Inequities in Special Education

9:48 am

As we blog, march, form coalitions, and community-meeting ourselves into a frenzy over the blatant inequities in education in PPS there is still a population of families that are not being heard in the large public forums and whose issues are invisible to most. These are families of children with disabilities and the success stories are few and far between and behind the success story you typically find a sleep-deprived and demoralized family member that is usually one meeting away from giving up. I write about those issues here from time to time but an email that came in to me recently I felt compelled to share and received permission from the parent to post her email here:

Dear Special Education Stakeholders,

I’m writing you today to bring to the surface an issue that we all know exists but nobody wants’ to talk about. And, an issue that is significant to the work being done on this project.

On January 8th we sent a note to school with one of our sons asking about something that had occurred the day before. He returned home that day with no response to our note but he did report that an adult at school told him to “shut-up”. This was one of several incidents that we had concerns over and already had a number of conversations with the classroom teacher about, so on this occasion we wrote a letter and brought our concerns to the principal. We subsequently requested a meeting to voice our concerns and that meeting was held on January 22nd.

On January 28th we received a call from a CPS worker who said she had been out to the school that day to interview our 12 year old foster son, in response to a complaint of suspected abuse that was called in from school. However, she reported to us that he was obviously getting over a cold but, she couldn’t understand him, the teacher in the classroom didn’t sign and nobody provided the CPS worker with the communication book. This boy has a severe speech disorder and is mentally challenged. Through a very long process the district has finally agreed to provide a speech device in the classroom similar to one he owns, this year. However, the life skills staff still will not work with him on how to use it at school. If this CPS allegation had not merely been an attempt at retribution but a real risk actually existed then this child might still be at risk because he can’t communicate with investigators or emergency responders.

On January 29th at 2 o’clock in the afternoon we received a call from one of our 11 year old sons’ mainstream teachers claiming that our boy had a very difficult week and a half. The teacher told us that our boy who is both mentally and physically handicapped has been violent, casting racial insults and several other horrible allegations. He informed us that our son had received several referrals and could not return to school next week. When we read the referrals that our son brought home we came to realize that this child had been in two high risk situations that he couldn’t manage and none of the preventative measures that we had agreed upon both in meetings and in writing had been followed, and then he was suspended for it. Some of the staff that wrote the referrals are the same individuals that were the focus of our complaints on the 22nd and our 11 year old son is the student who initiated those complaints.

As a family with three children with disabilities and all on IEPs, intimidation and reprisal are the hallmarks that define most of our experience with Portland Public Schools over the last few years. That is the primary reason I became a part of this process; to be a part of the solution. But, I’m writing this today because as this process moves forward on the 19th it is crucial to remember that this story is unfortunately not unique. In working with OrFirst and other families my wife and I have learned that we are not the only family in a debate with schools that have found themselves the focus of a child abuse allegation that was called into the hot line from school and our son is not the first mentally handicapped child that was placed in a volatile situation and then declared a danger to themselves or others; and nobody ever wants to talk about it. When our son, who has never received a referral before, came home that Friday he didn’t come with just one referral, he received one from each member of his life skills classroom staff, one from one of his gen-Ed teachers and all signed by another of his gen-Ed teachers. We were told that “the staff who handled this wants (him) to get a really strong message.” The nightmares He had for a week of teachers “yelling and screaming” at him confirm that he got that message. And the attitude that this could never happen is the very reason why it can happen.

We too voted in favor of measure 66 & 67 because we believe that a free and appropriate education is the right of every child, but we also believe that a safe and responsible education is part of that right as well. Like many families that have found themselves in this very position we have found no support within the district and no recourse to protect our children. Many of the children on IEPs face a hard life ahead of no acceptance, bigotry and manipulation from the rest of the world. They should feel like their teachers and their school is a safe haven from that kind of treatment.  So, as this process moves forward to hopefully better this system for staff and students alike I beg you to consider the children who can’t protect themselves and to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. Because, you have the power to effect change and ensure that every foster child receives a responsible education and nobody’s child can ever be manipulated as a statement to their families again.

After I received this email the parent wrote me a follow up email with a glimmer of hope:

Dear Stephanie,

As an outcome of the letter I sent to Special Education Stakeholders Joanne Mabbot has agreed to meet with parents and advocates to discuss issues surrounding how parents and students are sometimes treated by administration and staff during a dispute. This is an opportunity for families and students to share their stories in person or in writing if they believe their child was mistreated or unfairly disciplined while they were in a conflict with the school. We also want to look at how often school personnel use the child abuse hot line as a tool to intimidate families while in a dispute. If you or any of the families that you have worked with would like to share their stories please have them contact me by e-mail or directly at 503-253-0548 or Robin Malone at the district office 503-916-3297.
And to add the emphasis on this story here is a comment I found on the UrbanMamas blog that really sums up well what it is like to parent a child with an invisible disability like autism.

