Tag Archives: children

Parents in Crisis Can Be Vulnerable to Predators

There has been a tremendous movement among a group of special education lay advocates across the United States and beyond to get to the bottom of a very troubling situation involving an individual who claims to be a highly successful and renowned special education advocate but whose claims cannot be substantiated and, in fact, appears to have defrauded a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly targeting high-profile autism-related seclusion and restraint cases. This individual, who goes by the name of Michael E. Robinson, Sr., is suspected of being located in Redding, California, based on the physical location where the phone numbers he gives out are installed.

Robinson was previously located in Hawaii, so it seems. He claims to be located in Washington, DC, Arizona, Hawaii, and California. He has claimed to be a lobbyist (not registered); a special education lay advocate and/or attorney (he’s claimed both) with years of experience with due process cases and litigation going all the way to federal court (no record of him involved in any special education due process or court cases could be found); a medical doctor (there is an autism specialist also named Michael Robinson whose work Michael E. Robinson, Sr. has attempted to claim as his own); and, of all things, a NASCAR racer.

He’s also claimed that he has epilepsy and was given a wolf as a service animal because wolves can allegedly detect the onset of a seizure before it happens, thereby making them superior service animals – forget the fact that it’s not legal to have a wolf as a service animal. And on and on. His behavior seems indicative of a narcissistic personality disorder and an absolute disregard for the consequences of what he is doing.

It’s easy now that so many people have come out of the woodwork to share their Michael E. Robinson, Sr. stories and much of his story has now been pieced together to look at the big picture and reach the conclusion that Robinson is up to no good. He’s solicited money from several parents, apparently. He’s also requested copies of legal documents in individual student’s cases from parents to allegedly use for his “lobbying” efforts, only to turn around and copy and paste from these documents to attempt to misrepresent the work of other advocates and attorneys as his own to his next set of victims.

His M.O. is apparently to collect enough information from past cases to be able to initially convince parents in newly developing cases – usually horrific situations in which the parents are in dire need of technical assistance – that he is experienced and can help them. He commiserates with them over the injustices they have suffered and tells them not to worry because he’s going to take care of things for them. Then he takes whatever money they’ve given him and copies of their records and is never heard from by them again. He seems to particularly seek out single mothers who are emotionally vulnerable as they fight to protect their children with disabilities from harm and have little to no support from their children’s fathers.

As a special education lay advocate for over 18 years and a paralegal in special education-related litigation for the last 5 years, I have to say that the prospect of someone using special education lay advocacy as a vehicle for running a con is particularly disturbing. While it’s expected that different advocates have different styles and ways of going about things, this is well beyond anything like that.

What is so damaging is that the child who was in such dire need that his/her case caught Robinson’s eye continues to go unserved. Robinson’s advocacy, such as it is, fails to achieve appropriate outcomes, based on the reports coming in from families who claim to have been taken advantage of by him.

This hurts children with special needs overall by undermining the credibility of lay advocates everywhere. Every time I go into a school district in which I’ve never advocated before, I find myself having to prove that I’m not some crazy person or someone with an axe to grind. The expectation maintained by many school districts is that all advocates are adversarial jerks and a righteous pain in the keister. It usually takes months of working with an IEP team in a district to which I am new before people finally figure out that I’m just trying to solve problems and facilitate a rebuilding of trust between the school district and the student’s family and that I’m only going to pursue accountability if the school district personnel keep failing to perform their mandated duties.

But, when I have to follow behind someone calling him- or herself an advocate who has behaved disreputably, demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge regarding what constitutes an appropriate IEP, and antagonized the situation to such an extent that a power struggle has ensued between him/her and the school district, I am put at a tremendous disadvantage. The time I have to invest in proving that I’m not going to do the same thing is time that could have otherwise been invested in properly educating my client.

I want to make clear, though, that very few advocates are so lacking in knowledge and so adversarial that they do more harm than good. Mr. Robinson is the exception, not the rule. Nonetheless, parents need to be diligent about making sure that whoever represents them is on the up and up. When I meet with parents for the first time, they will often tell me that they Googled me beforehand. I’m totally okay with that; there’s a pretty good chance that I Googled them, too. Advocates have to protect themselves from shiesters, as well.

To read more about the evidence compiled against Michael E. Robinson, Sr., see:

Article Published for Employee Assistance Report

The Employee Assistance Report is a publication of Impact Publications, Inc. It is a monthly newsletter provided to Employment Assistance professionals to help them provide appropriate guidance to the employers and employees they support.

I had the distinct honor of authoring a portion of the March 2010 issue of the Employee Assistance Report: the “Brown Bagger” insert that comes with each issue.  The “Brown Bagger” is a pull-out piece that trainers can use for lunch-time learning session.

