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Reefmonkey

Lopsided local reporting on educational issues

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I've noticed a trend in the last few years of unflattering reporting on local media portrayal of how local school districts handle students with disabilities. Generally, the articles portray the districts as uncaring and not wanting to acknowledge or provide services for children with disabilities, and portray the parents as noble crusaders for their childrens' rights under the law. The district is portrayed as ducking comment on the issue. Rarely do the articles ever prominently acknowledge that schools are prohibited under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) from commenting at all on the situation. The parents can badmouth the district all they want, can even make up lies about the district, and the district cannot defend itself or even counter the lies. Greg Groogan with Fox 26 is especially prolific in championing the parents and neglecting to mention the schools are under what amounts to a gag order. Groogan himself is one of those parents who feels his own child's autism was not properly handled by a school district, which calls his impartiality into question

 

I've personally seen school districts' sides of contentious cases where parents are claiming the districts denied FAPE. I've seen very often parents are refusing to accept schools' good-faith evaluations of their children and determination that they do not qualify for special education services, and I've also seen that there are many parents out there whose children have been identified, and given services, but the parents want more, and take the districts to due process, or even federal court. When parents win, they report having been vindicated, but when the school wins, it's almost never reported as a vindication for the district. If it gets reported at all (again, under FERPA, the districts can't report their victory) it gets reported as parents getting "railroaded" by a system that is "stacked against them." So what does not get reported is how often parents take districts to due process for ridiculous reasons, demanding atrociously expensive and unfeasible accomodations, even including paying for private school tuition amounting sometimes well over $100,000 a year.

 

Because of FERPA, I cannot provide specifics on most of the cases I know about. However, I can cite a case that occurred in Massachusetts that demonstrates what I am talking about, since it went to federal court and became a matter of public record this year. The case is Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School District vs Mr. and Mrs. W. The W's daughter, Wallis, was a sophomore in the local high school when she suffered a concussion in field hockey practice at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. She returned to school after two weeks, was given accommodations for having missed those weeks, and continued making the same high grades after the concussion as she did before. However, she did struggle somewhat in a very advanced math class she was taking, and in May 2013, her teacher recommended that she take a less rigorous but still advanced math class the next year. Her parents began to claim that Wallis was a disabled child, and accused the school of failing to comply with their legal obligations to provide her with special education. In September 2013, they removed her from the Lincoln-Sudbury schools and enrolled her at Lawrence Academy, a private school. (Wallis is now an honors student at George Washington University). They then took the district to due process to demand that the district reimburse them for the private school tuition. It was a long drawn out process that cost the school district tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, drawn out mostly by the parents' delay tactics where they demanded that hearing officer after hearing officer recuse themselves, before it was found that the school had met all the legal requirements, and the parents' claims were "patently frivolous" and brought for "an improper purpose." The district then sued the parents in federal court for attorney's fees, while the parents countersued for a motion of summary judgement on their counterclaim appealing the due process hearing. The federal court found for the school and against the parents on all filings.

 

Lest you think that this Massachusetts case is an isolated one that happened far from Houston, there is a similar case that happened here in Houston just last year which I can talk about, because the mother waived privacy to try to garner publicity for her fight. The mother is Tianna Hall, a self-appointed crusader for autism rights in schools. Her autistic son was getting Extended School Year services over the summer, but she decided he wasn't getting enough, and was "regressing" over the summer, so she paid for private interventions, and then demanded that the school district, Spring Branch, reimburse her. Not only was it found that her son had not regressed as she claimed, in the course of the hearing it was discovered that she had made multiple false statements (contradicted by her own posts on social media), had been giving her son marijuana on her own belief that it would help him, and it was found that her own behavior in the home was adversely affecting her son. Additionally, the hearing officer made the rare move of chastising her in his decision for false personal attacks she had made against Joni Warren, the head of the special education department. It should be noted that Greg Groogan came to sessions of the due process hearing to support Tianna Hall and take pictures with her that she posted on social media, but Groogan didn't report on this story once the hearing officer released his findings.

