Saturday, November 26, 2011


Giving thanks is good. It's the truth, because giving thanks is acknowledging that we received it and didn't earn it ourselves. And just in case you congratulate yourself that you did earn it yourself, it is written in Deuteronomy 8 that it is the Lord that gives you power to gain wealth.

Thankfulness is pretty equivalent to being poor in spirit. "The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly" (Proverbs 18:23), an example being Nabal of Carmel in 1 Samuel 25. You're not too anxious to be exacting against others when you're aware of being cut a whole lot of slack yourself. Yes, indeed, if you're big on others measuring up, you're rich in spirit. From the standpoint of the gospel, you're in real trouble.

I'm not comfortable with the Thanksgiving holiday. It's based on a fairy tale, that godly people came here and prospered through God's blessing. In fact, they prospered through plague, robbery, and murder, and they were very spiritually proud and self-righteous people. Like the Pharisees, they were full of zeal for God, but they weren't careful to humble themselves. They proclaimed their own righteousness compared to everyone else in the whole world, and - putting light for darkness as Isaiah expressed it - they actually made of this spiritual pride virtue, instead of the spiritual rot that it was. They and we that have followed in their paths have actually given thanks not to God but to our own nets (Habakkuk 1:14-16), by which we have raked in wealth at the expense of the dispossessed Indians, black slaves, and now the rest of the world. As George Kennan helpfully explained in 1948, we had 50% of the world's wealth and 6.3% of the world's population, and maintaining that disparity was what our foreign policy had to be all about. And behind all the blather about democracy and liberty in the years since, that has been what it has been about, so that what the empire has been doing all this time to the rest of the world has now come home to the American people as well.

Thankfulness is perverted when we profit illicitly and then thank God for our ill-gotten gain. That really is taking the name of the Lord in vain.

However, God makes his rain to fall on the evil and the good, and his sun to shine on the unjust and the just. So God gives to the oppressor and wrongdoer his food and drink as well. It's just defiling and shameful to get through violence what we could have received with gratitude, and with no curse added to it. That way we don't have to lie to ourselves and others about how it really was and is, so we don't have to be so brazen and self-righteous.

Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War that if you know yourself and you know your enemy you will not meet disaster in 100 battles, whereas if you know neither yourself not your enemy you will be defeated for certain. It may take a while. It was so for Assyria, for instance. But it does eventually work out as Sun Tzu taught. When it's important for us to believe that we are righteous, self-knowledge is not possible. Once we have to believe we are righteous, so that everyone against us is wicked, knowing our enemy is not possible either.

So the Thanksgiving holiday should be a time to reflect on our true condition, our real history, how we've actually come to be where we are. Then we can give thanks for something real, that if we face the truth about who we really are and what we really do, grace is available.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2 districts, 2 teaching experiences

November 5, the Ontario-Montclair School District sponsored a "Parent Enrichment" conference and resource fair for their parents.

Look. I want you sitting down when you read this, I don't anyone to fall and get hurt. This district believes it's a good thing for parents to be educated in their rights!

So they happily put on your rumpled blogger to teach about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, its interaction with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the importance of keeping 504 in mind, and how to use these statutes together for your kid. And to mostly Spanish speaking parents, the ones most districts are especially eager to treat like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure! Especially in the Q&A, we got into IDEA stuff and such topics as advocacy and negotiating in general. Educate Advocate put an excerpt of one of the sessions on Youtube.

They made copies of the handout and will be making a Spanish translation. I'm not used to a school district wanting me to teach their parents to advocate for their kids, although that is in fact in their interest for lots of reasons - for instance, it makes it more likely that the kids will do better and keep the district from being punished by the state in Program Improvement. They do some smart thinking at Ontario-Montclair School District!

By contrast, we just concluded six months of fighting with a different school district, which to be nice I will leave unnamed. Here's some of the stupid stuff they did to dig themselves in deeper and deeper.

They received the kid from his elementary district and didn't even bother offering to assess him until six months had passed, while nothing worked. Procedural violations like that are harmless, so long as everything goes well, but as soon as it looks like trouble, that's not so good. You go a foot over the stop line, well, whatever. You bump into pedestrians when you do that, someone might want to make something of it. For six months they lollygagged as it developed into a debacle, while they just tried putting more whipped cream on this turd.

Then they all of a sudden wanted to assess, which was fine, but instead of thinking how they could fix it and make the parent feel better - by figuring out something effective for the kid, maybe! - they decided they had to prove that they had done everything right in this total disaster, documented by their own numbers. So they cooked up the scheme of having the educational psychologist add a mental retardation tag to the kid - supposedly to better serve him, but since the law requires all the services needed to meet the kid's unique needs regardless of the qualifying conditions, this was clearly and provably pretextual.

But more important - and district people reading this take note! - this announced to Mama Bear that they had made up their minds to ruin Baby Bear's future for the sole purpose of covering their own butts. So it became Mama Bear's job to whack their muzzles as hard as possible with her claws to rescue Baby Bear from their evil device, and it became our job at Educate Advocate to make sure she got it done. Never mind how morally vile the district's plan might be - if they had a problem with that, they wouldn't have thought of doing it in the first place. My point is that this pitiless cynicism was a serious miscalculation. As the saying is, "C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute." "It's worse than a crime, it's a mistake."

