Our experiences over the years with the public school system in Texas have been varied. We have met some very good people who wanted to help in whatever way they could, but also some whose scruples were lacking and whose priorities were more than a little questionable. This is a tale of the latter.
The players were all seated. I call them players, though hired guns might be more apropos. On one side of the table, the good guys: my wife and I, along with our own hired gun, Mike, an advocate for school children with disabilities. To both sides and across the table: “Casey” the school’s speech therapist, my son’s special education teacher “Evangelina”, “Suzie” our district provided ‘in-home’ trainer “, a trained behavior analyst, “Dutch,” that worked as a ‘consultant’ for the special education department, the principal of the school, “Ms Beeswax,” and finally “Cruella,” the head honcho and terror supreme down at the special ed headquarters.
The meeting was an ARD meeting: Admission, Review, and Dismissal. By law, parents or teachers may call an ARD meeting at any time to discuss the particular needs of a special education student. As we had desires regarding Patrick’s curriculum that the district was dragging their feet on, our ARD committee met every couple of months or so to discuss whatever had been negotiated at the last meeting and where we might go in the future. After a few meetings, we had followed a course of action that the school systems themselves generally encourage, hiring an advocate. The advocate saw to it that we stayed on the district with these regular meetings so that we could push our point about the need to provide more services for Patrick. By federal law, a school district MUST provide “a free and appropriate education” for all students. To that end, districts receive more money for special ed students…money often spent on football stadiums, computers, building renovations, and many other things of no direct or removed benefit to said special education students. (In the case of that particular district, millions and millions of dollars had been misappropriated into buying ‘real estate’: toxic waste sites that could potentially be used as locations for new schools. By and by, the media made connections between the owners of those sites and the district employees who struck those deals. To my knowledge, the land sits there to this day, unused.)
Knowing that our son would prove to be much more costly to taxpayers over the course of his lifetime as a severely handicapped individual, we pushed for the district to provide more a expensive (in the short run), more intensive approach to our son’s education in an effort to improve the chances that he would become a functional, independent adult. The type of educational therapy/curriculum is called ABA (applied behavioral analysis; it is based on the discipline of behavioral science) and has been recognized by the Surgeon General of the United States as the only educational ‘intervention’ proven to be effective for kids with autism.
A little more background…in the course of things, we had been through a lot with the school and the district already: countless meetings, a fruitless mediation, along with many revisions and corrections to the curriculum. This particular meeting was the last time we would be able to attend with our advocate, whose services we had purchased for a year and were soon running out.
Something about the tone of that meeting was different from the beginning. Patch’s teacher seemed tense. All the smiles were furtive. The air was thick, as if we were attending an execution. It didn’t take long to figure out why. After the recent mediation, the district had had enough. They weren’t going to play nice anymore.
The demands came one after the other. No more half days for Patrick. No more classroom access for our behavioral analyst. No more classroom access/observation for me, the parent. The teacher felt harassed. She didn’t need to be told how to do her job. They were going to set the curriculum for now on, and if we didn’t like it, tough. If we wanted to take things any further, we were going to have to file a lawsuit. The school, the district, were no longer going to budge an inch.
We argued intensively. Heatedly. But everyone involved knew they had us over a barrel. They knew we weren’t going to stop Patrick’s one-on-one in-home training without them providing more services at school. We had notebook after notebook of data-tracking that showed that Patrick was learning at home, was learning with one-on-one instruction. They couldn’t point to anything Patrick had learned at school.
We pleaded with them. Appealed to their higher nature. We told them that Patrick could never be a functional member of society without intensive intervention. The normally professional and cool principal responded with the most guffaw-inducing statement I’ve ever been present to witness: “none of the kids in this school are going to grow up to be functional members of society.” At that point, with that degree of insanity obviously ruling the day, we retreated. The district was telling us that Patrick no longer had a place in the district, only not in so many words. He had been fired as a student. We had been fired as parents.
One final phone call with the superintendent solidified things. He understood my point, he said. He admitted, “just between us” that ABA was perhaps the only “appropriate” education. He suggested we home school. Yes, you read that correctly. THE SUPERINTENDENT OF ONE OF THE LARGEST ISD’S IN TEXAS SUGGESTED WE HOME SCHOOL.
The school told us a lot of things that didn’t prove to be true. They told us ‘shadows’ (personal or school-provided assistants who help children complete their tasks) were forbidden. We encountered other children in the district who had shadows. They told us half days were no longer acceptable, that they were illegal. We then met parents whose children attended half days of school, approved by the very same people who rejected our pleas.
Feeling completely betrayed and violated by the system, and also quite numb on the inside, we began to plot the course of Patrick’s home education.
What is your experiece with your public school?