The title of the piece I wrote for the “Brown Bagger” is “Special Education and the Workplace: What Employers and Employees Need to Know.”?  Please share this material with your employer and co-workers, or with your staff if you are an employer yourself.  Also visit the Business and Industry page of our website at http://www.kps4parents.org/BIE.html.

Podcast: Emotions Part 5 – Extended Family

On November 17, 2008, we originally published  Emotions Part 5  Extended Family  as the fifth in a series of text-only blog articles. As we begin to move into the new school year, KPS4Parents will be recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast “Emotions Part 5 – Extended Family.”

KPS4Parents Interviewed by LRP

I was recently approached by John Haughey, writer and editor for LRP Publications, for our input regarding a due process decision arising from a case in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with LRP, it is the publication powerhouse that supplies information regarding special education law, policy, and practices to public education agencies and the attorneys who represent them.

LRP maintains, through its website http://www.specialedconnection.com/, the most comprehensive database of special education due process decisions from around the country, as well as state and federal appeal cases. With a subscription rate for full access at around $2500 per year, only the well-financed generally have access to this otherwise difficult to access public information.

Even so, many attorneys who represent students with special needs and their families will choke down this subscription fee for access to case decisions that provide appropriate authorities for their own work. Other products of LRP Publications are reviews of special education decisions and articles that discuss the subtle or not so subtle nuances of special education law.

Which brings me to the Chicago case about which Mr. Haughey, who is a very nice man, asked to interview me. KPS4Parents very much appreciates the opportunity to lend perspective from the child and parent side of the issue to LRP’s work. For many who work with families of children with disabilities, and who are leery of LRP because of its strong affiliation with the public education agencies and their attorneys, we hope you appreciate that LRP was actively reaching out to hear the child and family side of the issue.

While the way our comments were reported doesn’t provide the full context in which what was quoted was said, we stand behind what Mr. Haughey wrote of our input. Unfortunately, because this article is copyrighted by LRP Publications and you have to be a subscriber to their site to see it, we can’t give you access to the whole thing. However, LRP was kind enough to agree to let us audio record my interview with Mr. Haughey and we were given consent to quote Mr. Haughey’s quotation of me from his article.

The Chicago case was one in which a special education student was awarded compensatory education in the form of placement in a private school for children with learning disabilities at public expense after his school district was found to have denied a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE, to him. In this case, it seems, the school district had placed so much of an emphasis on placing this student in the least restrictive environment, or LRE, that it had failed to consider whether he could actually receive educational benefit in a general education setting.

I was one of several people from around the country interviewed for Mr. Haughey’s article. Also interviewed were a public school principal in Wisconsin and a special education attorney in New Hampshire. While I had the benefit of reading the decision issued by the Illinois Hearing Officer, I did not have access to the transcript of the hearing or the evidence, so I have to take the decision at face value. That said, I know from personal experience that hearing officers are extremely challenged to get all the fact exactly right, so I was still left with some unanswered questions after reading the decision.

It was an interesting read, nonetheless, and what I want to focus on here is the case as represented by the hearing decision. I offer our sincere respect to the family involved in this case, particularly considering that the case reflected in the decision is probably not exactly reflective of the case the family attempted to have tried. I also offer our most emphatic support of the student in this case because it was this young man’s life about which this case resolved. He is the one who will have to live with the consequences of what this case did and did not yield on his behalf. So, to the extent that I’m about to talk about this case as though the decision is 100% reflective of the facts, and I’m about to use it as a generic example for the benefit of others, please do know that we very much understand that this was really about one boy and his right to learn to read, write, and do math and very much appreciate that this family stuck its neck out in an effort to effect change.

The decision in the case at issue here reflected a number of shortcomings that the LRP article, which was brief, did not go into. One of the issues was that the assessment data fell far short of the mark and this young man’s IEP teams were without the data necessary to make informed decisions regarding what was or was not a legitimate offer of a FAPE based on his unique learning needs. So, there was this first undermining of the process that ultimately made it impossible for the rest of the process to be properly executed.

The decision doesn’t specifically speak to whether the parents’ participation was meaningful in the IEP process, but I would argue that an IEP meeting denies meaningful parental participation if the information necessary – that is, data that explains what the student’s needs are – is not made available to the parents so that they can make informed decisions. Likewise, most parents are clueless regarding what data is necessary and how that data should be used. They are left to trust the judgment of school officials who may or may not understand their obligations under the law to special education students.