They dragged out the assessment process as long as they could, figuring that Mama Bear would be faced with a done deal and let Baby Bear drift back into the same crappy placement, only dumbed down and stuck with the mentally retarded tag, so that they could quietly push him on and out, dumping him into a sweatshop and a blighted future once out of their hands, but with their hands washed of him. And what was she going to do but file for an IDEA due process hearing, for which she had no money, and which without assessments she couldn't hope to win anyway? But Mama Bear wasn't up for drifting there.

So we filed for a Section 504 due process hearing because they had denied him access to the high school program by not teaching him to read or compute, and by ignoring various physical and emotional disabilities. We also revoked consent to certain items in the district's offer, including the high school placement. So instead of Mama Bear drifting into where the district wanted her, the district had arranged for themselves to drift into where they had no placement for Baby Bear and no way to get under cover except by filing for due process to prove that what they had in mind was appropriate - and there they had some big problems.

So then they made another big mistake. They had asked us to continue the 504 hearing and scheduled a resolution session to work things out - which was wise - but then they took the advice of their attorney during the resolution session to torpedo it and then start writing letters at his direction brazenly asserting their righteousness and insisting on their own destructive placement. Finally, on October 25, almost two months into the school year, they filed to prove that their placement was OK.

In all of this, they left Mama Bear no option to fight to the death, and of course Educate Advocate had no option to support her to the limit. We were OK with their DP filing, because if they lost, their position was disastrous, while if we lost, we would yank consent to all special ed services under IDEA and demand what he needed under 504 - leaving them hardly better off, and us not much worse off. And their filing immediately gave us occasion to take to the public their willingness to spend all kinds of money to lawyer a kid into having his life wrecked instead of giving him what he needs to succeed, and a couple of days before mediation the flyers were being distributed at the high school.

They complained that they had to file, no choice, which was half true. They had to file if they wanted to keep trying to cover their own butts with the kid's hide - but not if they wanted to work out a deal to help him. So we came to an agreement which ought to do that.

If they hadn't sicced the lawyer on Mama Bear and at his direction given her a lot of distortions about the law and pretextual excuses - thereby announcing their intention to do the kid more harm for their own convenience - they would have had pretty much the same deal a long time before with a lot less pain and wasted legal expenses, and a better relationship.

So in this case the district got to learn what can happen when they hire a crooked lawyer to seek the injury of a kid instead of trying to work things out. What did they get for their legal fees? An expensive avoidable fight and a chance at their expense for us to learn and do some community organizing, ending in their having to spend a lot more than they would have even on the placement.

Two districts, two lessons.

One cooperated to help parents get what they need for their kids, which will help the district do a better job for its own good, as well as for everyone else.

One spent money on a sleazy lawyer to force the parents and us to come to them with iron and the shaft of a spear (2 Samuel 23:6-7), training us at their own expense to do a better job defending other kids from their devices. Sometimes you get less for more.

Districts may get less by spending more on sleazy lawyers to wage war against parents. Empires may get less by investing in the domination and invasion of others instead of giving others their freedom and taking care of their own problems. Individuals may get less through their efforts to bully and dominate other people. To seek peace and pursue it isn't just the godly thing to do. It's the easy thing to do. When obeying God is the easy path, let's do it!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sometimes the bad guys lose

From a fellow special ed parent:

My now 16 yo daughter was cyberbullied through the creation of a fake MySpace page. The page included references to her disabilities and perceived gender status, along with other vitriolic comments. We sued parents and are in the final stages of actually getting the funds and setting up a special needs trust. So I can't share all the details, yet.

But in the meantime, here are the steps we took (please keep in mind that we live in California)
  • We notified the school.
  • We took my daughter to her doctor
  • We notified our lawyer
  • We filed a police report
  • Because under California, cyberbullying is a misdemeanor
  • And under California law, schools may suspend students for cyber-bullying outside of school hours
  • We pulled daughter out of school and with doctor's support, placed her on home/hospital studies
  • When district still hadn't provided a teacher after several weeks, we began dialog with university to locate a doctoral student with a teaching credential
  • District identified and began providing teacher
  • We notified local law enforcement that according to principal, a student had confessed (in writing)
  • The detective we've been working with for several years now has assured us that if another incident occurs, he will make it his personal business to see that the same kid does time up at the local "ranch."
  • We learned that kid who confessed had been suspended for two weeks
  • Creator of the fake MySpace page was arrested and convicted
  • We filed and then settled a lawsuit against multiple individuals (One kid got served in front of everyone on the first day of ninth grade)
The most important thing for our daughter's healing process was taking action in an appropriate fashion - you can imagine her proposed solution. It was a long process but the smile on her face when she says "Kids learned that when you mess with me, bad things happen."

Cyberbullying is a misdemeanor in California. Students can be suspended for cyberbullying outside of school hours and off school property. Juveniles can and will be convicted in California. And victims of cyberbullies can get $$$ from perpetrators.