 

These are not isolated cases, school districts have to deal with these kinds of frivolous demands all the time. Most of the time the districts cave and give the parents as much as they can because it's less expensive than lawyer fees, and sometimes this includes paying for private school tuition. There is a cottage industry around this, with "special education advocates" charging parents by the hour and going in and demanding every service under the sun from the district, no matter how inappropriate for the particular child. The most notorious among them is Louis Geigerman. Geigerman has no schooling or experience in the fields of education or psychology, and he uses one or two psychologists who will say whatever he pays them to in order to counter the schools' evaluations. Geigerman is regularly quoted as an "expert" by Fox 26.

 

Recently there have been reports on the local media (first reported by Fox 26) of physical abuse of a 20 year old autistic student at the Harris County Department of Education's ABS-West. Even the Texas Education Agency found ABS-West had violated policies, and certainly it is important that this be reported and fixed. However, the local media vilification of ABS-West and the HCDE has been over-the-top. Students do not get sent to ABS-West unless they have showed significant levels of violence towards themselves or others, so much so that the local schools' special enclosed Alternative Behavior classrooms cannot handle them. The teachers in the districts' alternative behavior classrooms regularly get spit on, have chairs thrown at them, get bitten, punched, kicked, scratched, etc. get told they are going to be killed, etc. I've seen the multiple bruises and scabs from scratches my own wife has come home with - and these are the students that the schools believe they can handle on their own - imagine how dangerous the students they send to ABS-West are. Imagine a whole school of students like this, and as a teacher having to deal with nothing but these kids all day, every day. I can believe that the employees of ABS-West lose their cool from time to time - but that is reason to provide them more services, more support, not vilify teachers who are underpaid to be physically and verbally abused all day.

 

Even in cases of teachers within school districts using excessive physical manipulation on students, the local media tends to exaggerate and report the parents' claims as fact. In April 2016, Greg Groogan reported "a child challenged with Down Syndrome, was throttled and thrown to the ground by an adult special education teaching assistant." This was not true. The incident was captured on surveillance cameras, the child was supposed to be sitting, was noncompliant, and the teaching assistant put one hand on the child's shoulder, no where near his neck, and attempted to push him into a seating position. The child then flopped down on the ground, which was a tactic he used when he was noncompliant. The district rightly fired the teaching assistant immediately, but the District Attorney's office, on viewing the tape, found no reason to press charged. The mother was going around telling the story of her child being "choked", and also claimed that the district had not allowed her access to the video, which was not true, the district had allowed her to view the video, but had not granted her request for a copy of the video, because it had images of other students who were protected by privacy laws and they could not allow her to distribute it.

 

What I hope to accomplish by posting this is not to argue that districts are perfect, but to hopefully raise awareness that there are parents out there looking to game the system, not above exaggerating or even outright lying about schools, and there are local reporters, some with their own biases and axe to grind, perfectly happy to print these parents' sob stories as fact, without acknowledging that schools are barred by law from publicly defending themselves against even defamatory false accusations.

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On 2/19/2020 at 2:13 AM, Zwallace said:

There is also marijuana and other drugs problem existing at schools. Those drugs are really popular among young people and even small kids. I think we are to do something, or at least, be more attentive to other children problems. Student safety should be school priority #1. The local authorities have to create more rehab centers, for example, like this one https://addictionresource.com/drug-rehab/men-only/ It could become a solution. 

YIKES! It's that bad ?

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I would never fault a parent with a child with a disability for feeling like they have to fight for their kid. I suspect that if parents were passive and nobody ever demanded video evidence or inquiries, that the subsequent lack of accountability would indeed lead to students being abused.

 

I understand that teachers have to put up with a lot. But compassion burnout is real, and so you cannot assume all teachers are good at their job or that they care about your kid's interests at all. And people do have high expectations for public school districts. They are huge, omnipresent things that we all had to spend 12 years attending, then we we grow up they become a huge component to the average person's tax burden.