What was implied by this decision was that the school officials believed it was more important to place a child with an above-average IQ in the general education setting regardless of what his actual learning needs were than to examine the full continuum of placement. The decision suggests, and LRP’s article comes right out and asserts, that there was an emphasis placed on the LRE requirements more so than on what constituted a legitimate offer of a FAPE. I have to question this interpretation to a certain degree. That’s not exactly what I got out of reading this decision.

Yes, it’s true that, according to the decision, the District asserted that it only offered placement in the general education setting because it perceived that setting to be the LRE and that the student didn’t require a more restrictive placement. That may have actually been true.? Where the District may have fallen down was not necessarily?where the services were being provided but whether the proper services were being provided at all. The decision doesn’t address this consideration.

If you go back and look at our blog posts of the past and read the articles regarding the IEP process, you quickly come to understand – if you didn’t already know this – that services and placement are the last things discussed by the IEP team. What drives the selection of services and placement is the goals. The goals describe your intended outcomes of intervention and services and placement are the vehicles by which the goals are meant to be achieved. To the extent that the child can receive services such that his goals can be achieved in the general education setting, placement in the general education setting with non-disabled peers should occur.

In the Chicago case, it was not clear from the decision that there was any examination of what services could have been provided in the general education setting that could have seen the child benefit from his education. The decision reflects that only accommodations and modifications were made in the general education setting, not that services were pushed in or provided as supplemental supports.

Now, that said, this had apparently been going on for a while. As a result, the student had failed to receive educational benefit for years. By the time his case got to hearing, he was due compensatory education to make up for the years of lost educational opportunity and, at that point, the only real way to provide him with that kind of remedial support was to put him in a very restrictive setting, that being a private school for children with learning disabilities.

There very well may have been a time when placement in general education with appropriate supports and services would have rendered educational benefit and prevented all of this from ever happening. But, we’ll never know. The decision doesn’t speak to what would have been a FAPE for him in the past. It only speaks to the harm done by the District’s inappropriate offers of only accommodations and modifications in the general education setting for this student and the fact that compensatory education is now due to the student as a result of that harm.

This brings me to the next consideration: the use of the term “LRE.” As we’ve stated in blog articles before, the LRE?- the least restrictive environment – is the setting in which the student can receive educational benefit with the most exposure to typical peers and the typical school experience as possible. It’s relative to the student’s unique needs. This was the aspect on which I was quoted by Mr. Haughey in his article for LRP Publications.

Mr. Haughey wrote that I said, “LRE is relative — relative to the needs of the child,” which is true. Mr. Haughey went on to write: “Zachry advises parents to ask these questions in determining if the general ed placement is appropriate for their child: ‘Is it going to achieve the outcome you are looking for Are we leveling the playing field, or are we putting him on a completely different playing field?'” ?This advice actually was intended for the entire IEP team, not just parents.

Mr. Haughey also wrote that I said that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, but did not include the context in which my statement to that effect was actually couched. This is something I want to clarify before my words are used to fuel the anti-parent bias that already pervades the public school community, and which some attorneys who represent public education agencies actually exploit for their own financial gain.

It is true, and I’ve written in our blog on this before, that most parents really do not understand the special education process. That’s one of the reasons we publish our blog in the first place. It’s also true that far too many professionals in special education really do not understand the special education process, either, which is another huge reason we publish our blog.

People on both the school and the parent sides tend to put placement before everything else, treating special education as a place rather than a service, even though placement is only one aspect of a special education student’s program and the last thing the IEP team should consider. So, again, we have this case out of Chicago and the attention that LRP is giving it that both focus on the placement more than anything else and I can’t help but wonder about the message this is sending to the folks in the public education community. Does this reinforce the false notion that placement is the only really important thing to talk about and that present levels of performance and goals are just procedural fluff?

It is also true that there are a great many parents out there who, in the process that parents follow in coming to terms with being told that their children have handicapping conditions, are in a stage of denial and, in their ignorance, think of special education as a place rather than a service to help their children learn. These parents view special education as a label – a “Scarlet Letter” – that will brand their children as though it is somehow advertised who and who is not on an IEP.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t insensitive clods in the public education system who have no sense of student confidentiality, but for the most part, public school employees do not go around blabbing students’ personal business to the other kids. Generally speaking, kids with learning disabilities and other “hidden” handicaps blend in with everyone else and no one knows they’re on IEPs unless they tell their peers themselves.

So, the parental fear of the child being labeled is often a rather irrational one. But, it’s also a natural stage of the process that every parent goes through. Sometimes it’s a fleeting moment before the parent moves to the next stage towards acceptance and proactive involvement, but sometimes parents get hung up at this stage for a while – or even indefinitely.

