« School for Blind Releases Resources for Educators | Main | Web Chat on Postsecondary Transition »

Kansas Schools Chief Posny Picked to Lead Federal Special Ed Department


Alexa E. Posny, the Kansas commissioner of education, has been nominated to serve as the assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, known as OSERS.

If confirmed by the Senate, Posny would be making a return trip to the department: In April 2006, she was appointed to serve as the director of the office of special education programs, which is part of OSERS. She left the department in May 2007 to return to Kansas to lead that state's education department. She has also served as Kansas state director of special education, the director of special education for the Shawnee Mission district, and as a Title I technical advisor for other districts around the country.

I wrote a profile of Posny in 2007, and the people I interviewed then praised her for her ability to break down complicated subjects, as well as for her experience with special education, Title I, and state education department governance.

“She’s very down to earth and very concrete in the things she puts together for families,” said Connie Zienkewicz, the executive director of Families Together Inc., a federally funded center for parent training and information, based in Wichita.

Former Kansas Commissioner of Education Andy Tompkins, now a professor at the University of Kansas school of education, said in an e-mail message that Ms. Posny “knows the [special education] law and its regulations as well as anyone.”

Nancy Reder, the director of governmental affairs for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, offered similar praise when I spoke to her today. "We're delighted, we think she's a great choice," Reder told me. Posny's Title I and special education experience are great foundations for the new role, Reder added.

File photo above: Alexa Posny, director of the office of special education programs at the Department of Education, Center, during a staff meeting in December of 2006.
Christopher Powers/Education Week


Those with a more sceptical eye think that Posny's nomination is a disaster. Whilst heading OSEP, Posny did exactly nothing about the rising tide of complaints about school abuse of kids with disabilities, which is one reason why the GAO reported on so many recent felonies committed against these kids by school staff, as well as over 33,000 restraint/seclusion incidents in one single year in 2 states alone.

OSEP's "monitoring" of state ed. depts.' IDEA-related functioning can best be described as "This is the best of all possible worlds, and that's the way it's gonna be, or else!" In fact, Posny indicated nothing but a ferocious desire to keep on pushing IDEA funds to state ed. depts. irrespective of the appalling state of their special ed. programs, services and procedures in her time as OSEP's Director.

We have Duncan, whose functioning at the Chicago Public Schools led to a significant deterioration of disabled kids' scores, and now Posny. What else do we need?

We say: Abolish OSEP and OSERS' IDEA-related functioning and replace them with an automatic check writing machine over at the Dept. of the Treasury. Since neither of these officials can ever mentally admit to a world in which a state ed. dept.'s IDEA funds are cut off due to massive non-compliance, all we're going to get is more wasted federal money ... paying for officials' and staff's feverish efforts to mask horrific objective numbers.

We already have OSEP doing nothing when a number of state ed. depts. magically declared all their districts in acceptable IDEA compliance ... so that the districts could violate maintenance of effort requirements under ARRA (eco. stim. bill) for their IDEA funds.

But wait! Undoubtedly there will be more magical transmutations of public school Day Willowbrooks into fine, lovely places where ... whatever the current mantra dictates special ed. programs and services should be, now that we have Posny in charge.

I haven't heard a disability community person - one from a group which doesn't get OSEP funds directly or indirectly - crowing about this appointment. We doubt we're alone in being appalled.

Dee Alpert, Publisher

Dee, I'd definitely be happy to talk to anyone about Posny's appointment, if you think there are more voices that need to be heard. I've talked to other advocates, more than I've quoted in this blog piece (gotta save something for the dead-tree version of this story!) and I haven't heard anyone yet say they are "appalled," but if I'm not talking to the right folks, let me know.

Posny was at OSEP for about a year, so, I think it's probably fair to keep that in mind when evaluating her record on restraints and seclusion.

Fair? Thousands of children with disabilities were abused during Posny's tenure at OSEP and she did nothing meaningful to stop it. If the issue is fairness, I come out on the side of these children and not on the side of one highly paid adult. Posny can defend - or try to defend - herself. These kids, for the most part, can't. These children were abused: a few were killed. Where's the accountability?

