Compton Unified Schools and Their Blood Sucking Lawyers

I just got this email hot off the Outlook press today. This is the stuff that makes my blood boil as the parent of an autistic child who has in the past had to press a due process in order to adjudicate my son’s education. It riles me to NO END when I see the frivolous and outright waste of OUR tax dollars on issues such as the one I linked to below. Rather than just award the child the proper education as deemed by an administrative law judge, school districts and the slimy education law firms that represent them just tap into the seemingly endless pot of financial backing the school district has at it’s disposal. In our own personal experience we found that the school district that chose to go to due process with us in Michigan spend no less than $100,000 in legal fees just to have us win and settle on an amount less than a tenth of that (you can request that through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) like we did to get those figures from our enemy at the time). Please read the summary at Wrightslaw.com about this school district in Compton, CA who were slam-dunked on violation of IDEA (click here). They not only appealed to the Federal Court level and lost their appeal, but took it a step higher and submitted it to the Court of Appeals at the Circuit Level. When that appeal was rejected, they have subsequently made an appeal to have the case tried by the Supreme Court! Can you believe the audacity of this school district? How dare they take an obvious denial of FAPE and WASTE so much money on the legal process. That money is so desperately needed in this time of state budget cuts on student programs and education, not funding the purchase of a new Porsche for one of the partners of the law firm representing Compton Schools!

Remember this my friends in advocacy: Your school district doesn’t have to do SQUAT relative to offering even an ‘appropriate’ education to your child. You have to press, and press and press some more. You see, they don’t have to, and won’t do anything unless compelled legally to act. They can just sit and let time pass. Time is on their side. The burden of proof is on you to make them act to provide the proper program you seek. Time, though, is not on your child’s side.

As unfortunate as it is to see a public institution waste finite monetary resources for ridiculous campaigns like this, as an advocate you have to be prepared that they just may decide to appeal when you win! And if they lose there – appeal again! And when they lose yet again…heck it isn’t their money, it’s the parent’s money – so keep on making the law firms rich and the let the special needs kids suffer!

Jumping over dollars, just to grab pennies. But, like all things related to government waste – why take the easy and fiscally sensible path when you spend ten times as much and then have nothing to show for it.

In Advocacy,

Mike

The Written Opinion: Great Tool for IEPs

The Written Opinion: Great Tool For IEPs

One thing you always have to realize as your child’s most important advocate is that the fight never ends! Let me say that again slowly, so it really sinks in for you. When you are an advocate for autism…the…fight…never…ends. Even when the pathway in autism looks smooth at any given point to travel on, you may get surprised just around the bend. We have discovered this after moving into a great situation in Florida. At my son’s IEP that occurred last week, it wasn’t necessarily going exactly in the direction that it should. Now, I am deployed overseas right now so I obviously wasn’t able to attend, but she is a pro and if there is any one person I would ever feel confident that could go into an IEP meeting alone it would be my wife. She is an advocate on steroids, knows the law better than most of the spedlaw attorneys we have crossed paths with, and certainly knows more than anyone on any IEP team we have ever convened with! For everyone else, my advice is to take an advocate or at least a friend with you. More eyes and ears are always helpful since the school district is always going to try to jam your child into the minimum that the law requires them to provide. This new district, although the service offering will eventually be great once we find common ground, appears to not follow IDEA in it’s procedural policies in regard to conducting proper IEPs. And she had to deal with a room full of lackeys (the people who have no power or authority to make decisions beyond the boilerplate service offering they try to stuff down your through in 60 minutes or less). So, not much was completed.

So now, Lisa and I are collaborating on our first play back toward the District to attempt to quickly influence the team’s decisions in our favor to craft the IEP that my son needs. Cause we all know, if it ain’t in the IEP, the program to be implemented wasn’t agreed upon…legally. Lisa wrote the body, I provided the editorial filler and she will put the finishing touch on a tool that we learned from the Wrightslaw series of book, website and blog call the “The Written Opinion”. Essentially, it is a letter that does one or more of the following, according to Wrightslaw:

– What happened at the meeting.
– What did not happen.
– What the team discussed or failed to discuss.
– Team decisions to which you did not agree.
– Relevant facts the IEP does not include.
– Correction of wrong facts in the IEP.

As Wrightslaw says, the letter doesn’t have to be a legal masterpiece, it is just a summary of how you experienced the meeting and what you found right, wrong or indifferent about the creation of your child’s IEP. When you create a good one and send it shortly after the conclusion of an IEP that you don’t agree with, it triggers a response from the district. At least, it better because if they don’t respond it will indicate acceptance of your opinion which holds strongly if you have to head toward a due process hearing. Most times it will get the attention, like in our case, of the administrators above the lackeys so we can start talking with the people who are capable of making decisions on behalf of the district (and their pocketbook). Learn more about how to use the Written Opinion here!

