I haven't posted in a long long time. Partly because I have unbloggable stuff going on all around me, and partly because evidentially heart disease isn't enough and God thought that a really funny joke would be to give me seizures too. So I've been in the hospital and then comatose on the most horrible drug you could possibly imagine. But I tossed the drug, and I'm feeling human again, so I thought I'd come and tell you what I"ve been working on.
As some of you know, I'm an educational advocate, person that helps parents negotiate with school systems that are reluctant to give out 504s and IEPs to deserving special needs kids. I attend IEP meetings and challenge the school officials when they lie and make up crap, basically.
As the country settles itself into a nice depressing recession, school budgets have been cut to the bone and beyond. Teachers are let go, programs are cut, classes grow larger, and school systems do everything they can to provide "the least restrictive environment" which is educationese for doing absolutely jack shit. Schools do not want to pay for a proper 'free and appropriate education (FAPE)' for kids that they can shove into the back of a classroom, deny any special aid, and then shake their heads in dismay and claim that the kid is making bad choices and is manipulative instead of offering help.
What used to be bad when my kids were in school has turned into abysmal. It's almost comical to see school IEP teams go around and around the fact that yes, the child has a problem that falls under special ed, but that problem does not affect the kids schooling. I know, hard to believe, but I see it over and over and over again. And every time I see it, I know I'm going to be ending the meeting with "Thank you very much. We'll be talking to the State Board of Education to decide whether or not we want to go with mediation or a full law suit." In every single case the school reps do this shrug and say, "do what you have to" and then a day or two passes and they start phoning the parents with all these lame ideas of how to fix a problem that they let fester for 6 or 8 or even 10 years. It's disgraceful.
Right now I'm working with two new clients in two different school districts. One is the Boston Public Schools and they were nice and helpful but couldn't offer my client anything other than the suggestion that we change schools or get DCF involved so she could get the residential setting she so desperately needs. I'm sorry to say that after 4 different people, including the kid's psychiatrist and two mandated reporters called DCF to file a 51a for the parent, DCF did absolutely nothing. No investigation whatsoever. What the child is doing is unbloggable, but if it were your child you would be BEGGING for help. Help from any and all corners.
The other kid is at a fairly suburban/rural school outside Boston. The school is fairly new and is used as a 'model school' for communities in MA looking to build a new school. The inside of the building is spotless. The floors are a pearl gray tile. The walls are cement block painted shiny white. There is NOTHING on the walls. No murals, pictures, artwork, trophies. So as you walk down the hall it feels more like a hospital than a school. The only thing of the walls are 5 papers taped onto the glass window of the front office. The papers are the rap sheets for the 5 level three sex offenders in this small town.
We went into the gorgeous conference room in the guidance center, and sat down for one of the more contentious meetings I've ever been in. The school officials were adamant that although they acknowledged this kid had both health and emotional disabilities, was failing every single class, and was truant to school almost every day, his disabilities had no bearing whatsoever on his behavior and attendance. Um, REALLY? For two hours we argued and it was a complete waste of energy. They would not budge.
So we went to the State Board of Education and reported the school for non-compliance and started yet another law suit.
When I started doing this I used to get so upset and angry that the schools could behave like this. But now I see that it's a business just like any other business. They have a budget that gets cut back year after year, and within that budget they have to educate all the kids who access the schools. By refusing to acknowledge giftedness, they can ignore providing any gifted programming in MA. But we have federal and state laws that make it clear that schools have to provide special education to disabled kids, so the schools have figured out a way to get out of educating disabled kids. First they use mainstreaming, and when that fails, they put the kid in the learning center. When that fails and the parents demand an IEP they'll just come up with ways to show that the kid doesn't need an IEP, even if he's failing every single class. Because failure is a choice these days. A choice made by manipulative kids that make bad choices all the time. Choices that have nothing to do with bad self esteem, depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD. Nope, it's just another bad choice.
Well guess what? By refusing to provide special ed or an IEP, the schools have made a very bad choice. They have discriminated against disabled kids, kids they admit are disabled. And that goes against 504, an anti-discrimination federal law. Ooops!
When schools fail like this. parents have a right to find counsel and sue the district. And I encourage them to do so because the districts aren't honest and think they can get away by tossing kids to the side of the road. Most parents follow what the school says because they are the "experts" but the truth is, they aren't experts and they will skirt and break laws and flaunt non compliance as much as they can get away with.
Individually, most people who work in our schools as teachers and support staff want to help kids. But when the district is strapped for cash and the superintendent lays down the law to the principals not to give out any special ed, especially out of district placements regardless of what it does to the kids, well we have a serious problem across the country. A problem that must be addressed because our most vulnerable and fragile students are being left behind.