Like the stages of grief, how long a particular person spends at each stage of the process depends on that person’s individual growth and development as a human being. It’s unfair and inaccurate for school personnel to presume that all parents are in denial. Most parents of children with special needs experience at some point a great deal of relief of finally understanding what is going on with their child so they can start constructively coming up with a game plan. They get past the denial at some point.

But, while parents are in that denial phase, they are often resistant to the application of the term “special education” to their children, particularly if they are in denial at the time that their children are found eligible for special education services. They envision the proverbial “retard room” from their childhood educational experiences and can take any identification of eligibility for special education as a condemnation of their children’s potential. This is truly unfortunate. Within this context, it is true that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, as Mr. Haughey reported.

Sometimes, however, it is the student’s bias that’s the problem, which Mr. Haughey and I discussed during the interview, as well. Sometimes the student doesn’t want to be placed in a more restrictive setting out of embarrassment, but is also embarrassed in the general education setting by not being able to keep up with peers. In a situation like this, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s a really hard problem to overcome and usually comes down to the parents telling the student, “Look, this is the way this is going to go down and you’re just going to have to deal with it,” regardless of what the placement determination turns out to be.

In other instances though, and from what I could gather from reading the Decision in the Chicago case such was the situation there, the parents don’t really care so much about where services are provided so long as their kids get the help they need. The Chicago case seemed to me to be about a family asking for help for their son and not getting it, and the denials for help by the District being based on an inappropriate application of the LRE requirements.

Truthfully, what I suspect but would need evidence to know for sure, is that the District probably didn’t want to pay for the intensive remedial services this student needed and used the LRE as an excuse to deny them. Otherwise, no one at the District had a clue about what LRE really means and requires. Special education noncompliance tends to arise out of ignorance, petty politicking, or a combination of both. As with any due process case, we’ll never really know all of the truth about this situation, but we appreciate the opportunity to examine it and hope that my analysis provokes thought on the part of others to make the special education system better.

Writing Measurable Annual Goals – Part 1

In our last posting, we talked about present levels of performance. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first before reading today’s posting because you have to understand present levels before you can understand goals. More to the point, you have to understand what a child’s present levels of performance are before you can start even thinking about writing goals.

As stated before, your present levels of performance are your stepping-off points. If an IEP were a race, your present levels would be the starting line and the annual goals would tell you where the finish line is. The annual goals of an IEP describe your desired outcomes- what it is the IEP team believes a child is capable of learning over the course of a year.

Goals are written every year but assessment is only required once every three years. This means that unless additional assessment is done in between triennial assessments, you’re only going to have fresh baseline data from standardized assessments once every three years. The other two years, you’re going to have to pull your present levels from informal assessments and the child’s progress towards the prior year’s IEP’s goals. I’m going to start out with the very beginning of the process, when a child gets an IEP for the first time and move forward from there.

Beginning with the initial assessment data, the IEP team has a fresh body of data to work with that, if the assessment was done properly, tells you pretty much everything that’s going on with a particular child. It will identify the child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, including the areas of deficit that need to be tackled by the IEP. The goals should tackle the areas of deficit for sure.

Some challenges a student faces may not warrant specialized instruction so much as they may simply require accommodation. For example, a child with a circadian rhythm disorder may receive as an accommodation an alternative schedule to the regular school day. That by itself has no bearing on the content of the child’s instruction. The curriculum doesn’t change on the basis of the child’s disrupted sleep/wake cycle. But,when instruction is provided is changed on that basis.

If the same child also happens to be severely autistic, then you’re looking at the content of the instructional component and not just when it’s being offered. Goals address what it is that you’re trying to teach the child. Accommodations help you get around obstacles that would otherwise interfere with pursuit of the goals.

For example, let’s say you have a 5th grade student with average to above-average intelligence who has an auditory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, ADHD, and a physical anomaly of his hands – he’s missing the distal interphalangeal joints (top knuckles) of his index and middle fingers on both hands. Let’s say that this child also has a history of behavioral challenges in the classroom.

Comprehensive assessment reveals that the student has problems with visual tracking and saccadic eye movements This means that as he reads, his eyes do not smoothly jump from word to word. He has to visually re-orient every time he leaves one word and tries to fixate on the next. This also impacts his writing as he tracks what he’s trying to put down on paper.

However, his writing is further compounded by the physical anomaly of his hands. So, as he’s trying to watch his words go down on paper, his whole arm starts to hurt because he can’t do the fine finger manipulations necessary to achieve letter formation. He’s got to move his whole arm and upper body.

However, yet again, these combined processes are even further compounded by the fact that the child has an auditory processing disorder. Reading is an auditory process until the reader has memorized enough words on sight, thereby building a huge sight-word vocabulary. Children still learning to read or with relatively low reading skills will still have to think about how a relatively complex word sounds when they write it.