My child is in a CB–he has Asperger’s and needs some extra support managing the school environment. He spends all of his day at this point in gen ed, but he has access to a para for behavioral/help.
While it’s great he’s in gen ed, even so our experience is so different and will be for you too. The parents are nice, but they don’t “get it” and it’s scary to them (something could happen and THEIR child could be “different” too) or he does something “inappropriate” and they give me the look–you know the one, where you must be a bad parent because of how your child acts (invisible disabilities are hard). We always feel like we’re outside and really not part of things.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but in my experience, even when you’re in a regular school, your situation is still not regular. You’re not really part of everything because your situation is different. I thought that maybe it was ME, that I’m caring about what they think too much, but it’s not. It’s a different experience because our kids are different. It’s often alienating. I hope it works out for you and you have a better experience than I have, but I just feel like we’re not part of the “group” unless we’re around the other kids/parents who also have kids on the spectrum, or have behavioral challenges, etc. Then everyone is relaxed and “gets it” and it’s a great feeling! I feel like part of the group!

As we fight the good fight for all of our kids to receive a free and appropriate public education in PPS remember that these families need a voice as well. Find them and bring them into the fold, make sure they get the microphone at the community meetings, request they speak to the PTA on invisible and other disabilities, and just try to teach others that kids develop differently and some have challenges and  it is better to find a way to support their family instead of judging them.

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Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

filed under: Equity, IEP

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59 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Having taught ten years in a Portland school and then the last ten years in a Vancouver school I have come to believe that undoubtedly one of the reasons kids with invisible disablities have more problems in PPS is because PPS doesn’t do a good job of creating schools in poorer neighborhoods which are orderly in the first place. I know many people on this blog get up tight when I suggest that discipline in PPS needs to be dealt with in a sensible manner, to create classrooms and schools which are not consistently disrupted and the way to do this has little to do with teacher training and much more to do with the organizational structure of the school. If that was the case, not only would children learn more, but tolerance for differences and disabilities would be much better.

    Note, I am not making excuses for the absurd responses by teachers and administrators I often hear about, but I have been there. And let me tell you, if in a classroom you have 20 (and that is not an exageration) students who are often disruptive it is a lot harder to work with kids who have real disabilities than it is if you have one or two difficult kids. This stuff just does not get discussed in our rush to make sure the test scores are high, teachers are using the latest trendy programs, and as the district tries to respond to the errors made in the name of making sure certain schools are decent.

  2. Comment from stephanie:

    Steve since we have had a chance to talk more in depth about this I totally get and agree with your stance. Your definition of disruptive leaves a lot of room for tolerance and support for individual students needs.

  3. Comment from Rita:

    Steve, how much of the behavior problem that you reference is due to the fact that class sizes are too damn big?

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Rita, it does make it tougher, but the main problem is the school structure, how we deal with the problems, and the general poor education we offer.

  5. Comment from lek:

    In truth special ed in pps sucks. I have not been to this site for awhile, because my 11 year old with as attempted sucide. He did this because of bullying. I took him out for a week, had a big meeting where the teachers seemed not to care refused to look at data on bullying kids with special needs. a few days after that one of the bullies told him he should just kill himself. The schools response after invstigating admtted it happened and called yhe other studenta parents. And then scolded my son for telling the kid if he did noy stop his big brother would get him. They told my son thats harasment. My oldest son did confront the boy and told him to stop or else so the school threatened him as well. the school then preceeded to tell me we have to address my as sons problems for getting in theese situations. amay next step is to call another meeting and make them write up a safety plan/ everythung has to be in writing its still not gaurenteed but it has to be in writing. The teacher was happy to report he passed the state reading test.

  6. Comment from Erin Stoffel, D A D:

    I am the dad that wrote the letter to the PPS special education stakeholders and I want to be clear on a couple of points.

    My wife and I support the classrooms and the staff that serve our kids. We believe the “problem” is one of value. This district does not view meeting the needs of the individual classroom as its highest priority. The ever increasing demands on the teachers are paired with the growing ideology within the district that they are potential liabilities that will eventually cost the district money. As an employer even when I hire the highest qualified and most talented individuals they almost never achieve more than what I expect of them but when I don’t support them in the pursuit of that expectation they almost always achieve much much less. Steve, as a teacher how often do students exceeded what you believed in your heart they’re capable of?

    However, to suggest that children with disabilities can be viewed as potential disruptions or the number of disabled children in a classroom as a potential problem is to ascribe value to them based on their ability to conform to our ideal of normal. Wether there is 5 or 50 (and I too am not exaggerating) children with disabilities in a single classroom it is not unmanageable as a result of the needs of the students but rather because of the quality and quantity of the staff to meet those needs. I would remind everyone who reads this that the paras and teachers that I referenced in my letter chose to accept their positions working in schools and specifically a life skills classroom, our son did not choose to born with a diagnosis or to be a victim; he is not “the problem” here. Whether it’s the ticking of the clock on the wall or a fist fight in the middle of the room any disruption is only as significant as the staff in the classroom allow to be. If the district doesn’t view it as a priority to fund an appropriate number of well trained staff to meet the needs of each individual room then the ability of the remaining staff to meet those needs is necessarily going to be affected. But to even hint that children with disabilities are a burden on an already taxed system just because they were born different is offensive in the extreme. The “problem” is a district that places a higher value on the ideas and agendas of it’s administrators than it does on funding teacher’s salaries; its not the children, please don’t blame them.

  7. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Erin forgive me for assuming you were a mom. You would have thought the D A D would have made it obvious to me 🙂

    Great comment!

