing to tell these parents that this particular outside educational diagnostician didn’t meet their district’s criteria to conduct independent educational evaluations. Continue reading

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I Thought Mother Teresa Lived in Abject Poverty

In 1995 my writing career appeared to be dead in the water so it came as somewhat of a relief to me when a special education  director from a small town south of San Antonio called and asked if she could come by my house and talk to me about a job. Turned out she was desperate to get somebody–anybody with Ed Diag or LSSP credentials– out to her district to conduct her 3-year Special Education reevaluations.

“How’d you get my name?” I asked. Her response provided me with my first glimpse into the old boy network that makes up bureaucratic special education services in Texas. “A friend at SAISD searched applications and gave me your name and number,” she admitted. So much for confidentiality, I thought. But I let her come by the house anyway. Continue reading

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