All of us do that to a point. We all can throw down “the” and “is” without any thought, but “sphygmomanometer” is another issue. Even after all these years following my 11th grade vocabulary class, I have to sound that one out.

So, imagine this child trying to receptively read the questions on a worksheet while his eyes are jumping everywhere but where he needs to look and process what the visual symbols sound like (which is an unnatural act in the first place) when he has a hard time processing sounds. It’s a gamble as to how much of what he read he’ll comprehend accurately.

Then have him write something about what he just read while trying to formulate his output based on the sounds of language in his head, which he has to translate into visual symbols that he writes backwards and upside-down because that’s how he saw them, while also trying to move his fingers, hand, wrist, and arm in a way that will produce legible handwriting.

Add in the distractibility, impulsivity, and inattentiveness inherent in ADHD, and then ask yourself why this child engages in behavioral outbursts every time he’s given a paper-pencil task. He’s attempting to avoid a tortuous experience. He’d rather get in trouble and get sent to the office than be put through that hell.

The goals you write for a child with needs like this are multifaceted. The problem a parent can face with a child with these kinds of needs is that you run up against a bias on the basis that he’s actually a pretty smart kid and?it may be?easier for the adults at school conclude that he’s just a poorly behaved little monster and nothing more. None of his multiple disabilities by themselves are all that severe. But, when you put them all together,?they create a recipe for disaster.

A child with these kinds of issues needs therapeutic intervention to address the underlying foundational skills that support academics. His goals need to include visual tracking, cross-Corpus Callosum communication of data presented through the auditory array, and exercises to build strength in his arm to withstand the additional work the arm has to do to support handwriting (taking into account that accommodations will also be provided to eliminate handwriting where it’s not necessary to the mastery of the curriculum). He also needs goals in reading, written expression, math (particularly for lining up problems properly so that calculations are accurate), keyboarding, organizational skills, self-advocacy, and behavior.

Because services are only provided to support IEP goals, it is imperative that all areas where services may be needed are discussed in terms of whether or not a student needs goals in those areas. If you’re thinking the student might need speech-language services, then you have to ask “What deficits does the child have in speech-language? What skills need to be taught in order to eliminate or reduce those deficits?” The answer to the second question gives you your material for your goals. If you can’t think of a skill in a particular domain that needs to be taught, then there isn’t a goal to propose. If there’s no goal to propose, there’s no service in that domain to provide.

Better yet, don’t go in thinking about what services a child needs. Figure out the goals first and then figure out what services are going to be necessary to see the goals met. That’s the proper format, anyway.

My point here is that not all goals are going to be rooted in academia and it’s not esoteric to write goals that tackle things like cross-Corpus Callosum communications. The brain is divided into two hemispheres?- the left and right. The two hemispheres are joined together by a neurological bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum. When both sides of the brain are involved in processing, the data between the two sides travels back and forth across the Corpus Callosum. This is also referred to as interhemispheric communications or interhemispheric processing.

If a child struggles with tasks that require cross-Corpus Callosum communications between the two hemispheres of the brain, as is often the case with auditory processing, then exercises that cause the brain to practice that kind of neurological activity are therapeutically warranted. This can include having the child bounce on a personal exercise-style trampoline while alternating between hands throwing balls up in the air and catching them. The child could also use a program such as Earobics, Fast Forword?, or Interactive Metronome.

But, if any programs are used, such as those mentioned above, goals need to be written describing what the desired outcome is for the use of each program. The goals will need to target the deficit areas for which the program is being provided based on the baselines that were measured during assessment.

Once you get a solid IEP written with sound, measurable goals, then it’s just a matter of providing the services that will see the goals met and collecting sufficient data along the way to measure how much progress the child is making. Once the year is up and it’s time to write a new IEP, the child’s present levels should be known in terms of the progress made towards the goals worked on for the last year. If you had a sufficient body of goals in all areas of unique educational need that were well-written and generated empirical data that tells you exactly where the child stands versus where he was a year ago, you’re in pretty good shape for writing the IEP for the year coming up.

If the child has made so much progress that it’s time to tackle a whole new skill set that’s the next level up from the goals he just finished, you may need to collect new baseline data in the area of the next skill set. When you’re scaffolding up from foundational skills such as letter-sound recognition, for example, to putting series of letters together to form sounds that are parts of words, you’re really jumping from one type of mental processing to another.

