When you are the parent of a child with special needs, you tend to become a tad bit more hyper-vigilant when it comes to the laws surrounding the services guarentted by law for children like mine.
You also become very cognizant of what other families of children with special needs encounter and sometimes have to confront and fight in order to ensure that the law is being followed. And then you read story like this from the Raleigh News & Observer entitled “Wake County debates promotion policy for special-needs students”.
Take a read – http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/wake-ed-blog/article102310147.html.
But it is in the comments section that needs the attention. In it a parent of a child with special needs posted an open letter.
It is the best open letter I have read in quite a while. And I have run across a lot of them.
It is devastatingly poignant, appropriately direct, and incredibly relevant. I asked the writer, Mary Beth Ainsworth, if I could repost here and she graciously said yes.
Simply put – you need to read this.
Dear Sitting School Board Members,
I am writing with grave concerns over the article published by the News and Observer this morning that shows such open, blatant and intentional discrimination against children with disabilities in the Wake County School System. I and many other parents in the community are confused as to who it actually is that you work for and support, because articles like this make it painfully clear that you sure as hell don’t serve the students.
From the very beginning of the article, “The Wake County school system is trying to play it safe by not mandating that school staff do more than what’s required by law to serve and promote special education students.”
For those of you who are under the impression that as a county you even come close to meeting the minimum requirements of the law as it is, you are grossly misinformed or blissfully ignorant of reality. The Wake County special education program is an absolute atrocity and if you would listen and respond to the parents and constituents in your respective districts then you would be aware of that. So I ask again, who do you serve?
Next in the article, “School administrators wanted to make sure the new policy doesn’t mandate in writing that schools do more than what’s required by law for students with disabilities.”
So this “policy” is to benefit school administrators? It certainly does nothing for the students or the teachers. And the leadership of your administrators and your leadership as the school board is exactly why the special education program is so compromised and corrupted in Wake County. Since when did doing more than what’s required become something to oppress and avoid? And again, Wake County does NOT meet the minimum law requirements as it is. You need to be informed on the status of these programs before you pass policies that you do not understand or cannot comprehend the full impact of. This is going to hurt students with disabilities categorically. And if you understand that and you still support these changes, I ask again, who do you serve?
“It on average costs more to educate special needs students and the fights between families and school officials over what services are appropriate can get intense.”
The school district gets extra funding from both federal, state and county budgets for special education. The fact that those funds are misused and misappropriated is not the fault of the students. In fact, that would be the fault of poor oversight of the school board. And yes, the fights over what is appropriate can get intense. That is because we as families can have a federal mandate in writing that Wake County provide services as required under law to our child, and Wake County will spend a year in litigation fighting that same federal mandate. Does this benefit the child? No. Does this benefit the school system? No. Does this benefit taxpayers? No. You spent $1.3 million dollars last school year on a law firm that defends special education violations. Imagine if you spent that money on the actual education of children. But since you don’t, I ask again, who do you serve?
“All students will be held to the same promotion standards, with appropriate support and modifications provided as required by law.” Since none of you have taken the time to educate yourself on the law, this is considered a blanket policy which will most certainly be found to violate federal law by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It very specifically removes the individual component required under IDEA. Of course your attorneys would not advise you on that because, again, they are paid over a million dollars a year defending these types of atrocities in court. What benefit would they have if the county followed the law? How would they be paid? You have no concept of appropriate support and modifications and again, Wake County already fails to abide by the law on a massive scale. How does this help the students with disabilities? This is such blatant discrimination and open disregard for a child’s right to education that I am honestly shocked you so openly back this. Who is it that you serve?
“Karen Hamilton, assistant superintendent for special education services, responded that staff wants to execute the law.” Have you looked into the dispersion of special education programs throughout the county? Have you looked into why some kids have to travel an hour or more to get to school? Karen Hamilton has openly stated that she allocates special education funding based on which principals she gets along with best – which all seem to sit on one side of the county. That is complete opposite of following the law and if fact is further evidence of misappropriation of special education funds. If you listened to your parents, if you responded to your constituents, if you performed your due diligence in investigating special needs allegations then you would be aware of these issues. Who do you serve?
Hamilton said, “I think if we communicate more than that, then the district will be held to a standard of more than that.”
“Jonathan Blumberg, the school board’s attorney, said he understood where Martin was coming from but said that special education law is highly regulated.”Again, their firm made $1.3 million dollars last year which was a $200K increase from the previous school year. The only interest the law firm has is in making money. They are notorious for fighting children with disabilities to prevent them from receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education. Why would the law firm actually put forth information to benefit the students? If the students were in fact protected by the law, then how else would this law firm make $1.3 million from the Wake County school system? On that note, where exactly is that covered in the budget? You don’t provide a line item for that in your “transparent” budget. I as a taxpayer am pissed that millions of dollars are spent to deny hundreds of dollars in services. Who is it that you work for? Who is it that you serve?
“When he was a principal, Benton said he hated to do it but would tell parents they tried to do everything that was reasonably possible to help their children.”
How is this proposed policy change doing everything reasonably possible to help? It is actually an attempt to do less than the minimum required. Who do you serve?
“It’s a three way-street. There’s the school, the parent and the student. If even one of those three legs are not upholding their part it’s going to fail.”
Yes! This is actually a true statement. The irony is that you are failing to recognize or understand that the failing leg is the school system. You have phenomenal teachers, phenomenal aids, phenomenal therapists, phenomenal parents and phenomenal students. But making ignorant, uninformed and detrimental decisions for all of those phenomenal people are administrators far removed from the classroom and the students. If you pass this policy, you are signing your name to an agreement to fail our children with disabilities. When is the last time you were in a special needs classroom? When is the last time you spoke with a special needs family? When is the last time you observed all of the amazing things a special needs student can do? I’m truly asking. Why are you sitting on the school board? Who do you serve?
“I don’t believe there’s a single person in schools that would contemplate doing less than what’s required,” Fletcher said. “As I board, I don’t believe that we can obligate them to do more than required by law, which is continuously reinterpreted by the federal regulators.”
Mr. Fletcher, you have been on numerous emails that I have sent you where I have named multiple individuals in the school system who are intentionally circumventing federal law, committing numerous ethics violations and consistently do less than what’s required but you have failed to respond to even one of those emails. While I live in Mr. Benton’s district, my son attends school in your district. And you both have done literally nothing in regards to the multiple allegations that have been brought forth. You need to remove the rose colored glasses, Mr. Fletcher, and take leadership and accountability along with the rest of the school board that your special education administration and program is seriously corrupted. The law is not continuously reinterpreted, but new protections are specifically outlined to close loopholes because school districts such as Wake County exploit less specific wording to discriminate against children with disabilities. So why such a strong, hard war on our children with special needs? Who are you protecting? Who are you serving?
Bravo, Mary Beth Ainsworth. Bravo!