I also recently reviewed KS' guidelines on schools' use of restraints and seclusion and frankly, they are pretty awful. The Willowbrook consent decree flatly prohibited the use of seclusion on any person, of any age, with a developmental disability. Let's just say that KS' guidelines revoke nearly 40 years of progress in stopping that type of abuse. Since there is research showing that when school special ed. "experts" use seclusion, they do it incompetently and actually increase the incidence of unwanted behaviors, and since there are scads of reports of disabled children being abused via being locked into closets in schools for hours on end, without access to toilets, water, and the like - a set of voluntary guidelines which allows school folks to use seclusion under any circumstances may look good, but doesn't pass the smell test.

Posny could have said "physical restraints kill children and cannot be used in programs that receive IDEA funds." She didn't.

Q.E.D. That's what accountability is all about. I'm not enthralled with a system which gives paid adults the benefit of the doubt while defenseless children are being injured, and in some cases, killed. How fair is it to allow adults to sit on a disabled 8 year old? And stop him from breathing?

There's a moral component here and I think it's time it be brought into play. Posny allowed disabled children to be abused in schools and did nothing to stop the abuse. What else is there to say?

I have to agree with Dee. While not the only issue OSEP needs to deal with, what could be more important. I am dismayed @ the protection teachers and districts receive for criminal -CRIMINAL- acts of those trusted with our children. Who is going to be the hero for our children? Which one of these highly paid adults is going to say, "enough"? Spellings didn't. Duncan? Posny? Our elected Reps & Senators? Obama? After the Special Olympics jab, I don't consider the Prez relevant on this issue (which re: his campaign promises, I had high hopes he would be a champion for the disabled).

I digress...Dee knows more re: the hx of these individuals. I am simply floored by the lack of concern from these state/fed agencies --including PTSAs and SBAs that remain eerily in line with the union positions-- that claim to have the kids' health and safety as a priority. Bollocks.

"Posny was at OSEP for about a year, so, I think it's probably fair to keep that in mind when evaluating her record on restraints and seclusion."

Taking a look at her position on restraints and seclusion in KS should be a wake up call to America as to her "position" in this area. How ANYONE can walk away thinking that she would be a "good" candidate to be given additional power in the decision-making process for Sped children is downright petrifying!

I agree with Dee, and, NO, you have not spoken with the "right" people! NO child deserves to be abused or treated like an animal. This is especially true when there are proven techniques that will help correct a child's behavior without the use of restraints or seclusion, but then that would entail "appropriate spending" of federal and state funding. Show me ANY SB/PR research that supports restraints/seclusion rooms "adapt" a child's behavior that results in a positive outcome! This is 2009 and not the 60's or 70's when corporal punishment of children was widely accepted and tolerated by our society. Such treatment of children is no longer a just a misdemeanor, but criminal acts that are punishable by lengthy sentences, and NO ONE should be afforded the right to be excluded from adhering to such laws!

So anyone who still "believes" and "supports" this this type of treatment for ANY child should NOT hold any position of power that regulates policy or procedures that effect a child's LIFE!

Those who advocate for kids are looking for a Department of Ed that intends to make sure that research proven interventions are provided with fidelity to each student. My state certifies that all its students receive FAPE when they know that only about 40% master the same standards that apply to all,even though at least 85% are fully cognitively able to do so. My state has proposed a rule that will allow schools to continue restraints and seclusion at will with no consequences (at the same time doing nothing to train teachers in research proven behavioral interventions). Our concern is that Ms. Posny will continue what she failed to do the last time. Knowing the law is not the same as insisting that schools really educate our kids with the money they are given.

I couldn't agree with these ladies more. OSEP does nothing but send you back to the very people that are not doing their jobs.

I am in Missouri and it is nearly impossible to win a child complaint or due process. I know of families that have spent up to $100,000 and lost.

I have been in contact with OSEP, OCR, the Attorney General, and the Justice Department. They all say the same thing. File due process. I don't have that much time or money. My child's future is slipping away while my tax dollars are paying the attorneys that are helping to steal it.

I have written to Ms. Posny about the abuse of children in the public school system of Kansas. I have never received a response and the abuse continues. I have no hope that she will do more at a federal level.