It is one thing to figure out the respective sounds made by “T” and “P” but it’s another thing to stick a vowel in there, string them all together, and come up with top, tip, and tap. Heaven help you when someone throws in an “S” or an “R” and you’ve got to do consonant blends like stop and trap. Because these next-level steps call upon the brain to do something more complex than what it did before, you’ve got to figure out exactly how well the brain can handle that kind of processing before embarking upon a goal so you know how much complexity is reasonable to expect at the end of a year’s worth of work.

Our next posting will actually focus on measurability, specifically. We already talked about this quite a bit when we covered Present Levels of Performance. In our next posting, though, we’ll focus on the formatting of properly written goals and share some resources with you for goal writing.


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The Big Picture – Special Ed Issues Impact Everyone

In June of 2006, I read an article in Commentary that scared the bejeezus out of me. The article was titled, “Why Have Children?” and was authored by Eric Cohen. After doing additional research, I wrote an article of my own titled, “Plugging an Important Hole in America’s Economic Dike: Preserving financial resources for a troubled future by educating the disabled” and hosted it on KPS4Parents’ web site at http://www.kps4parents.org/08_2006_article.pdf. I’m not going to repeat?everything you can read for yourself in these other materials, but I do have a few points to make. Here’s the Big and Scary in a nutshell: Our economy is a wreck. The biggest demographic cohort among us is the Baby-boomers. More and more of them are hitting what has traditionally been regarded as retirement age. A lot of them took a huge hit when the stock market crashed in the early 2000s. Recent developments with the real estate market, which has long been touted as one of the best places to invest, have taken their toll as well. Nonetheless, many Baby-boomers have assets for now and that’s giving many of them a false sense of security. With advances in medical science being what they are and what they promise to be, it’s not going to be long before living well past 100 is common. If a person retires at 65 and lives to 100, he or she will have to stash away 35 years of living expenses, taking into account the rate of inflation and the rate at which long-term healthcare costs are increasing. That’s a lot of money to sock away, particularly if the things this person has invested in over the years have failed to produce the additional income expected or the person has actually suffered investment losses. Well deserved motor home trips, vacation timeshares, and cruises to exotic locations may seem affordable now, but as some of these folks continue to spend on the fun things in life, or even if they’re just spending down their savings on day-to-day living expenses, at some point, a certain percentage of these folks are going to experience a medical situation that ends up wiping them out financially and then, in the most medically fragile state of their lives, they’ll go broke and end up dependent upon the Medic-Aid system at taxpayer expense in some Godforsaken nursing home for the remainder of their days. This may not be a huge percentage of the Baby-boomer population, but we already know that, statistically speaking, some percentage of our elderly have been ending up in this kind of a situation for a while now. Even if the percentage stays relatively the same, the sheer numbers of the Baby-boomers means that their percentage will translate out into a whole lot of people. This is going to place a tremendous burden on the taxpayers. At the same time, autism is occurring now at epidemic rates. With some sources insisting that we’re at an autism occurrence rate of 1 out of every 144 children at this point, we have to acknowledge that we are starting to get slammed with a need for increased spending in special education services. While there are certainly shining examples of how things should be done, there are also horrible travesties that most people don’t even know exist. We are a long way off from having a well-functioning special education system. Over the next 10-15 years, we’re going to see our workforce continue to shrink, particularly relative to the amount of people who will increasingly qualify for publicly funded services. Young people will become less and less?able to afford to have families and each generation will get smaller than the ones before it. The smaller generations that come after the Baby-boomers are going to end up bearing a significant share of the financial burden for the Baby-boomers’ care during their elderly years.? With each generation getting successively smaller, combined with the fact that so many jobs are going overseas that there is less domestic work to be done, what we’re going to increasingly see is a shrinking pool of taxpayers having to support an increasing pool of tax-dependents. Before this spirals hopelessly out of control, we need to pull out all stops and do as much as we can to educate all of our children well, including those with disabilities, so that we can produce as many competent taxpayers as possible and decrease the number of tax-dependents they will have to support. That means we need to invest in special education now, when these young minds are still malleable and ripe for learning. Unlearning bad habits once these kids reach adulthood is a nearly impossible task, particularly for more severely handicapped children. I don’t think you can appreciate that, really, until you’ve had a 23-year-old woman with cognitive impairments and hyperphagia lay down on the pavement in front of a city bus and refuse to move until you promise to take her to McDonald’s for french fries. I’ve had that experience and it was the direct result of a horrendous failing on the part of the agencies that were responsible for her in childhood to address her problem behaviors in a constructive way. At the time, it was my job to teach her more appropriate positive replacement behaviors to those she was engaging in, which meant teaching a person with a serious brain injury how to do something she didn’t necessarily understand or appreciate instead of what she had been doing all of her life. Whereas, working with children who have not yet formed very many bad habits can be a lot more fruitful. Children are simply more receptive to certain types of new learning than adults. While local education agencies may be operating out of a “not out my budget” mentality, they fail to appreciate (or don’t care about, or feel entirely powerless against) the bigger issue, which is the long-term cost to society on the whole that failing to provide special education services appropriately to eligible students now will cause. The costs of incarceration are exorbitantly high and generally fail to prevent recidivism. When you look at who is populating our prisons, you will find an enormous number of learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, and developmentally disabled people, most of them not getting any of the kinds of attention they need to pull their lives together, if that’s even possible for a number of them. And, while some areas are pushing to see state run mental institutions shut down and their inhabitants placed in the community with supports, there is also a push by the unionized workers of many of these facilities to keep these places open just so they can secure their jobs at taxpayer expense, not because their patients couldn’t handle a community-based placement.? We’re just warehousing our “broken” people or otherwise subsidizing them to maintain meager, unproductive existences rather than investing in eliminating or decreasing their need for publicly funded services and benefits. The cost of special education is nothing compared to the costs of taking care of disabled adults who can’t take care of themselves. It is unconscionable to rob children of their futures in the first place. But it is also reprehensively unethical of the public sector to short-change the taxpayers by creating a bigger expense through failing to fund a smaller expense, particularly while asserting the argument that the smaller expense wasn’t funded because they were trying to save money. When it comes right down to it, in every dispute over services for children with disabilities that I’ve been involved in, money has been at the heart of the matter.? Part of the problem, and it’s high time we do something about it, is that while the federal government has committed to funding up to 40% of each local education agency’s special education programs, it has not lived up to even half that in all the time that the laws have been in place that provide for the funding. The other disturbing thing I see, though, is that some local education agencies will gladly throw over $700K at legal expenses to deny $23K worth of services. And, then they shriek because they don’t have any money. I would far rather see public education agencies committing their legal resources to securing the federal funds they’re due than fighting parents over services the schools are required by law to provide. I hope I’ve made a compelling point here that this is one of the many serious issues troubling our nation and it’s a costly problem to solve. But solve it we must! The consequences of failing to do so are becoming increasingly dire. Additional Reading Recommendation: Futurecast by Robert J. Shapiro.

