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Parents Prevail in Long-Running Suit

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A few months after I started this blog, I came across the news of a due-process hearing in a small district in Michigan. What caught my attention was that the father of the student at the center of the case was also a school board member of the district he was suing. Also, the 150-student district, with just one K-12 school, had budgeted an eye-popping $250,000 for the hearing, which dragged on for months. (See here and here.)

Earlier this month, the issue was finally resolved, in favor of the parents. The 142-page decision said that the Northport School District failed to provide a free, appropriate public education for the son of Alan and Patti Woods, and that he should have 768 hours in compensatory education.

Alan Woods pointed me in the direction of the ruling, which is buried deep on the Michigan Department of Education office of administrative law website. If you're really interested, click on "Special Education Cases" on the left, then look under Northport public schools. Both documents there relate to this case, though the Woods' names have been redacted.

Needless to say, the Woods are gratified about the outcome of the case, though the local newspaper says the case lasted 32 days, generated a 1,000-page transcript, and cost both sides hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

This case is so out of the ordinary as due-process hearings go that I'm not sure if there are many specific lessons to be learned, other than the obvious ones: Neither side should lie. Each side should listen to the other. Both sides must work hard to make sure that communication doesn't break down.

And yet, I wonder how often these kinds of problems occur and never go to due process. I'm working on an article now that requires me to interview several parents. In many cases, these parents are telling me they feel frustrated and stymied by school officials. And I'm sure if I were interviewing spec ed teachers, they could share their own stories about difficulties with parents.

How can this be made better? Is the system just too adversarial from the start?

5 Comments

*Is the system just too adversarial from the start?*

I think it's 'right-fighting' from the beginning. Both parties want to be 'right' and the suffering party is always the student.

I have long thought that they system pitted parents against the schools. There is very little in the way of policy enforcement otherwise. I would really prefer to call on some state enforcement agency and point out some key things that the district is not doing and have them handle it. As it is, there is frequently very little sytemic change. It is not terribly helpful to win a spot for your child to be the only kid "included" in a regular classroom--but there is no venue to fight for the school to develop more inclusive practices across the board.

In talking about the effectiveness of behavior plans for kids who need them, Sugai points out that these plans cannot be effective without an underlying system of behavioral support--but again, there is no venue for that conversation. So, we put lots of time into developing highly individualized plans that teachers are not sytemically supported in delivering, and which are not only doomed to fail, but also tend to single out kids with disabilities whose parents "succeed" in holding to the law as being even more different.

As a special education teacher, I feel pulled in all directions by parents and administrators. We (teachers) have been told by our DSS that we "must support the board because they write our paychecks." I advocate for my students but feel stymied by BOE policies and parents.

As a special education teacher, I feel pulled in all directions by parents and administrators. We (teachers) have been told by our DSS that we "must support the board because they write our paychecks." I advocate for my students but feel stymied by BOE policies and parents.

As parents, we can sense when a teacher is being pulled and asked to walk the district line. It is frustrating b/c we feel we cannot rely on teachers to speak their mind openly. The sense from the parent community is, "Is no one from the school/district going to stand up for this child? Where is this child's hero?" The gag order put on teachers reads loud and clear and parents have little choice but to 1)slink, or 2)proceed to due process when all the district players do what Carla describes.

ARD meetings are deliberately staged to be intimidating from the start. A parent will walk in only to be surrounded by 6 to 8 school "respresentatives". What I have learned is not to expect the district to be an advocate for my child. I have learned to speak w/organizations such as AFNIC that can help prepare a parent for these "confrontations"

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