Category Archives: “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Topics posted in this category pertain to the collaboration of stakeholders in special education and the elimination of “us versus them” behavior in the special education process.

Reconciling the Tragedy of Newtown, CT

Connecticut School ShootingThis is one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever had to write, but the challenges it presents to me are nothing compared to what the families of Adam Lanza and his shooting victims continue to suffer, as well as their communities. Maybe I’m feeling a touch of survivor’s guilt. Unlike the dead, I still have the ability to soldier on.

When I initially heard the news, it was over brunch with a colleague and our mutual client. My colleague saw the news on his smart phone and let out an audible, emotional gasp. When he told us what had happened, I didn’t feel anything at all; it was just information and wasn’t real to me, yet.

I was still trying to assimilate everything that had happened in the IEP meeting we’d all been in earlier that morning on the tail of a grueling week that had left me already emotionally exhausted. A mass murder on top of that was evidently more than what my nervous system could handle at the time. Since then, however, I’ve been following the news and the weight of the situation has sunk in quite deeply, now. I can’t read about the victims without tearing up.

An event like this hits me from every side because I have devoted my career to protecting children’s educational and civil rights. Among those is certainly the right to attend a safe learning environment that fosters their development and growth.

On the other hand, the evidence that has been publicized thus far reveals that Adam Lanza was disabled, possibly with a personality disorder, possibly with an autism spectrum disorder. The latter sounds more likely based on the descriptions given of him, though unless someone who has actually diagnosed him is permitted to disclose his confidential patient information, we’ll never really know.

What the reports from those who encountered Adam confirm was that he was socially awkward and withdrawn and that he evidently didn’t process physical pain the ways other people do, which put him at risk of unwittingly hurting himself during high-risk activities, such as soldering electronics. That sounds a lot like a sensory integration problem to me, which is not uncommon among those challenged by autism, along with the social skills deficits he was also reported to suffer.

Regardless of his diagnoses, it was clear to the outside observers who encountered him that he was impaired. And, while none of the lay people interviewed by the media thus far can point to anything that would have tipped them off that this atrocity was going to happen, we are not privy to what any therapists or others who interacted with him on a professional level may have had reason to fear from him.

Even if no one saw this coming, the fact that Adam remained socially impaired into adulthood reflects a lack of adequate intervention when he was younger, particularly given the peer-reviewed research regarding what works with children challenged by autism. The reports from those who encountered him in high school describe a young man who couldn’t relate to other people, would engage in elopement, and experienced meltdowns at school that “required” his mother to come to school and help calm him back down. The Associated Press described these latter experiences as “… crises only a mother could solve …” which reflects an utter failure with respect to school-based behavioral interventions and a gross lack of understanding regarding parental ability versus the mandated duties of the public education system.

I’ve lost count of the number of students I’ve represented whose schools have chosen to call parents away from their jobs in the middle of the day – and parents who have lost their jobs as a result – because it was less costly to the local education agencies to call the parents to come intervene than to staff these students’ programs with expert personnel. Unless the parent has a BCBA, the parent is not the person to call when behavioral problems occur and it is unethical and unlawful for school districts to shift that burden onto parents.

The special education advocate in me finds this outrageous and inexcusable. Just because no one necessarily saw Adam’s potential for murder when he was a public education student with special needs is no excuse for having failed to serve him when the opportunity presented itself to do so. When given the opportunity to prevent this from happening, nothing appropriately effective was done. The burden was shifted to his mother, who ultimately became his first murder victim. Clearly, this was not a crisis that only a non-expert, gun-collecting mother could solve.

While I’ve yet to see evidence that Adam was on an IEP while in public school, based on the descriptions given of him in the media by those who knew him at the time, if he wasn’t on an IEP, it was the world’s biggest child find violation. I have to believe he was on an IEP when he was a public school student.