  8. Comment from moonlighting:

    PPS does not believe students with special students are “real” students. They have said to us at Pioneer over and over again that our children are not important. Joanne M. has refused to meet with parents at Pioneer. They removed our Principal and then said she was not a real principal because the students at Pioneer do not matter and do not obviously need what “real” students need.
    The supt. and other administrators have ignored us and refused to meet with us over inequities and after retaliating against our principal for speaking up for students with disabilities others are now afraid to speak up.The Principal at Pioneer was called a hybrid principal is that saying our students and kids are hybrids???
    What is really going on in PPS special education?????

  9. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Moonlighting, there are a lot of changes going on right now and opportunities to have your voice heard in special education. I am encouraging families and advocates to also attend general meetings on PPS HS redesign as well as K-8 issues because this is a forum where the general population can hear about the special education inequities. They just don’t know what our families go through in PPS and the world at large. As Erin said, our kids are not valued and seen as a waste of resources. To be fair, I believe this is at a subconscious level for most people. A great friend of mine who is a para once said something to the effect of “what’s the point in trying to teach them?” and I schooled this person on how low expectations are the problem, not the disability. Back in the olden days people with disabilities were thought to be immune to cold, heat, and pain as they were crammed into institutions, often naked as they roamed around rooms with nothing to do and little education. They were labeled as TMR (trainable mentally retarded) or EMR (educable mentally retarded). This mentality is still out there sitting just below the surface that our kids are “others”. On the other hand there are people like Sarah Palin (I’m sorry if anyone likes her) who do a great disservice to our kids by putting forth the “precious helpless little angel” message which also assumes they can’t learn or be expected to do anything but teach us about how lucky we are not to have disabilities. In any fight for equity disabilities must be a part of it whether they are invisible disabilities or not.
    Moonlighting – for Pioneer in particular I have been advocating for bringing those kids back into the mainstream as much as they can handle safely with the right support vs. being on an island. The point I make is that if a kid has challenges in general education even with the right teacher/staff support they still might choose to be in a smaller setting. This setting needs to be within or in proximity to a regular school (in their neighborhood) so these kids can gradually transition at their pace into the general environment. I work with some very dangerous kids who this may never be a reality for but to have no opportunity at all being on the Pioneer island just has to end in my opinion. I really have a great respect for the teachers and staff there because they are segregated as well.
    I want to close by being a broken record about working the process. Joanne has been more receptive than I think folks have experienced in the past with PPS and now is the time to get your story out there. Erin sent this letter and there was a quick response to looking at this further. There is reason to be hopeful.
    As far as discipline I do think it is important to balance a need for accommodations and well-trained staff with high expectations of all kids to follow the rules. I expect my kid to behave at school but I also expect the school to meet her halfway (not set her up) and understand how her brain works and what the characteristics of her disability are vs. her just being rotten.

  10. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Erin, sorry I am not buying it. If you more carefully read what I said you will see I said that when you have huge numbers of kids who don’t have specific disabilities but who are disruuptive in a classroom based on the structure of the school then it makes it much more difficult for teachers to work well with children who have specific disabilities. Fix the other problems and teachers in general ed. will do better with kids with specific disabilities, like the children that have been discussed on this thread. One of the great myths of our educational system is if the teacher is good then the kids will behave so that the classroom can be orderly regardless of the problems within that class. Sorry, not true. There needs to be much more than just a good teacher. And in PPS we don’t add what is needed to make each classroom work. Please, don’t confuse a room with children with disabilities with a general ed. classroom which has children who are mainstreamed. Sure, kids who are disruuptive have reasons for their disruption, but in many cases the reasons are nothing that couldn’t be redirected if the school made a better and more sensible effort to do so.

  11. Comment from moonlighting:

    Stephanie I do not believe Joanne is more receptive. She wouldn’t even meet with Pioneer parents, she strung them along and pretended to be interested but never met with them. She refused to meet with Staff or have any staff input into what was going on. If Pioneer needs to exist and I think it does ten it should be respeceted and get what it needs. It should at the very least be considered a real school. It took 10 years and an OCR complaint to just get hot lunches and a library that meets minimum standards. And the district had ignored the pleas of staff and administrators at Pioneer for these basic rights with their broken record of, “Pioneer is not a real school”. Joanne and the district are discriminating against these students and getting away with it.

  12. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Moonlighting – I definitely do not want to discredit your personal experience in any way and have talked to a few Pioneer parents who have said the same thing. It is morally wrong to take a Principal away for advocating for the students and staff and saying a child’s educational environment is a “program” and not a school to diminish your requests to be heard. This receptiveness I speak of has not been ongoing and is quite new and Pioneer parents bringing this topic into the mainstream has been a huge part of that. We still have a long way to go but families and disability advocates not being afraid to speak out and come together is also new at least in my experience. In the last few years I have been fighting for these causes I have had just a handful of people to identify with. A lot of families had been so demoralized they did not want to be a part of any movement. In fact, the divisions in the disability community may have something to do with this. For example, because my daughter can keep up with academics people say, “Oh it must not be autism then and aspergers instead because she is smart.” People with physical disabilities do not want to be identified with people with intellectual disabilities. The discrimination exists within the community that is being discriminated against and that is where PPS wants us, divided. Again, I cannot speak to your personal experience with Joanne but I also think the fact that our community is finally starting to pull together is something that PPS cannot ignore and I sincerely hope to see more of you at these community forums, school board meetings, and any and all opportunities to get your hands on the mic and tell your story. Call the number listed above to schedule a time to tell your story or email it to a large group of advocates and include the district like Erin did. I am sure we will continue to be frustrated and get pushed back but we are closer to change now than we have ever been in my experience so don’t give up and let’s keep pushing. I will stand with the Pioneer parents and teachers anytime, just tell me what you need and I will be there.

