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!

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