Emotions Part 6 – Parents’ Employers & Co-Workers

I think it’s really, really important to look at the impact that special education non-compliance has on parents’ employers and co-workers. There doesn’t seem to be any research being conducted on this (at least none that I could find – if you know of any, please post a comment with more information). But, I know from talking to the hundreds of parents we’ve represented and provided with consultation that employers are hit very hard by special education issues – employees having to take off all kinds of time from work to contend with problems at school, employees making careless mistakes at work because they’re so pre-occupied with the problems their children are having in school that they aren’t thinking about what they’re doing, and employees who are so emotionally overwrought by what they’re going through that they become a morale problem for their whole department or even the whole company and other people are starting to complain.

 

Nobody ever talks about this and I don’t know why. It happens all the time and it’s not okay. Parents end up having to quit their jobs or get fired because their job performance is affected by the problems they are dealing with at their kids’ schools. There are things these parents probably don’t know that are hurting them and their children. Employers should be aware of these things, too, and be sympathetic to the fact that these things aren’t being advertised by the public schools and most parents have no idea of their protections. Here are some important things for employers and parent-employees to know.

 

IEP meetings must be held at mutually agreeable times and locations. Federal law mandates that local education agencies do everything they can to facilitate a parent’s meaningful participation in the IEP process.They can’t have the meeting without the parent unless they can show that they tried every way they could to get the parent to attend and the parent either simply refused to go or could not be located.

 

 
If the school is arbitrarily assigning IEP meeting times without first finding out if the date and time are mutually agreeable to the parents, and it isn’t mutually agreeable?, the parent has the right to reschedule to a time that will work for everyone. [34 CFR ? 300.322] When it comes to scheduling IEP meetings, it’s within reason to hold the IEP meeting during the parent’s noon lunch break, but it’s not within reason for a parent who works graveyard to expect the IEP team to convene at 2am right after he/she has gotten off of work. 

 

It is not okay for the school to call parents to pick up their kids and take them home because they are “having a bad day”. This often happens with children who have social skills deficits and problem behaviors. If a special education student has behaviors that interfere with learning that arise from?or are influenced by his/her disabilties, the local education agency is obligated to address them as part of the child’s IEP.

 

A functional analysis of the child’s behavior may need to be done to collect the data necessary to write appropriate behavioral goals, develop a positive behavior intervention plan, and determine the services necessary to support the goals and the behavior plan. [34 CFR 300.530]? The school can’t just call once the child has been at school long enough for the local education agency to get paid for the child’s attendance for the day and tell the parents to come pick the child up because he/she is “having a bad day.”  The child is difficult to serve and the local education agency just doesn’t want to?have to work that hard.   This happens all the time, but it’s unlawful.