    Steve – I want to make sure I understand and wonder do you think the lack of a philosophy in understanding and responding to challenging behavior is part of the problem? PPS is talking about implementing this RTI model but it seems to be targeted towards special education and I have a problem with that. All kids may have a behavior problems whether they have a diagnosis or not and implementing a system needs to be universal in my opinion. I talked to my Principal about this recently and I liked they way he summed it up, “We are using 20th century discipline for the 21st century kid.” It is ridiculous to me how “old school” some of the discipline responses are and of course the fact that students in the minority are something like 3 times more likely to have a referral on them. For those of you who have more of an inside look as teachers or admin is this district wide and is it really just up to the individual teacher or school to come up with a discipline strategy? Is there any training or guidance on this whatsoever or is it a complete vacuum?

  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Stephanie, I have not seen any actual work done on this issue in the last 20 years. Never even gets mentioned. (By the way, neat stuff in the newspaper today about what they are doing at Century High School in Hillsboro to help kids who seem at risk of dropping out.)

    I just maintain that it is much easier to learn in a classroom where kids are engaged in the learning instead of being engaged in disruptive behavior. This is true of every student. Seems to me a kid should be able to go to school in any of our neighborhoods and get a reasonably decent education regardless. While we seem to understand the inequities in offerings and inequities in how kids with specific disabilities are treated, the idea that kids have the right to an orderly classroom is shuffled aside. “Don’t blame the kids.” “If the teacher was decent his or her classroom would behave.” “It is not the kid’s fault.” I just believe that it is often the kid’s fault and that poor parenting is not a good excuse for poor behavior in school. Where else in society do we accept constant and consistent disruptions of professionals trying to do their job by children who supposedly know better? At the doctors office? On the bus? In court? At a school board meeting? At the movies? In city hall? Nowhere, except the school is the answer. (Well, maybe in some parts of the mall.)

    As you know I am not for labeling kids, just in favor of helping them understand the concept that their classmates have the right to a decent education without them disrupting it and that the teacher should be able to do his or her job also. We should be working for this goal as hard as we are working for any other part of a good education. But, in actuality, we don’t deal with it in any way, let alone in a sensible way.

  14. Comment from lek:

    i agree with steve. At lents everytime i have a complaint about kids behavior im told well the parents dont cars. well i care and i hate sending my kids there. they have been exposed to so much, foul language, drug use things i cant imagine but the school does nothing. oddly enough when my autistic kid farts he gets a referal but if a kid pushes him for looking at him wrong its my sons fault. we have had kids bring real knives to school and they recieved a two day suspension. there is no clear cut rules anywhere. I wish my kids coulf feel safe at school. my as son has been threatened numerous times that there going to kill him by other kids. the school always says well the kids did not mean probably gonna home school him just to keep him safe.

  15. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I agree Steve as well that we can work on learning environments that are free from distractions while also addressing the modifications and adaptations necessary for kids with neurological and/or physical differences to be successful as well. Often however as lek is saying those distractions are exactly what trigger the kids with “labels” but the inequity is that the child that gets in trouble is the one who has that label not the one that triggered them. I see this happen at many schools all over the state and not just PPS. I have overused this metaphor lately but it is very pertinent here. All of the kids are screaming, “I am going to kill you.” on the playground but the kid with autism is the one that has not yet learned not to scream it in front of adults and thus this child not only gets in trouble but child protective services are called on the parents because “surely” this child is being abused if she is yelling questionable things on the playground. I am a mandatory abuse reporter too but I would never call them because a child yells swears and uses sophisticated language. It is a BS double-standard applied to kids with challenges and simply does not happen with the same frequency in the non-labeled peers. It is lame to call CPS on parents without the common decency of giving them a call to talk about it. This is just me but I almost always tell a parent when I have to call them in.
    A study was done recently looking at DEATHS in schools because of seclusion and restraint. One story was a young girl who was blowing bubbles in her milk and the school staff asphyxiated her in a restraint. Who expects their child to die at school? With that said, I do agree that everyone has a right to learn free from distractions as long as we are honest about the double-standard and even the playing field.

  16. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    These stories are all pretty sad and unfortunately sound more like the norm than the exception. It’s not surprising that the PPS Special Education department has their own lawyer.

    Stephanie – thanks for the post. It’s been very valuable.

    Erin,lek and moonlighting – thank you for sharing your stories.

  17. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Thanks for that Carrie.

    Here is a link to the article Steve mentioned

    It does not mention kids with disabilities in the article but that does not mean they are not included. What happens sometimes though is that “those kids” belong to special education and do not get to benefit from programs like this but I will ask around about the reach of this program. It sounds wonderful.

  18. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Stephanie, your first sentence says it absolutely wonderfully. You went right to the core of the problem. A+.

  19. Comment from Erin Stoffel, D A D:

    Steve, perhaps you’re not buying it because those are not my opinions. Although I used your comments as a spring board for my own, my comments were intended to be viewed in context of the topic. The only part of that post that was directed to you was a rhetorical question that related to the value that PPS district administrators place on the classroom staff. The only class that I have ever seen that is completely well behaved 100% of the time is a picture I saw on the cover of a third grade reader. Distraction, disruption and conflict are inevitable. But, when a breakdown does occur with a SPED student, faculty and administration are all too swift to leap to the conclusion that it’s the child that failed the system. At least in SPED, every time the ideas are proposed to reduce class sizes, give more careful thought to the placement of students in certain settings or provide additional supports in the classroom to aid the teacher, the regular response is “there’s not enough staff.” However, your allegation that I’m confusing children in a SPED classroom with children in a mainstream classroom is not only correct but it’s also intentional. I won’t apologize for trying to muddy the perception that because they’re in different placement settings then they’re fundamentally different children. Whether it’s good kids, bad kids, disabled kids or otherwise it’s too common for students to be viewed as labels first and value applied to them accordingly.

    When a family at a restaurant is asked to move to another table because the family at the table next to them has a right to eat in peace without the distraction of the differences that they perceive as offensive, most rational people would not support such an act if it happened to a family of any other group. We all agree that it is important to hold every student to the same rule of conduct while at school. Yet, when a non-disabled child is labeled as a disruptive student every effort is made to find a way for that student to remain in the classroom because that individual is entitled to an appropriate education. But when a child with a disability falls under the same label they are segregated into an isolated classroom or building where they will spend the remainder of their scholastic career picking up the garbage in the building and the park and often the most significant attention to their education will be paid to adaptive PE. This happens because the kind of prejudice (even at a subconscious level as Stephanie pointed out) that Stephanie’s friend expressed allows a person to view this inequity as reasonable and view students with disabilities as a burden on schools rather than part of the reason schools exist. This view is a systemic problem throughout PPS SPED.

    Though I don’t want to diminish how egregious what happened to our son truly is, it is only one of way too many stories. I agree with Stephanie how important it is to bring this into the light in the public forum. Most people don’t want to believe that bigotry like this could be so widely accepted as to be a part of the operating policies of our public schools and it is easier to view us as emotional parents that are exaggerating the facts to con sympathy from the “mainstream” community. As long as we stay silent and allow those who would do so to keep us segregated and afraid than that lie will continue and our children will go on being pushed aside to make room for the “normal” children who have a right to an opportunity at a decent education.

  20. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Erin I really appreciate your voice here. This is the most comments anything I have posted on special education has ever received. Here is a cut and paste from an email I received about a focus group this Wednesday I sadly have to miss. While this was sent to certain “stakeholders” I also got another email that opened it up to any families interested. If anyone would like to go to this and have me forward them the email that has the policies that will be discussed email me at stephanie.c.hunter at gmail dot com.

    Discipline Parent Focus Group Participants,

    Thanks for agreeing to participate in our Parent Focus Group on Discipline this Wednesday, March 3, 2010, from 10 am to NOON at BESC, 501 N Dixon, in Room L-1. You will find directions and a map to BESC at

    We have limited visitor parking space at BESC. I am attaching a parking permit for the Rose Garden Garage at the Rose Quarter that you may print and place on your dashboard (and a map that shows the location of the parking structure).

    In the attached e-mail from Tammy Jackson below (Discipline ADs), you will find documents and information links to review before the meeting. Please read her e-mail carefully. She has attached several Administrative Directive documents for those of you who would like to see the entire set of AD’s related to discipline. The meeting we have will be to look only at the directive for students with disabilities. For those who want to limit their reading, read the policy and the directive 4.30.025-AD.

    We are looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday!


  21. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Erin, thank you for the clarification. I imagine if we sat down and talked we would be very close in our ideas.

    I have seen a lot of classrooms with very little disruption. Have a couple myself right now. Doesn’t mean kids are genuinely engaged — just not disruptive, a hugely different idea. Their actions might hurt their own learning but not other kids’ learning.

    As long as we are going to ask for differing responses to equal behavior (the actions not the motivations) for some kids (and this is appropriate) then it creates categorical discussions. My point all along has been that the quality of teacher responses to students with disabilities is improved where the behavior of all students is dealt with well by the school. And this is something PPS approaches in a manner which pretty much guarantees failure since it is not just a product of the teacher skills in isolated, single classrooms. In otherwords, yes their responses to kids with disabilities is often terrible, but so also is their response to the behavior of kids supposedly without disabilities. It is not chicken and egg, but lose lose. Fixing both helps both.

  22. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Stephanie – I don’t think the email you received is very parent friendly. The meeting is scheduled during most parent’s workday, you have to park a looong way away, and it sounds like you were given a lot of info for advance preparation. Is childcare provided for the focus group? If so, is it the expectation that parents are going to lug their children all the way from the Rose Garden?

    The district has a long history of over-representation in the discipline rates of some groups. You would think that district staff would make a better effort to accommodate parents.

    I’ve been approached by several parents concerned that their children are being targeted in the district’s new system for tracking discipline. If anyone participates in the focus group, I’d like to hear more about that system.

