Thursday, October 9, 2008

Return of the Living Dead Shark Blog!

Yes, it's been a long time since this blog was added to. Call it summer vacation. But rather than dwell on any reasons for the absence, let's get right back to it. I'm here, I'm ready to go again, there's much to tell, I still love my son and I'm still a disgruntled dad. So without further ado...

I had left off with the battle we had just to get an IEP meeting to discuss placements for the 2008-09 year. It was a bruising heavyweight bout, but it ended seemingly happy. We had three solid choices of schools. Choice 1 was Bagley, which is a great school with the unique element of an Autism inclusion program meshed with a Montessori model classroom. Choice 2 was a return to the EEU, which we love for too many reasons to outline in this space. Choice 3 was North Beach, a blended kindergarten that was not as distinctly excellent as the others but still some place we'd have been more than happy to have Sharky attend.

We also felt confident that we'd get one of these. Bagley is 8 blocks from my home and distance is one of the first determiners for placements. EEU is further away but is an "all-city draw," so distance ceases to be an issue, and Sharky had already demonstrated that he thrived in that environment (and the bureaucrats care about such things right? right?). North Beach was about 1 mile from my home.

Plus in a karmic sense we just kind of figured they'd give us one. Just this once.

They did not give us this one just this once.

March 28th was the date for placement letters to be sent out. The day came and went. No letter for us. Several more days went by without word. Finally, about a week later, I started making phone calls.

Now this brings us to a lovely tradition employed by the district. March 28 is the day before spring break. They send out the placement letters (or in our case they don't) and then they all flee for the hills. They carefully select the most incompetent and socially inept employees to remain in the office to dispense as much misinformation as possible to any hysterical parents who call up with questions such as, say, why haven't we gotten any word about where, or if, our son is going to go to school in the fall.

You see, the district is all about stalling. In the previous post about this whole sordid affair I described the hand behind the back game. Once that runs out, there's the run for the hills and hide game. The more stalling, the less time there is to file appeals, complaints, or other quests for justice. Also, the more stalling there is the more likely the parent just gives up, unable to sustain the level of rage that was initially fueling their actions.

I called the enrollment office. The person who answered the phone asked me for my son's name. She looked it up and said "Oh. He's special ed." I replied that yes indeed, he was enrolled in special education. She then informed me that "special ed. kids don't get their placements sent out at the same time as the rest of the kids."

I found this rather difficult to believe, but nonetheless I asked her when the special ed. kids did get their placement letters. She told me, "I have no idea, we have nothing to do with that."

Apparently, the district's enrollment office staff does not realize they have responsibility for enrollment of my son or the hundreds of other children in special education. I informed the EEU principal of what had been said, and she emailed me back to say simply: "they're wrong."

In fact, the placement letters for special education students ARE sent out at the same time as everyone else's, and their enrollment IS handled by the enrollment office.

But this keeper of the phone lines did manage to delay my attempts to figure out what was going on by at least 12 hours. Excellent stalling. Mission accomplished.

I tried calling the special education department. They did nothing to refute the absurd notions the enrollment department had imparted upon me, and were equally unhelpful and rude. When I mentioned Sharky was at the EEU this year, she transferred me to the line of the consulting teacher for the EEU.

This didn't make much sense, since the consulting teacher responsible for his current placement is not necessarily going to be the authority on his placement for next year. It made even less sense considering that she transferred me to the former consulting teacher for the EEU, not the current one.
Apparently the folks who work the phones over spring break at the special education department missed a memo. And of course, the former EEU consulting teacher was out of the office for break anyway. I left a voice mail. One that was never returned.

It was not until the following Tuesday, April 8th, that I managed to speak with the appropriate consulting teacher. She said she would look into it and get back to me, which she did. She informed me that Sharky was one of a group of special education students who did not receive a placement.

She explained that there had been a shortage of seats for Autism Inclusion programs and some other models as well. But they had approval from the district to open more classrooms. She had no further information for me.

In the ensuing weeks, I learned that there were 35 kids at or around Sharky's grade level, with IEPs, without placements. Oddly enough, 9 of those students were currently enrolled at the EEU. So out of dozens of K-1 special education classrooms in the district, more than a quarter of the unplaced children were from one school.

At the very least, it seemed as though the district's failure to adequately estimate the demand for seats bordered on criminal. Throw in the fishiness of that ratio of unplaced kids at the EEU, and I suspected something very wrong had gone on, and the district was frantically working to cover its own ass - working so frantically on that, in fact, that there was apparently no time available to actually meet with the families of children without placements and address our concerns. And the concerns were many. They included:

Why did we spend all those hours upon hours evaluating schools, going on tours, meeting with teachers, culling down a list of our preferences, only to be denied them all? Where exactly do they intend to stick my child? Do I get any more say in the matter? Will this school they put him in be anywhere close to my home, or will he be on buses for hours per day? How can a classroom they throw together at the last minute possibly be adequate? Who will staff it? What space will be available – will it be in some portable unit dropped next to the parking lot behind the school building? Will the administration of the school embrace this last minute program, or will they resent having this put upon them?

But instead of allowing us to dialog with them about this, they hid out, and sent a form letter written by their legal department three weeks after we all had expected to be getting placement letters. The letter carefully avoided any wording that conceded errors in any way. In fact, it didn't even acknowledge that there were students who had ended up without placements. It just said the district was working diligently to create seats and would have them for us by June 1st.

June 1st.

I'd had enough. I spoke with a lawyer, and on her advice I filed a citizen complaint with the WA State Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Then I did the same with the Federal Government's Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

With OSPI, they can investigate a complaint to see if procedures laid out by IDEA were properly followed. With OCR, they can investigate to see if the children were discriminated against by the district because of their disabilities. In my case, the claim I made was that the district's placement procedures are inherently discriminatory against students with disabilities.

Which brings us to the next phase of the saga, which I will cover in another post, which I promise will be coming henceforth!

Thank you for coming back!

1 comment:

Isabel said...

Correct me if I am wrong but didn't this exact same thing happen last year? And if he was in Bagley last year why wouldn't they already have a seat for him there this year? DO all students have to be placed individually each year in Seattle? How ridiculous and incompetent are the people in the Seattle School district administration? That was a rhetorical question. Sheesh