My son dropped out of public school on May 11th. He turned 16 and I couldn't allow his emotional, psychological, and mental well being to continue to be destroyed by an institution that answers to no one.

Sherri Tucker
President, Lee's Summit Autism Support Group

For Sherri and others who have wrangled with the system, my experience has been generally similar. Filing due process may ultimately result in a change that is good for as long as the IEP is in effect. It does not result in systemic changes that will improve conditions for all children. I did have some luck involving OCR when I was able to show them that system-wide policies were denying kids with disabilities equal access to all programs. It required some data that was pulled from the district website as soon as they knew what I was up to. The ruling was too late to help my son (although it might have laid groundwork for a law-suit if I was sufficiently resourced), but it did require the district to rewrite some policies.

It's not an easy way to go, as sometimes "policies" are unwritten and take the form of practices that are just widely understood by staff to be SOP. The entire IEP process is based on an assumption that individual planning best meets the needs of all individuals. The unfortunate side effect is that there is never a forum in which to discuss more generalized policies/practices and how they impact individuals (not to mention isolating parents from each other). Due process may protect the rights of an individual child--but districts are likely to continue the same treatment for 100 other students in the district, taking the chance that their parents won't file for due process.

I don't know anything about Posny. I do know that without increased regulation and accountability, it will continue to fall on individual parents to try to protect their individual children from practice that they may not even know about until it is too late.

Margo, you touch on something that I've thought about - it seems like the whole IEP system itself can be a divide-and-conquer mechanism. It seems, from my perspective, there aren't many (or any?) venues for parents to come together and effect systemic change.

Are advocacy groups at all effective in breaking down those types of barriers? It seems like that *should* be a way for parents to be able to work in a united fashion...but I don't know if that's how things work in reality.

There is no way to effect change in the current system except through legislative change. Along with Sherri Tucker, we have complained and written to everyone under the sun in Missouri. When you call the Governor's office to complain, they send you back to the State Department of Education who is a co-conspirator in the damage that is being done to our children.

My son has NEVER seen progress in the public school, only regression. The school is holding him prisoner in the Life Skills class (for mentally retarded) when they have no empirical evidence that he fits in that category. Their life skills class is a glorified day institution where these children learn nothing year after year. He is only six and they refuse to teach him academics. Our district has even refused to do CHILDFIND on one child. That's right - they refused to evaluate this child at all. We wrote a child complaint and the district was found in compliance. Can you say co-dysfunctional? We don't need more of the same!

Joyce Lindsey
Secretary/Treasurer, Lee's Summit Autism Support Group


It's very hard. I certainly think that there's more hope for change when parents can work together. I think many parents have drawn support and a good bit of procedural and legal knowledge from blogs/listservs/bulletin boards online. Dee Alpert's web page is one that I have come across before. So--I would say that there is more going on in national orgs or online than at any local level. Mothers from Hell (don't know if there are any still around) was organizing at the local level, and I think that they had a group working outside of one local district where they made some headway.

But--there are lots of systemic barriers to parents within a system even finding one another. I used to think that it was funny that every year I had to sign a paper either allowing or not allowing my name and phone number to be shared with other parents. Yet, I never got a list--another misuse of FERPA. As the parent of a student with disabilities, not only do you change schools a whole lot more than any other parent, but you are generally considered a pariah--bringing in demands for your kid who might interfere with the education of the kids "who really want to learn." If the school actually has a "functioning" PTA, the last thing they want to talk about is how to improve the education of the special needs kids. Ditto the paid "parent liaisons," hand selected by the principal and not particularly welcomed in the building by staff.

I don't think that the state is necessarily a co-conspirator, but it is so easy to respond to a complaint with documentation. And the folks at the state are generally former teachers who may recall uppity parents as being not quite all the way there. They will jump for the feds, but the feds haven't necessarily been demanding a lot.

There is no hope for change in Missouri without legislative change. My district works "closely" with the state. DESE even told me that they KNEW my district was violating federal law but, "We can't make a district do anything, all we can do is make suggestions." Yes, they actually said that to me. So if DESE won't force the districts into compliance, who will? Maybe if there are enough of us we could "storm the castle" together. But which castle?


