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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TEACHER, CAN YOU PLAY WITH ME?

Today is April 18, 2020. I’m only marginally stir crazy as Gov. Abbot announced yesterday that Texas will soon reopen for business, although it is beyond infuriating that the DISTRICT is using the Corona virus as its latest reason to deny meaningful special education services. Actually in this CHILD’s case, the DISTRICT continues to refuse to provide ANY SE services. These PARENTS have been asking for additional services for their CHILD since September 2017 when today’s video, TEACHER, CAN YOU PLAY WITH ME?, was filmed. Note that the CHILD is 8 years 4 months of age while his gross motor, expressive language and articulation skills are functionally less than half of his Chronological Age (CA).

 

The DISTRICT assessment team comprised of an LSSP, OT, PT, Speech Path, and Dyslexia teacher completed their new testing on March 6, 2020, the Friday before Spring Break. Consents for this testing had been signed on 8.21.19 and re-signed on 1.27.2020 when the DISTRICT finally coughed up their 8.14.19 REED/EVALUATION report. On the last of the CHILD’s six test appointments, the LSSP, described on the DISTRICT’s website as the DISTRICT behavior specialist, said, “We’ve done all of the testing that has to been done. We’ll have to score everything and write it up so the REED/ARD will be held at least one week after Spring Break.”

Spring break ended in the DISTRICT on March 12th, however, by that date, schools were no longer hosting students, or teachers either for that matter. All of the DISTRICT staff members began working from home, and all have been allowed to come into their offices and retrieve any supplies necessary to do so. All SE ASSESSMENT STAFF have received their regular paychecks without interruption. Perhaps you’d like to guess what is going to happen when this PARENT emails the DISTRICT SE DIRECTOR to inquire about the ARD that she has been requesting since September 2017? Go ahead, hazard a guess, and then read the email exchange between the PARENT and the DISTRICT SE DIRECTOR reprinted below: Continue reading

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They All Lied To Me

ginger, joyce's weddingClaire Louise:  They All Lied To Me

I’m working on SHADE ISLAND, sequel to my first novel and wondering what people think about this iteration of the Richards sisters twenty years after my readers first met Claire Louise and Macy Rose in Daughters of Memory, 1991. This chapter is told from older sister Claire Louise’s POV. Continue reading

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Kairos


I created this video about Kairos, a prison ministry similar to an Acts or Emmaeus retreat  at the request of Valerie Slade who works and worships at my church, AHUMC. I can’t take credit for the powerful testimonies contained within this movie . . . credit for those go to Valerie’s husband, Chip Slade, who was on the music team of this particular retreat into a prison located near San Antonio, Texas. Chip provided me with over two hours of interview material, clips of team members speaking into his camera phone discussing the reasons why they participated in this four-day ministry. When I began editing material and putting Kairos together, the pieces fell into place so easily that I later found myself telling Valerie, “Because of the testimonies provided by Chip, this movie just seemed to make itself! Sad to say, way too much good material got left on the cutting room floor!”

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