    I’m also curious about the diversity of the focus groups since there isn’t much diversity in the staff responsible for discipline.

  23. Comment from stephanie:

    Carrie your comment really brought it to a new level for me. I have been so excited just to have any engagement at all that these details went right over my head. The email we received had four administrative directives to read and even for a total nerd like me it made my eyes bug out of my head. I have to submit my comment in writing this time around. All of these focus groups have been announced with very little notice.
    While I am still happy to have this momentum pick up your comment reminds me how far we still have to go. We are expected to work ten times harder than everyone else just so our children can have some dignity and respect. A lot of the parents I know can recite the IDEA from memory but the SpEd folks who should know the law by heart don’t seem to realize they are breaking it. Thanks for asking the question and I will be sure to request these accomodations for the future.

  24. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Stephanie-There are extra spaces in the underground parking garage at the BESC. They save them for their special friends but mostly they go unused. I’d ask for one of those.

  25. Comment from stephanie:

    I am working on my written testimony for the draft administrative directives on discipline and had a thought.
    Would the folks here back me up on lobbying PPS to have a disability awareness month and a curriculum about the disabilty rights movement and our heroes? I found a really great K12 curriculum online out of Idaho. If kids can watch videos of MLK being assasinated in February then they can handle seeing videos of institutionalized children tied down into highchairs and roaming aimlessly around bare rooms with no toys and rows of toilets with no privacy they were expected to use and were even strapped down on for hours. High school kids can watch Where’s Molly about an Oregon family torn apart and reunited a generation later after the institution closed. Just an idea…there are not a lot of us fighting this fight and we need help.

  26. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Stephanie – I would support that.

  27. Comment from Bill:


    I think your idea is wonderful. I am a special education teacher in the district and I think that it is a great idea to have a Disability awareness month. It would benefit all students and the teachers.

  28. Comment from stephanie:

    Thanks for the speedy support – getting a little misty over here from the love 🙂

    I will get started and see if the special education PTA will back me up on it as well as some other organizations. More later as I pull this together. Carrie maybe you can feed me some pointers on how I can advocate for Title I and parent training to be part of this idea? Roseway Heights was hosting a special education night awhile back and I will connect with that parent to build on their work. Any other ideas and resources are welcome!

  29. Comment from lek:

    Stephanie i support you one hundred percent. I got to do a presentation last year to my sons class, about autism. The kids were very receptive and many became special buddies to him on there own. Kids can become great allies if there given the opportunity.

  30. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Stephanie, several years ago when I was at Lane M.S. I organized a school wide 3 week, once a day kind of workshop, for kids, on people who were outside the norm so to speak. We included groups representing people of color, gays, people with disabilities, and ethnic groups including several we had in the school. We finished up the study with speakers from the communty. I am not kidding, and I hate to blow my own horn here, but the changes in our kids were unbelievable. The racism, the put-downs etc. decreased immensely,and I really mean immensely. It was like we had sensitized the whole school community. And the really amazing thing — the results lasted for years.

    Of course, we’re not testing tolerance on the state tests. So….

  31. Comment from Erin Stoffel, D A D:

    Stephanie, went to the focus group meeting today. recorded the meeting and took notes; essentially mixed feelings. The new directives do seem well intended and reasonably well thought out but, still seem to be somewhat blurred with legal and bureaucratic “requirements” and still appears to me to be a step to address the symptoms of prejudice without addressing the prejudice directly. A pretty reasonable argument was made to me though, why it has to be like that.

    Get in touch with me and I’ll share what was said and what we discussed. Let me bounce my perspective of whats really happening here off you before I go making a lot of wild challenges without having all my facts straight … again.

  32. Comment from moonlighting:

    Hi DAD I would love to hear more about your thoughts. And Stephanie I think disability awareness month is great but lets not just do autism, and other socially appropriate disabilities lets also do ADHD, PTSD, ED, Bi-polar, Depression, LD, …The disabilities that people don’t like to talk about or recognize. Many of these kids are the ones that people say, they are fine if they only tried harder.

  33. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    moonlighting – Agreed and Steve’s input is a good framework for that and in my crystal ball I see a cup of coffee with Steve and me filling up a notebook with ideas. Steve if this is already something that has been implemented in a PPS school can I just refer to it by a certain name when advocating for it or was it just something super awesome you were doing?
    Another family member tells their PPS story here

    Nice PPS news is that I was given some positive feedback that public comment I wrote and emailed to Ruth Adkins on the proposed discipline policy back in June 2009 was sent to the appropriate parties and was referenced and “valued” when drafting the administrative directives. I am still reviewing the drafts to submit comment (and these AD’s impact not just students with disabilities if anyone wants me to forward the drafts to you) but have seen some real positives. I agree with Erin that what I have read so far is very reactive with a sprinkling of proactive. The AD does recognize collaboration as key but the language does not trigger working with family members until a problem arises. This might get clarified by something else I read though. I was pleased to see some specifics on who is responsible for what and that site councils will be part of the review and monitoring of discipline referrals. There were also timelines and clear expectations in some areas. I am happy to have something to sink my teeth into for accountability as it gets rolled out. I want to see some consistency and an actual philosophy to responding to behavior but agree it should allow for individual schools to draft their own response plan to discipline. So the system can work sometimes when people speak out. Dying to hear about how the meeting went!