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Absolutely parents and children have rights and should avail themselves of the processes to assert those rights. But there are affluent parents who are abusing those processes to coerce schools into providing services their children don't qualify for, in order to give their already-priviledged children more advantages. In the wake of last year's college admissions cheating scandal, is this so hard to believe? Autism is the new hip label, and it and ADHD come with all sorts of accomodations, including on SAT and ACT tests. When a parent threatens to go to due process because testing found their child didn't qualify, the district has two options: fight them in due process, which might end up going to federal court, and cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars, or cave in and give those services, which would cost tens of thousands over time instead. Usually districts choose the latter, which is cheaper, but sometimes do fight, to prevent precedents from being established, and usually get vilified for it, whether they win or lose. And which ever way the school goes, the process takes away money that is needed for truly needy kids.

 

I'm not saying that all or even most kids in special ed are there illegitimately, to the contrary, but even with true disabilities, a lot of times parents have unrealistic expectations of the kind of services schools should provide, they may be misinformed about what are appropriate interventions for their child's disabilities. They may also expect a Cadillac when schools are only required to pay for a Chevrolet. Schools are often put in impossible situations, often with unfunded mandates. There are a lot of seriously mentally ill students out there, dangers to themselves and others, some so seriously ill that they require inpatient treatment costing upwards of $100,000 a year, and schools have been ordered to pay for this. Think about it, if a child has cancer, a disease that is beyond a school nurse's ability to treat, is the school on the hook for paying to send the child to MD Anderson? Then why are schools being paid to treat severe mental illnesses, diseases that are beyond a school system's ability to treat? This is the intersection between our society's dysfunctional unequal attitude towards mental illness in comparison to physical illness, and our state's dysfunctional school finance system.

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Any new developments on the TX Education Agency's bid in taking over Houston ISD ?

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Posted (edited)
On 9/4/2018 at 1:46 PM, Reefmonkey said:

These are not isolated cases, school districts have to deal with these kinds of frivolous demands all the time. Most of the time the districts cave and give the parents as much as they can because it's less expensive than lawyer fees, and sometimes this includes paying for private school tuition. There is a cottage industry around this, with "special education advocates" charging parents by the hour and going in and demanding every service under the sun from the district, no matter how inappropriate for the particular child. The most notorious among them is Louis Geigerman. Geigerman has no schooling or experience in the fields of education or psychology, and he uses one or two psychologists who will say whatever he pays them to in order to counter the schools' evaluations. Geigerman is regularly quoted as an "expert" by Fox 26.

 

 

 

Thanks for posting and exposing Louis Geigerman. I've been following and reading about special educational matters for the longest time, and this Geigerman fella truly is a piece of work. He tried to open his own charter school once, but then realized how hard it is to actually run a school, so he easily gave up on that endeavor.  He obviously bit off more than he could chew and then tucked his tail and ran off. I guess he feels more comfortable critiquing from the sidelines of his own sanctimony because he realized how truly inadequate he is as a catalyst for the betterment of society's children. Everything I've read about him (and most advocates in Texas for that matter like Pat Freeze, Shemica Allen, Lisa Carelli-Lang, and Karen Mayer Cunningham) shows all they do is really just for theatrics to impress upon uninformed (or in Tianna's case, emotionally unstable) parents, but there is no true meaningful outcome their actions bring to helping children. Any apparent "good" they do is unfortunately cancelled out by the needless bureaucracy they put in, harassment of staff members, as well as the taxing of already thin school resources. Good educators, diagnosticians, teachers, LSSPs, administrators, and therapists end up leaving the field as a result, causing a feedback loop to supply their own demand. 

 

For further reference, there was a Texas House Bill 1669 which would allow schools to be reimbursed for legal fees if they win a due process case. I absolutely cannot fathom why anyone committed to justice and fairness would be against this. But of course the outrage king Louis Geigerman was adamantly against this, obviously because a measure like that would level the playing field against fiends like Louis and his NARDA-kin. Essentially, a law like that would help schools and children, but would be bad for Louis's advocate business.  

 

As Upton Sinclair once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. In Louie’s case, he not only created a box he could crawl in and shield himself from reality, but Louis also curls into a fetal position on the floor, covers his ears and prays for the rest of the world to go away.

Edited by MachuPichu
typo

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