In Advocacy,

Mike

Speak Softly But Be Prepared to Bring a Big Stick! Part #1

We’ve encountered a nice little wrinkle on the pathways in autism with our new school district in Florida where we just recently moved. We do not believe it to be a large issue and believe it is going to be resolved quickly. We are starting out on the right foot with our new administration, so we expect change to happen quickly. It has to do with bussing of our oldest who attends class in a mainstream classroom, but who is being pulled out early (illegal) because he has to ride a bus with supports according to his IEP (an aide). Our initial discussions these last few days began as usual with their explanation to us of “district policy” and “that’s how they do it here”. Let me stop right here for just a moment and give you a page from our advocate playbook. This will be the first time I have tried to provide an inside look of our mindset and how we approach these types of obstacles, how we develop our campaign and then execute the battle plan (as we all know sometimes we really HAVE to prepare LITERALLY for a battle when it comes to advocacy with our school district, don’t we? lol). I will refine the following in time, but hopefully this will allow you to, as dangerous as it may sound, walk into my mind for just a moment. Watch your step!

THE MINDSET:
We approach every challenge we have as best as we can with a humble, firm, fair and Christ-like attitude (as best as is possible when dealing with charged emotions when it deals with your own kid – I know you all know exactly what I’m talking about. Believe me you we have more or less lost it at times, and have witnessed other parents do the same who we have advocated for in IEPs in the past). We go into it with a positive mindset that we will find a collaborative, partner-like solution to every challenge or problem (even when confronted with strong resistance from them at the onset). Having a hope-oriented, solution-oriented, positive mindset allows for you to see more opportunities in which to gather your facts and prepare your argument for the change needed for your kid’s benefit. Doing this also allows you to look for more angles to approach the problem instead of just getting emotionally charged and attacking it like a bull head-on. The idea is to at first find the path of least resistance of the change you want in order to get a better angle on what exactly the resistance is. When you get a different angle, viewpoint or understanding of the point(s) of resistance then you can attack the resistance from a different vantage point. Please don’t get me wrong here. We approach with meekness and humility, but because my wife and I are armed with years of reading, research, education, experience, a network of professionals to draw knowledge and ammunition from (which are all ALWAYS growing as we work to get even better at advocating), plus a never-quit, bulldog-like attitude we always go into it prepared to go the distance and wage all out war if necessitated. Savvy? Let’s move on…

THE APPROACH:Research, Read and go to your network for help! First of all, our guard and radar is always up for any potential harm that anyone could even bring to our boys. We have developed a somewhat instinctual radar that goes off when either their special ed rights are being violated or they are being taken advantage of in someway. We parents kinda have a sixth sense when somethings not right, don’t we? So, when an issue arises, here’s what we do:

1) Make sure we fully understand the issue at hand. (Do we really grasp what’s going on, have all the facts, have a good perspective of same and are we being OBJECTIVE (logical) about the issue and not just PROTECTIVE (emotional). (In a fight, as anyone who has studied any sort of physical hand-to-hand combat/martial arts/wrestling knows, you have to leave emotion at the edge of the mat and leverage your hones skills against your adversary. So is it true in advocacy for your child.)

2) Do your homework on the issue. Research, read and go to your network for help! Google, or search your favorite engine for the issues or topics related to your situation to see what you may be able to find. Read and reference good books that you have already read and studied that are particular to the issue at hand. (You should be developing a library of great autism and related reference material to hone you ability to properly and effectively advocate – this isn’t optional if you’re serious about helping your child). Network with those friends who are also advocates for autism or special needs and pick their brain to see if they have heard of or can point you in the right direction with your issue. Network on blogs like this and related websites and ask the author of the blog for advice (Sidebar: We are ALWAYS open and willing to give advice or perspective – just reach out to us right here at the green CONTACT US button on the left side of the page!). For legal issues such as our particular issue Wrightslaw is priceless for the wealth of information it provides to the parent who is willing to do the research (Their link is on my blogroll to the right). Also, play devil’s advocate as well. Ask yourself what your opponent is likely to say or do and why? This also helps you find angles. If you dig in and try to develop some understanding of the issue IN THEIR SHOES, it will allow you to more fully understand yours and how to develop your campaign against them to affect change for your kids.

DEVELOP YOUR CAMPAIGN:
Start with a broad-based, tentative plan on how you are going to attack the issue. We like to be overly informed after doing our homework, so when we approach the opponent about the issue we go in armed with facts (logical and planned), not emotion (protective and defensive). Now, on this one point alone I could write pages and pages and I think in the future I just may, but for now you have to have at least a fairly clear picture of what your initial steps are going to be, your purpose for taking those initial steps and be prepared for what you think their next counter move is going to be. Perhaps my summary of our current issue and how I apply these will make sense in the next posting.

EXECUTE THE BATTLE PLAN: ATTACK! Get the wheels in motion on your battle plan. This is where you make your initial move by making contact with your opponent to address the issue and, using your mindset of meekness and humility (while always having your big stick near if need be) start guiding/influencing your opponent toward a solution to the problem. This will usually entail a live meeting or continued talks over the phone. The smaller the issue, the quicker the solution is usually achieved. For example: calling the school to address why your daughter’s aide continues to forget to pack her hat and gloves into her backpack before sending her home on the bus. One polite phone request to the aide or teacher will, in all likelihood, will resolve the issue. The larger the issue, the more time, energy and advanced tactics are required to solve the matter. For example: getting specific research-based methodology (like 30 hours of 1:1 ABA), or an out-of-district placement for services in her IEP. Bring a lunch or two! There is much more to this topic as well, but it is my hope that the next posting will start to bring a little clarity to what I’m trying to share here!

Until next post!

Mike