  34. Comment from David McDonald:

    What’s up with disability “awareness” demonstrations anyway? I’m talking about those exercises designed for school kids to “experience” what it’s like to live with a disability. For example, kids are encouraged to put two-sided tape between their fingers to see how their fingers stick together and how hard it is to pick up objects or to write. Or they are made to put a rubber ball between their knees then try to walk or run to “experience” a physical disability. Then they are asked to read a page of words that are printed backwards or with the letters jumbled around to “simulate” dyslexia. Probably the most insulting, they take turns putting on funny-looking masks and “experience” what it’s like to be laughed at. And my all-time favorite, they stuff marshmallows into their mouths and try to say a sentence to “simulate” a speech impairment.

    All of this is supposed to create better understanding and empathy for their schoolmates who have disabilities. These exercises are so short-sighted and insulting that I believe they do more harm than good. The obvious is that they are designed to highlight differences, not similarities. In highlighting these differences, they sum up the experience of disability as performance deficits in areas where people struggle, but give no opportunity to see people with disabilities as individuals who possess a broad range of unique talents and abilities beyond these areas. Besides, what about the myriad of assistive technologies, equipment and adaptations to the environment that people use to accomplish these tasks at performance levels at or above what people without disabilities can do? These demonstrations also give kids the impression that all people with disabilities can be lumped into one group that experiences these things in the same way. They focus on the disability as the problem, but do nothing to show the unnecessary environmental barriers and prejudice in society that people with disabilities encounter daily. They actually involve “real” people with disabilities who take others through these degrading and misleading exercises. And they are focused on the wrong audience.

    What’s needed is a demonstration for ADULTS without disabilities where they are forced to sit through a meeting with a case manager they’ve never met before asking for details about the likely peculiar “behaviors” they exhibit. They would experience the indignity of this 3-hour meeting during which every idea they present for assistive devices, adaptations or personal support services is met with a “No, it’s not on our funded priority list.” They would be joined by a “vocational specialist” who would respond to every idea they present for appropriate workplace supports with “I don’t think ‘CARF’ will allow that goal” or “none of the other ‘participants’ are doing that, so we don’t want the others to think we’re giving any ‘special’ favors.” They would be told that a performance goal that targets 90 or 100% is not allowed, since it’s outside the standard “guidelines” that expect that the majority of people with disabilities won’t perform at that level. After the meeting they would be asked to sit and wait for their ride to pick them up. It will be at least a 30-minute wait, and it will arrive 10 minutes late. They would board the van and experience being driven around for 2 hours on a circuitous route that picks up several other people before arriving at their destination, which would normally be a 15 minute drive. Their destination? A dinner with their family, which was planned for 5 PM, but of course they don’t arrive until well after 6.

    Now that’s disability “awareness.”

  35. Comment from Erin Stoffel, D A D:

    Stephanie, Tammy Jackson said she wants to hear from parents their perspective on these ADs and if there’s anything they would like to see changed. She asked for that input by the middle of next week. So, if anyone out there wants to read the documents and give an opinion please encourage them to do so.

  36. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    David I like how you think. I am a ‘disability is natural and not something broken that needs to be fixed’ advocate so no worries about ghastly pity parties in the guise of awareness on my watch.

    Erin I will get my input in by next week for sure and again if anyone wants to see the drafts I am happy to forward them. I think a parent pow wow is necessary because I would love to meet some of these new people. So happy that our community is coming together and thankful for PPS Equity providing us a forum.

    BTW – I am teaching a free parent workshop on behavior, communication, and sensory issues on March 13th in Aloha from 9am to 12pm at the ARC if anyone is interested in going or sharing with others – 4450 SW 184th Ave., Aloha, OR 97007

  37. Comment from stephanie:

    The next installment of Educating Joseph

  38. Comment from John B. Tang:

    I read with great interest about Equity for Special Ed students. For ELL students with disabilities, it is a double whammy. For parents who don’t speak English and don’t understand the system and don’t know how to advocate for their children, it feels very hopeless. So my question is who is going to advocate for this population? I understand there are currently 500 or 600 of those students. The Special Ed consultant, Kenneth Jones, even acknowledged that he was not aware of these students. How sad!!! I don’t believe that the Special Ed Department even made attempts to hire bilingual staff to serve them. Isn’t this a violation of their civil rights big time?

  39. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    John I couldn’t agree with you more. A few situations have come to my attention for these families and one in particular an expulsion hearing occurred and the parent was not provided translation and this child’s IEP was not honored. I tell the people that approach me on these situations that the parent needs to trigger the process and I will be happy to advocate for them but sadly that is the best I can do as an individual but want to learn more how to reach this community. I have had an amazing experience recently in Marion County with Spanish-speaking families and am trying to work with a local non-profit to replicate it in the Metro area. I did a series of autism trainings where I traded off with an interpreter. Usually when I do these trainings the interpreter and the family sit in the back of the room and they slip out as soon as the training is over. Having a dedicated training for these families was so informative for me as an advocate. The parents gave me so much good feedback and the theme that emerged was that these families were hungry for this knowledge and that they felt the school district did not think they were intelligent enough or even interested in learning about how to support their child. One story in particular that almost brings me to tears was a mother who told me that before my training her husband said it was all her fault that their child had behaviors – after my training he started helping more and took the recommendations I made seriously. I am more than happy to align myself with this community and will take any advice on how to get my foot in the door.