I’ve worked with parents who lost their jobs because they had to keep going to pick up their kids from school for “having bad days” and take them home for the rest of the day. These kids weren’t suspended.They weren’t expelled. Their schools got paid for a full day’s attendance for each day they were in school long enough. In my experience, these kids usually end up getting sent home around 10:30am.

 

Unless a child is being suspended or is ill, the school can’t send him/her home. (I’ve seen children sent home for “fevers” they really didn’t have because staff just didn’t want to deal with them that day, though, so parents may need to verify the presence of any mystery illnesses for which they’re being called away from work to respond before actually taking the child home.) The point is that the behaviors are part of the problem the school is supposed to be addressing and parents shouldn’t be losing their jobs because public servants aren’t doing theirs.

 

I don’t say it that way to be crass. II’m using this language very literally. Public education employees are public servants, just like police officers, firefighters, city clerks, and librarians in public libraries. The taxpaying public has hired them to attend to the educational needs of the community’s children. They work for the local constituency. So, it always baffles me that some education agency administrators take a superior tone with parents and act like they’re doing the parents a favor when they do things they were already supposed to do. Sadly, a lot of parents submit to that kind of bullying behavior. Which brings me to the next important thing to know:

 

Parents can get really upset by difficulties they are having with their children’s schools. They can’t necessarily check those emotions at the door when they go to work and employers may need to consider bringing in an industrial psychologist if the situation in the workplace becomes too emotionally toxic. Productivity on the whole can be impacted when a critical employee is so overwrought that his/her job performance becomes poor.

 

Other people relying on a distressed parent to do his/her share of a project are put in very difficult positions when they are left correcting the distressed parent’s mistakes, listening to the distressed parent complain or cry (or both) instead of work, and covering for the parent while he/she is at school instead of at work. This is usually when a decision gets made about whether such a parent will remain an employee.
 

It is situations like these that compelled KPS4Parents to put together a service offering to employers where we can come in and consult with an HR department or business owner about a specific situation and then consult with the parent regarding his/her rights and what the parent can do to solve the problems they’re having (we’ve done this mostly with smaller businesses) and conduct employee trainings on special education-related issues (which we’ve done with large employers).

 

As the rate of autism continues to increase, now currently at the rate of 1 out of 144 children according to some sources, employers can no longer afford to think these issues don’t impact them. Any company that employs 10 people who are parents is all but guaranteed to have at least one parent among the 10 who has a child with some type of handicapping condition, and quite possibly more.  Autism is just one of a countless number of disorders that children can have. Employers need to educate themselves on this issue now because it’s going to become a righteous HR problem before they know it, if it hasn’t started to become one already. Resources need to be developed to help employers contend with the increasing number of parents amongst their employees who have children with special needs.  As much as KPS4Parents does to try to tackle this issue, this is one of those things that everyone needs to be doing something about. There’s only so much we can do by ourselves and we need your help to tackle these problem.

 

Our country is already in enough financial hot water. Businesses cannot afford to suffer otherwise preventable losses in productivity and declines in employee morale, right now. The business community is suffering horrendously already as it is with the financial sector practically falling apart at the seams. More and more businesses are leaving the country for places where the barriers to entry are not as great and the costs of operation are much lower. More and more good jobs have been outsourced to overseas workers and businesses are finding that they can’t afford to hire local talent. For many businesses, the only reason they are able to exist is because they have outsourced work overseas at a fraction of what it would have cost them to hire local talent. To suffer additional losses at a time like this could be the difference between being in business tomorrow or not. To suffer additional losses at a time like this when those losses could have been avoided calls an organization’s stewardship into question.

 

The business community has a vested interest in making sure that the public schools are able to deliver what is required to all of their students. That means that the business community should be doing what it can to make sure public schools have what they need while holding the public schools accountable for utilizing its resources, particularly those donated by the business community, to properly deliver special education services to the community’s children with disabilities.

 

I’d love to see Chambers of Commerce and industry-specific associations hosting parent education nights for their members’ employees who are parents of children with special needs. The more the parents know, the more they can get resolved without impacting their job performances. Once their issues with the schools have been resolved, these more emotionally grounded, focused workers can become even more productive. Never underestimate the power of parents finally overcoming what seemed insurmountable and finally feeling like their child is going to be okay. The concurrent senses of relief and accomplishment are esteem-boosting and can actually lead to improvements in employee performance. I’ve seen parents go on to do amazing things professionally after finally resolving their kids’ special education issues.