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Evaluating the Efficacy of the LRE

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I attended an IEP meeting recently that really brought home for me the complex nuances of determining what placement, or blend of placement options, represents the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) for an individual student with an IEP. Not only are there the academic factors, there are the social/emotional factors of a particular configuration of services and placement to consider as well.

But, it goes beyond that. A truly honest evaluation of LRE also looks at the culture of the school, if not the entire school district, where the placement is to occur. What constitutes the LRE for a child according to best practices is not necessarily what’s realistically achievable in a school district that does not consistently apply best practices throughout its general education settings.

Many times, for example, a full inclusion program doesn’t fail because the child was unable to respond to appropriate pushed-in support in the general education setting. Full inclusion often fails because of weaknesses in how a school district has set up its general education programs in the first place, into which students with IEPs – who have all kinds of legal rights and protections that the general education students don’t have – then?try to integrate. The failure can be just as much because the general education setting is inappropriate for the general education students, much less a student with special needs.

Personally, I think every child should receive an individualized education. You shouldn’t have to have something “wrong” with you to be taught in a manner most consistent with how you are most likely to experience educational success.

However, our public education system was developed 100 years ago during the Industrial Revolution and emulates the assembly line. Trying to achieve individualization in a setting configured for mass production is an exercise in futility. Full inclusion, therefore, can fail because the effort to individualize for a fully included special education student in the general education setting runs counter to the mass production mentality of general ed.

So, what can happen is that parents will successfully advocate, they think, for full inclusion – or at least increased mainstreaming opportunities – only for the whole thing to go horribly awry once implemented. Afterwards, smug school district personnel will sit in IEP meetings throwing I-told-you-so’s into the parents’ faces, as though it was an outrageous mistake to push for full inclusion and?the parents should have known better.

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School-Wide PBIS & Teachers Who Bully

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Source: US Dept of Ed – Office of Special Education Programs

With all the public dialogue and experience-sharing regarding the prevalence of bullying in our schools, you would think the federal government’s push for school-wide positive behavioral interventions would be getting more attention. But, it’s not.

One reason, I suspect, is that people are so focused on holding bullies accountable that they’re not focusing on the real causes of bullying. But, that’s a reactive strategy rather than a proactive attempt to prevent bullying in the first place.

Additionally, people are primarily focused on other children as being the perpetrators of bullying when there is plenty of evidence that students are bullied by teachers and other school personnel, as well. This is one of those things that I wish it weren’t even necessary to talk about, but it is unfortunately one of the issues that fails to receive adequate attention but has such a negative impact on our students that it would be recklessly irresponsible of us to ignore it.

Our work here at KPS4Parents is about solving problems in special education and pretending problems like this don’t exist solves nothing. I believe that if teachers and administrators expect to be regarded with authority by their students, it behooves them to first devote themselves to their responsibility to create a positive learning environment that earns them their students’ respect.

In a recent bullying-related suicide in Japan, it has come to light that teachers were as much responsible as peers for the torment the deceased student experienced, who jumped to his death from his family’s 14th floor apartment. This just goes to show that the problem is not limited to the United States. But, it’s not rare, here in the U.S., either, and children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their typically developing peers.

A recent due process decision from Georgia shows just how bad it can get (not reading for the weak of heart – be forewarned) and there have been a number of cases in the news and/or in which parents have turned to social media to shed light on the mistreatment of their children with special needs at school by staff.

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California’s Regulations for Positive Behavioral Interventions

UPDATE:  Effective July 1, 2013, the Hughes Bill, which described the FAA procedures, was repealed and replaced with AB 86, which offers fewer legal protections to students with behavioral needs.  Click here for more information about this change in the law.  The material below now only applies to those students who were eligible for an FAA and possibly a PBIP prior to July 1, 2013. These students may currently have PBIPs in their IEPs, which remain in force until their IEPs are replaced at their next annual due date. Students with claims arising within the last two years from school agencies’ failures to comply with the Hughes Bill during the portion of the statutory period in which it was still in force may still bring claims regarding those failures, in which case, the material below is still applicable.


Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

As part of a series of articles regarding seclusion and restraint practices involving special education students across the nation, we’re starting out with a look at the regulations already on the books in California. We’re starting with these state-specific regulations because California is one of the few states to have regulations this specific and, as one of the most populous states in the nation, these laws impact a lot of kids. So, this information can potentially benefit a lot of students by helping their parents in their efforts to achieve appropriate behavioral interventions as well as help their educators understand their obligations, thereby preventing a lot of costly litigation that takes money away from actual instructional costs.

There is federal legislation pending to address this very issue. The lack of consistency among the states as to what constitutes a lawful restraint or seclusion varies so widely that what is regarded as child abuse in one state is considered perfectly acceptable in others.

Because California has such specific language in its regulations about one aspect of positive behavioral intervention, we wanted to examine these regulations more closely. Plus, I’ve been involved in a due process case in which an 8-year-old with autism was unwittingly provoked into an outburst by well-intended special ed staff with the whole thing culminating in a DARE officer who happened to be on campus handcuffing the boy in an effort to protect him from hurting himself. That whole incident involved both restraint and seclusion with disastrous results.

So, this issue is vivid in my mind right now after having met this sweet boy and his loving family, as well as in light of other work I’ve been doing recently that has also involved inappropriate behavioral interventions in public school settings in California as well as Texas. As advanced as humanity has become, we can still be a savage species when it comes to children, particularly those with disabilities.

The thing about California’s laws relative to the minimum requirements under the federal regulations is that California’s laws are specific to serious behavior problems, interpreted by most school districts to mean violent behaviors, where the federal regulations only specifically mandate behavioral assessment when a student is at risk of expulsion for behaviors that may be related to his/her disability. In both cases, that leaves a lot of latitude for things to get way out of control before a school district takes action, particularly in school districts that are reactionary to student needs once they’ve reached crisis proportions rather than proactive in preventing these kinds of problems from arising in the first place.

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Pain & Suffering in Special Education

In my last posting, “Teachers Who Cheat & Why They Do It,” I gave the advice to people employed within public education who are being pressured to do something unscrupulous to “grow a set” and refuse to willingly participate in the undermining of the special education system. But, telling someone to “grow a set” really doesn’t tell them exactly what to do when the pressure is on.

And then I read Alexander Russo’s July 7, 2011 article, “Education Will Break Your Heart,” on The Huffington Post.  Russo was writing after reading something that inspired him, “Liking is for Cowards. Go For What Hurts,” by Jonathan Franzen that was published in The New York Times on May 28, 2011.

Anyone struggling with a moral crisis over pressures to take unscrupulous steps in public education should stop to read these two articles. Franzen’s piece speaks to life in general. Russo translates it to the world of education.

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Teachers Who Cheat & Why They Do It

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The whole country has been watching the shameful activities that have been going on in Atlanta, GA, for weeks now and my point in today’s posting isn’t to repeat what’s already been said ad nauseam about the Atlanta achievement score cheating scandal. My point today is to acknowledge the reality that people from all walks of life cheat and that public education is not exempt from this sordid side of human nature.

That’s not anything I haven’t said before, but I’m hoping that the enormity of what has been identified in Atlanta thanks to tenacious investigative journalism will help drive this point home for the people who have heard me over the years but didn’t really believe that things can get that bad, much less on such a huge scale. In a way, I feel kind of vindicated, though this is totally the kind of thing about which I wish I could be proven wrong. The world would be a much better place if I was just a hysterical nut-ball falsely accusing the sky of falling instead of the truth being what it really is.

And, the truth is that there are lots of teachers who cheat. Granted, I don’t think they make up the majority of teachers. Even in Atlanta Public Schools, which is a huge school district with thousands of employees, it was only about 250 educators who were implicated in the achievement score fraud, which dates back to at least 2001.

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