  40. Comment from John B. Tang:

    Thank you, Stephanie. Let’s get connected. There are so many families who do not know who to talk to and what to do. A situation just happened recently at Cleveland. A 9th grader who has been diagnosed with learning disabilities since 3rd grade. For some reason, no one at Cleveland seemed to know that he was special ed. After 10 executive days of not attending school, he was dropped from enrollment. Mother who is monolingual in Spanish, attempted to contact the school but got no where. The kid is still out of school since October and no one is helping him. How should I refer this family to you? The student speaks good English but the family does not. There has been no outreach from anyone from PPS either regular ed or special ed. What is your suggestion to this family? Is there an advocate for situations like this?

  41. Comment from stephanie:

    John – Go straight to Joanne Mabbot and Xavier Botana with this by email/phone. Joanne has been returning my emails lately right away and she would want to know this is happening.

    I wonder if we can find a way to get these parents organized? The parent union would be a good place to start and I also think there must be some point people who are activists in ELL that I need to partner with to assist with the SpEd piece. Anyone, perhaps Carrie, have some people I can get in touch with?

    John let this family know I would be happy to go with them to an IEP meeting and help prepare them ahead of time. If he is qualified for services then they have rights and can ask for an IEP anytime they want – in writing so it is documented is best. Email me at stephanie.c.hunter at gmail dot com to coordinate.

  42. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Stephanie and John, I forwarded this information to a spanish speaking SPED activist friend yesterday.

    John, I’ll email you to follow-up.

    Stephanie, where can I find a list of parent/community initiated recommendations for the PPS SPED?

  43. Comment from John B. Tang:

    Carrie and Stephanie,

    Thank you for your prompt response. The latest I heard is that Mr. Richard Lucetti is now working with this family and he will be setting up a meeting with the Cleveland HS principal on behalf of the student and family. This is not an isolated incident. Special Ed and ESL department have to work together so that ELL special ed students do not fall in the cracks. Do you have any recommendations as to what PPS can do to ensure that situations like this would not happen in the future?

  44. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    John, Great. I’m glad to hear my friend is following up. I must not have your correct email address because my email to you you was returned. Will you email me at my blog so we can talk?

  45. Comment from lek:

    Joann mabbot wont return my calls. im fed up hopefully oregon advocacy will contact me because the district doesnt care.there not trying to reach out its a joke maybe if i was rich or in an affluent neiborhood but a mainstreamed autistic kids at lents that attempes suicide from being bullied not even a return call.

  46. Comment from Stephanie:

    I will be at the special ed PTA meeting tomorrow night if anyone wants to attend. The overall meeting is not very revolutionary but it would be nice to meet some of you posting and talk about some action steps.

    lek – Do you have any support whatsoever in the school or are you being labeled a hysterical troublemaker? If I can help in any way let me know? If you need any help organizing or mentoring parents let me know and we can strategize.

  47. Comment from Stephanie:

    I was just reviewing the proposed budget from the superintendent and found this positive statement:
    “In our services to special education students, we will shift resources to more often provide the services some students need closer to home and with fewer transitions between schools.”

    Other than that there was not much else. I did see they propose 85,000 will be spent on special education tuition outside the district but it was not described.

    I am wondering about the following statement:

    “More specific information on Special Education and ESL staffing formulas and allocations will be forthcoming in the Adopted Budget document.”

    So by adopted budget document does that mean the specifics will be provided after it is voted on? I am still learning how to read all of this stuff. Is that standard language or purposely vague?

  48. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Stephanie, The district’s standard language is purposely vague. The staffing formulas should come out before the budget is approved. It’s important to pay attention to them.

  49. Comment from lek:

    Thanks I actually do have some great support from outside of the district. Im just tired of the crap. Im sure they would love for me to just go away but I will not. Due to my complaining I got training for most of the teachers on autism. I just cant beleive how the current situatuon is being handeled. I think even if my child was successful at taking his own life they would still deny everything. The inequities in pps are sickening. The lack of respect to all families and students by the adminastrators is the problem. If your poor or non white your crap in there eyes. I should not have to work so hard to let my son go to school and be safe. At least he passed his state exam. Thats all the admin care about.

  50. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    lek, no, you should not have to work so hard for a safe environment for your kid. you and your family are in my thoughts. my family has a history of suicide and attempts and it takes its toll on a lot of us and our communities. whereas the bullies just go on their merry way making fun of everyone who’s different.

    my sister once said, You ever notice it’s always the wrong people who commit suicide? and it was so awful but still awfully funny to me, in a very dark way.

    i hope you guys find peace soon, and please give your son a huge bear hug from me and let him know he’s not the only one in the universe who has felt this way.

    A girl was bullied at my own kids’ school and took her own life, everyone tried to hush it up. (This was a couple of years before my kids started there — I don’t know that I would have chosen to let them attend there, had I known. Same administrator, same teachers were still there when we started.) Besos y abrazos. nancy