Friday, June 24, 2011

We're All Full Up Here

My son goes to public school R. We've had our share of issues there, but it's had good points, too. About a mile away is public school W. It has an outstanding rep for being the best public school for spectrum kids and simply outstanding overall in every way. The parents I know who have kids with autism there talk about it like it's the haven we've all been waiting to find. Of course, I put Rooster's name in for the "Open Enrollment" lottery. He was selected. Cheery acceptance letter, celebration. Then they found out he has autism and that the IEP we just did a week ago gives him additional services next year. (We were NOT keeping it a secret in any way.) Now school W will not take him. "We already have too many kids with autism. Our resource program is full of kids who are 'residents.'" No room for more of "those kids"...

Crazily, I am taking school law class right now, and last week was on spec ed law. I am nearly certain school W is breaking the law. And they are being so heartbreaking in the way they are doing it. It seems very wrong to me.

I can't decide if I should fight. What to do? For my son, I don't want to put him where he isn't wanted, he's too amazing and adorable for that, and I know that sooner or later he's probably going to get into the wonderful charter school that his sister is going to as a sib. I think he's going to be ok. But to not fight, doesn't that mean I fail ALL the kids with autism? Shouldn't I stand up for what is right? I don't mean to get too Ruby Bridges, but it feels like a civil rights issue, like the dogs have been unleashed on my family.

If anyone has advice of a legal nature or otherwise, I am open.


Niksmom said...

There are a couple of resouces you might touch base with to inquire about the legality of this matter. Wrightslaw (seriously, email Pete or Pam) and COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates). The COPAA site should have a searchable directory; I'm certain there are people in your area who could advise you. Another thought, which just came to mind as I was writing, is to contact Carol Greenburg (aka @aspieadvocate on Twitter). She blogs here: and is the founder of NY Special Needs Consulting ( She is always happy to answer short questions and direct you to resources to help you find answers.

Once you have the answer (which, I suspect is YES, they ARE violating the law), tha question is what to do about it. Honestly, if you don't want to fight the fight to get Rooster into this school, you might consider writing a letter to the school board/board of regents (whatever it is in CA) and make sure the local media gets a copy. Let them know that you are well aware they are in violation of federal law (and any applicable state statutes as well). Let them know you aren't going to waste the time fighting to get your child admitted to a place where he is so patently unwelcome but that you aren't going to let this go unnoticed. Then? Move on and do what is best for your sweet boy. You can't save every child but you can make some waves in the process, if you know what I mean.

Diane Perin said...

Oh, I feel your dilemma. Some thoughts? First, I would consider what YOU want. Do you want Rooster at that school even if you have to kick up a little dust to get him in there? Do you want them to understand that what they are doing feels wrong to you, rejecting him on the basis of a disability AFTER he was accepted and despite your full disclosure? Do you want the community to know what the school is doing?

Because you have various options, depending on what result you want. If you want Rooster in there, it's clear that having rejected him already, the school isn't going to change its position until you point out their error. Kindly or more forcefully.

For steps, I'd consider

#1 Scheduling a meeting with the decision makers at that school to ask how it is that you disclosed his autism, he was accepted, and now he is being rejected because of his autism? And isn't that rejecting him because he has special needs and gosh, you thought they couldn't do that, are you misunderstanding something?

#2 If that is fruitless, you might consider writing a letter to them, more directly setting out your position that their rejection of Rooster based on his disability is illegal and, in light of your full disclosure up front, his acceptance, and then their change, is obvious discrimination, and you don't believe that is fair under the law or consistent with the school's mission statement (check the mission statement!) or the school's reputation in the community

#3 Consider writing a letter to your local paper about what has happened and how you are troubled that your son has been rejected by a school known for its good autism services BECAUSE he has autism. You could draft this letter and provide a copy with your letter to the school (#2) with a "this is the letter I plan to send to the school paper if this isn't corrected...

You're in a tricky position. If you fight to get Rooster in, he WILL be in because of your assertion of your rights, and that's going to be uncomfortable for them and maybe for you. But the other alternative is to walk away and let it go. Maybe that's what you'd prefer, but then they get away with it.

I'm inclined to say take the direct approach: talk to them first, then if you need to (and want to) get more assertive. And it's your right to let others know what this school is doing.

I hate that we moms are so often put in this position. Getting our kids the services TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED BY LAW often means we have to fight and get assertive and feel like WE are being the bad guy. Sigh.

Chris Vacek said...

I agree with everything Niksmom said in the above comment. If you are in CA, you may also want to contact @SpecialEdAdvice - Dennise Goldberg. She is an awesome advocate with much legal knowledge in CA.

Interestingly enough, I have been in similar shoes as yours, and did end up going through due process. As a parent who's been through it, I would tell you that it's not the kind of thing you would want to do unless there is no other alternative left. Because my case threatened to set precedent, the school district threw everything they had at me. At the time, there was a lot of pressure on me to be openly political about it. If I learned one thing from that experience it is this: "Just because you believe in a better tomorrow for all children with disabilities, it doesn't mean you have to be political about it." Just because you can, doesn't necessarily mean you should. You are NOT forsaking all children because you seek particular outcomes for your child. When it comes to education of children with special needs, we know one thing works: individualized programs delivered by trained professionals, one child and one outcome at a time. And so it is with the politics of special needs - they will be fought and won, one child at a time.

All of that having been said, I think what is happening to you with this school is ethically wrong. I'm not sure it's against the law (although it may very well be), ethics and justice, I have learned, are two very different things. School districts have a lot of license in creating schools with specialty programs for IDEA and 504 kids and creating "magnet" schools with "magnet" programs which provide measurable outcomes for special needs kiddos. They also have license to move them around (with parent consent, of course). But "method of services delivery" is still a strict school district prerogative, and I have seen that expanded to include "method and location". Much depends on previous services, in district location, and available accommodations. I do think this is worth a professional opinion, but I cannot offer one as to legality.

Morgan said...

I'm a public school special education teacher, and I'd like to comment on your post...

First, are the two schools in the same school district?

While I don't believe the school district should have been so rude or discriminatory in their comments to you, if the schools are in the same school district, the school has a right to grant open enrollment or not based on the numbers of kids with special needs in each school/in their programs.

Because one teacher has a good reputation in the district doesn't mean that the numbers in his/her program should be elevated beyond that of the state limits. In Ohio, we can have 6 students with autism, or 5 students with autism and students with other special needs on our caseload.

If one teacher's caseload is elevated, it will reduce the amount of time she is able to spend with each child at the one to one teacher table/in small groups. He/She will be pulled in many directions and the quality of that program may decline.

If you are unhappy with the programming at your current school, maybe you could make some suggestions to your child's special ed. teacher. Find out what the other program is doing that is so beneficial. Share those ideas. Share the training that you believe your teacher needs. Share your "likes" from the other program. But, make these suggestions with care. You don't want to offend your current teacher or ruin a potentially great relationship.

Hope these comments help.