Actually, in Missouri, they are all working together. I filed two child complaints. I offered more than twenty pages of documentation. I even forwarded emails that proved me case.

I lost by child complaints and the emails that I offered was used as evidence. One email stated that I was not in agreement with the IEP. DESE stated that I agreed to the IEP through email. Not even a fifth grader could have misread that.

I immediately contacted OSEP. They said what they say every time that I contact them. First they ask if I filed a complaint. I say yes. That is what I just sent you. Then they ask what the outcome was. I respond that is what I just sent you. Then they tell me file due process.

There is no place that a parent can go to ensure their children's federal right to a free and appropriate education. I have written to Ms. Spellings and got a response from the one of her people. They simply told me to contact the person that I had been in contact with already.

It is a vicious circle that affords all parties to continue to do nothing while our children are losing valuable time. I don't know of any child that can afford to lose out on four or five years of services while their parents are fighting to get what is federally mandated.

I once told my Superintendent that if this was a corporation, everyone would be let go. I told him that he is ultimately responsible for ALL of his employees. I told him that in the corporate world a CEO would be held accountable if he was not servicing his customers in a responsible manner.

The difference is that I can choose to buy a certain product or choose which stock I want to purchse. I can't choose my school district and I am forced to support it with my tax dollars.

And money is not always the issue. My school district just built an $8.6 million administration building with all of the bells and whistles. They just built a $12 million dollar aquatic center that will not be used for aquatic therapy. They just built a $15 million school that will have empty classrooms.

The Superintendent told me that he feels guilty about my son every time he looks out the window of his state of the art building. I told him that he doesn't feel guilty enough.

I have run for school board and only lost by 2%. I am on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Special Education Advisory Panel. I am the Chairperson for the Monitoring Committee for that Panel. That means that my committee monitors due processes and child complaints. There will be no change in Missouri until there is legislative change.


I am right with you. However, in my state, which may be very similar to Missouri, I have discovered that the powers granted to the state are fairly limited. We rely heavily on local districts to make decisions, by law. Even the content standards are just sort of recommendations--districts are not required to follow them. There are some folks (some of them even parents) who swear by this enormous reliance on local decision-making. The state can sort of define or interpret the federal law, but unless due process is filed, they can't do much. When you file due process, as you note, it can take years. And one thing that you are up against is how you (as a parent) "look" to a judge (who may know very little about IDEA), compared to how the school district "looks." When the district stands up there and their lawyer (that we are paying for) explains that this happened on this date and that happened on that date, as evidenced by these papers, and their psychologist explains that this child received services that match up to what is recommended by the field (according to the diagnosis that s/he provided) and throw some test scores (that nobody understands) that have been selected to show "progress," the likely bias is that you are just a parent who wants to much and is living in denial about your poor disabled child who won't ever amount to much.

I have sometimes found a sympathetic ear from state workers (who couldn't actually DO much) who appear to understand well the limitations of their position. It's not about being in cahoots as much as just being pretty powerless. I have lately been watching some of the federal monitoring of states that has been sort of implemented. The indicators seem to be sound (things like disproportionality), although when you are looking across a state, there is much to be missed. But the feds have taken a long view--first couple of go arounds just offered warnings. And, to be fair, the states--or my state--has to operate based on training and cajoling districts to improve.

I am with you as regards to a need for tighter regulation--particularly in the obvious areas like putting kids into locked cells. But, in the end, it's going to take some massive culture changes. I have watched too many "improvements" get perverse in the implementation by folks who never wanted to go there to begin with. Things like "mainstreaming" a kid by sticking them in a classroom with no supports (if they need supports they shouldn't be there--right?), or "behavior plans" that do nothing more than restate the school's discipline policy.

I hope that you run again for school board (or try for state school board). We need folks like you in those positions. Just my humble opinion. As a parent.

Good Morning~

I have so many questions regarding the law and inclusion. It is my understanding that inclusion is never mentioned in IDEA, but LRE is. How does one go about making changes to have children with autism included more often in the general education classroom?

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments