Category: IEP

Inequities in Special Education

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.

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.

59 Comments

Parent Perspective of the Integrated Services Stakeholders Meeting

On December 9th and 10th stakeholders invested in a wide array of integrated services in PPS gathered together to review data from the recent audit of special education services and make recommendations on next steps.

My “stake” in this is as a parent of a child with an IEP in the district and as someone that cares deeply about better outcomes for those receiving special education services.

On the first day the stakeholder’s were presented with the faces and stories of integrated services. First we watched a video about special education that featured parents, grandparents, students, and staff; this video will be linked on the PPS website.

Carole Smith and Xavier Botana spoke to the group and then we heard from Joanne Mabbot the director of Integrated Services and others within the department or the audit team. The parent/grandparent panel spoke and we were given about 3 minutes each to tell our stories.

The objective feedback I received from some in the audience was that our panel represented parents that were savvy and made the system work for them. Weeks prior to the stakeholders meeting the department acknowledged a desire for more diversity on the panel and asked for help from the parent/grandparent stakeholders.

Sheila Warren, parent union organizer, spoke about her own experiences on the video and panel and also about her efforts to include those under-represented voices. During both days I was relieved to hear from many stakeholders a deep concern for equity and a desire to bring in the voices of foster parents, parents with disabilities, low-income families, minority families, and children who live in group homes or mental health facilities. In several side conversations there was an overall commitment to finding a way to capture these stories.

During my 3 minutes on the parent panel I talked about my dilemma of choosing belonging over academics. My teacher works very hard to educate my daughter and has a great team of supports to meet her academic IEP goals. Despite this, I know in my heart my daughter needs more 1 to 1 help to meet her academic potential and her teacher has not yet learned to clone herself or grow 50 arms and 25 heads.

For now, I choose friends, meaningful activities, and natural environment learning because that is what our family has decided is most important. I told a story about how my daughter cried when I told her about advancing to 1st grade. Through her tears she could barely get out the words, “I am going to miss my friends so much.” I wish I could bottle the relief on her face when I told her that her friends go to 1st grade too.

I used this story at the meeting as a way to highlight the importance of belonging and that “loneliness is the only real disability” (a quote by Beth Mount). Since this is an opinion piece I want to be clear that I am not complaining about the choice I have made or the education my daughter is receiving.

I would love it if my daughter’s school was a student-centered technological wonderland that was set up to have universal access and honored the multiple intelligences and every teacher had training in modifying curriculum for all learners. I would be thrilled if my daughter could just have access to an ordinary education in a low enrolled PPS school!

Regardless, I have the luxury of a choice some parents of kids with IEP’s don’t have. My complaint is that I have had to engineer my experience of special education on my own with mentoring from other parents I was lucky enough to meet and learn from.

How do we teach other parents what I know on a widespread basis? How do we share with other teachers what my teacher knows about how to help kids with IEP’s be successful in general education classrooms? Why is it word of mouth and not common knowledge? What is it with what seems like a purposeful effort to keep parents in self-contained classrooms from communicating?

To be fair, one of the recommendation from the two days was for parents to opt-in to be contacted by other parents for networking and this received a lot of votes.

The student panel was wonderful and I was inspired by the teachers and staff that clearly have a vision of presumed competence in the 18-21 transition programs. The job developers and students told us about the Solar Waffle Cart on Alberta and how many of the students in transition dream of being small business owners.

There was not a hint of contrivance on the part of the transition staff and they were dreaming big right along with these kids. A young man who has had a job at Fred Meyer for 5 years told his story and thank goodness for the tissue on the table. It is amazing how much this young man has cared for others in his life and how much loss he has endured but still he has a deeper sense of gratitude than anyone I know.

We heard from a Roosevelt student who has an IEP for a learning disability and how difficult it was to get her academic needs taken seriously.

What was missing on the student panel were students with physical disabilities who cannot access neighborhood schools or common areas in schools deemed accessible. What about the students in wheelchairs that cannot go to lunch with their friends because the cafeteria only has stairs? What about the kid who has to commute 45 minutes one way in good traffic to school because his “special” classroom is across town? What about the clusters of kids with disabilities who clean, landscape, recycle, shred, and do food service for free and have it called “work experience?”

To clarify my last statement; it is not the nature of the work itself but the fact that a minority group is singled out to do this work before the age of 18 when academics should be a priority along with transition services. I know countless kids who would not be happy with me if I took this work away from them but I know a few who have asked me, “How come I have to clean up after everyone and they don’t, it’s not fair?”

The point I was able to get out on day two of the forum was that if this work experience is such a great opportunity then the general education population needs to have the equity extended to them as well to work side by side with the kids with disabilities. This may actually happen in some schools and I would love to hear about it. Not all schools use the kids in transition programs to do work in the school and find real experiences in the community for them.

We heard from a panel that included an assistant principal, counselor, special education teacher, paraeducator, and a general education teacher. I appreciated what the panel had to say and the tone was notably different than the parents and students.

The paraeducator in particular really brought it home when she talked about the day to day tasks such as being bit, having your hair pulled out, a great deal of heavy lifting, dealing with various bodily fluids on a daily basis, and changing diapers on adult sized students.

I worked in direct care for kids and adults in group homes and have done similar work as a paraeducator with the exception being I did not also have to meet IEP goals while providing this level of support. When you do this work you just care about these kids having positive outcomes and the less glamorous, dangerous, and unpleasant parts of the day are part of that.

As I have alluded already, there was a real need to get the spectrum of experience injected into this event and the employee panel kicked it up a notch. There were some wince-worthy moments as a parent listening to the panel but I had also wished for a reality check and got one.

I do wonder what the range of experiences are in teachers and how much knowledge they have of what happens in other schools or programs. When the paraeducator talked about changing diapers someone in the audience said, “EWWWW” and it broke my heart. How dare they? That is someone’s child who should be given dignity and respect despite their toileting ability.

My opinion is that cross-training and job shadows in different schools, programs, and classrooms might not be a bad idea. Better yet, administrators need to see a day in the life of a teacher in all schools and classrooms.

When I worked in group homes and a corporate administrator was visiting the expectations was that we would spend days cleaning and painting in preparation. We would purchase new clothes for the residents, furniture, and decorations for the home. During some of these corporate visits the administrator would simply walk through the home straight to the office or leave after 10 minutes and we would wonder why we bothered.

Is this what is happening in PPS when administrators visit as well? Are PPS administrators just spending 10 minutes or heading straight to the office? What would happen if they saw the real deal? Would things change or would someone get fired or transferred?

On day two of the stakeholder’s meeting we had an opportunity to look at the data from the audit and from the data create a “gallery walk” of recommendations to be voted on as a top priority or secondary priority. The recommendations are still being boiled down to account for duplicates and common themes but the current data shared with stakeholders shows that the following areas rose to the surface:

  • Collaboration time among general education, special education, and specialists along with collaborative team-teaching
  • System-wide curriculum for academic and behavior intervention such as RTI and positive behavior supports
  • Limiting the number of building to building transitions students in special education make
  • More feedback from under-represented voices
  • Other topics included more training time, more opportunities for parents to connect and feel welcome, community partnerships, being assigned based on your expertise, technology, Universal Design, equity in electives and curriculum in special education (Pioneer Special Schools in particular), and adopting ODE modified diploma standards. I am barely scratching the surface in variety of responses.

One of the highlights for me out of the two days was the presentation on Universal Design given by William Macklin from the assistive technology team. In all honesty I thought his presentation was a bit heavy on the overpriced computer software for reading but overall it made me feel better as a parent that Universal Design exists in the vocabulary at PPS.

After his presentation I had a reality check moment when I asked an administrator and teacher I was talking with about ensuring that all of the schools knew about the Universal Design technology PPS already had available for teachers. The response was that if everyone knew it existed then there would not be enough for everyone to access. The other snag with assistive technology is that only students who qualify can actually use the technology. Getting qualified requires more of that educational engineering on the part of parents and teachers that are actually aware the resources exist. There has to be a better way!

The next steps are that stakeholders meet again in February to begin action planning with the facilitators and PPS. I really hope that positive steps forward are the result of this audit and stakeholder process. I am still new enough to the public education process that I can still hope while being politely irritating (insert responses about my face in the dictionary under gullible in the comments:) ) . I left the two day event feeling positive but with even more questions and reservations about what this change to Integrated Student Services is going to look like. The director of Integrated Services started a blog and has a post about the finer details of the two-day event.

This was just a summary of my take on the two day event. I would love to hear from others who attended and everyone who has a stake in this.

Question: I am part of a subcommittee with the state looking at how to improve the quality of life for children with autism in Oregon. One of the recommendations is mentoring high school kids to become autism and behavior consultants. There are not nearly enough consultants in the state and the CDC just announced the numbers have increased to 1 in 110 children having autism nationwide. What do you think about electives or focus options being offered in topics like autism and behavior analysis?

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.

5 Comments

This Week in PPS: Parent Union kickoff


Download audio, subscribe to the podcast, or listen here:

Stephanie Hunter, Shalonda Menefee
Stephannie Hunter and Shalonda Menefee

A report from the PPS Parent Union kickoff weekend, with Sheila Warren, Stephanie Hunter, Ken Libby Shalonda Menefee and more.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

Comments Off

Pioneer questions persist

Note:The author and her son were featured in a recent story in Willamette Week by Beth Slovic. –Ed.

I am a parent of a son who supposedly graduated from Pioneer this year. I have tried for years to advocate for the students at Pioneer by letters, e-mails and being on several PPS committees. It has been very difficult to get any response. Over a year and a half ago a dozen or so Pioneer parents wrote a very nice four page letter expressing some concerns about Pioneer. We got no response. I followed it a week or so later with an e-mail and the letter as an attachment. We got no response. Since then several of us have e-mailed the superintendent and the board with no response. I had always thought there was some sort of legal requirement for district officials to respond, but apparently not.

As our son moved toward graduation last spring I asked the vice principal of the Holladay Annex if he would go over our son’s credits with me as they where not posted on his eSIS diploma page the way they usually are for PPS students. As the vice principal fumbled around trying to explain how our son could have gotten credits, two things were clear. One, the vice principal had no written record of our son’s credits as they align with the credits needed to graduate with a modified diploma as listed on the PPS website & the ODE website. And two, the vice principal had no idea what the required credits for graduating with a modified diploma even were. Since that day my husband and I have gone up and down the hierarchy ladder of PPS asking for someone to explain our son’s credits. Here it is now almost October and we still don’t have any documentation of his credits and how they align with the state requirements. The last we heard about it was from the new Chief Academic Officer Xavier Botana telling us that by e-mail that “We expect to be looking at all of (his) needs as part of the IEP development”. So we’re being told to wait for an IEP meeting to find out if my son has his credits to have graduated from high school this last school year.

So, I have been asking for someone to explain my son graduating credits to me since early June and have yet to have anyone explain them to me. Even his eSIS diploma page still says he is missing credits.

To be truthful, I know why they do not want to talk to me. In my looking into diploma requirements I kept coming across the OARs and other laws that confirmed what I had already thought about how the district was neglecting the education of the students placed at Pioneer. Two weeks prior to my son’s graduation I sent a letter to many of the PPS officials that had refused to discuss credits with us. I have also sent the letter to the School Board with, of course, no response. I believe that these are extremely serious questions. This doesn’t just affect our son; this is how the district has been neglecting the education of Pioneer students for years.

In the letter I asked PPS, from the school vice principal on up to the superintendent and the school board, these eleven questions on July 24th and have yet to receive any answer:

  1. If Pioneer isn’t a school, what “school” is our son graduating from? (The Director of Special Education, Joanne Mabbott, informed me earlier that Pioneer did not get all the same things as other schools because it isn’t a “school”, it’s a “program”.)
  2. If Pioneer isn’t an accredited school, how can they give out credits?
  3. If Pioneer can’t give out credits, how can they give out diplomas?
  4. Oregon law states that core curriculum needs to be taught by a “highly qualified “teacher for students to be able to receive credits for a modified and/or a standard diploma. How can Pioneer students receive credits when the teachers are SPED teachers?
  5. How has our son earned his required credits for graduation when he hasn’t had access to the required courses?
  6. Why hasn’t our son had access to many courses, Pathways included, even though there is nothing in his IEP that states that the courses would need to be modified or deleted? (required by law)
  7. Why have the courses that our son has taken not followed the PPS curriculum or aligned with the PPS grade level standards? (required by law)
  8. Why wasn’t our son able to take three electives within this Pathways choice as required for graduation? (Pioneer has no electives at all! Graduating with a modified diploma he should have had twelve electives.)
  9. Why has our son received no career or Pathways counseling? (required by law)
  10. Why has our son received no help to write and implement an Education Plan; not to be confused with an IEP? (required by law) (And, yes, we know that an IEP can be used as an Education Plan, but it would need to have all the components of an Education Plan written within to qualify. Our son’s IEP does not qualify as an Education Plan.)
  11. Why didn’t our son get any career experience or career learning in his areas of interest? (required by law)

Joanne Mabbott had promised another parent and me back in June that there would be a Pioneer Community Forum Meeting so Pioneer parents could voice their concerns about problems at Pioneer near the end of August. Now we are being told that there will be no meeting and Pioneer parents could come to the Special Education Audit Stakeholders meeting instead.

The Pioneer Staff also recently asked to speak with district administrators and Joanne Mabbott refused to speak with them.

How do we get the district to respond?

Polly Zagone is a PPS parent.

16 Comments

Special education law and advocacy training conference

The Autism Association of Oregon (ASO) is presenting Peter Wright of Wrightslaw in a one day special education law and advocacy training conference October 29 in Portland. Details of the program and online registration are available at the ASO Web site.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

2 Comments

Universal Design and Modified Curriculum

I have posted before and testified to the school board about the importance of a strong commitment to making schools ADA accessible so the policy that all PPS students have the right to go to their neighborhood school will actually be true.

When the city begins to make these changes it is going to be important to use a universal design approach to updating buildings, classrooms, and communities.

Universal design is a broad solution to accessibility issues where you modify buildings, products, and environments that everyone benefits from; not just people with disabilities. We already have a lot of examples of universal design in our city. The most common example is curb cuts in the sidewalk. People in wheelchairs benefit, cyclists, strollers, people with joint problems, young children, and joggers. Automatic doors are a great help for people with disabilities and nowadays we actually notice when a grocery store does not have an automatic door vs. when they do. Other examples: touch screen tests, closed captioning, books on CD, online classes, choice of languages on electronic equipment, low ramp busses, icons and noises at crosswalks. These things most of us take for granted but they help others a great deal.

Universal design in schools provides benefits for all learners and the modifications a student with a disability might need could also benefit a non-disabled student in other ways. The focus of universal design requires you to gather facts about your learners before you teach them. You will look at the content including academic and social goals of the lesson, the process and how the students engage in learning, how the students will demonstrate the learning, and then also within the process of instruction you will need to look at social, physical, and environmental supports. I will stop here for a moment to throw in a sidebar: Currently, what I feel may be more common is that a general education teacher does not have the academic flexibility to gather information about ANY of their learners much less consider how to apply principles of universal design. Special education departments are undertrained and understaffed and it is hard for a general education teacher and a special education teacher to collaborate in meaningful ways. In a perfect world, every classroom would have both a general education and special education teacher in the same room teaching all the students. An unsupported teacher gets between a rock and a hard place and modifying curriculum and environments is backburnered. The child with the disability is usually the one whose needs are considered last in the absence of resources for all. Disclaimer: I feel strongly that teachers are the salt of the earth and we don’t even know the half of what they do to educate our kids creatively with next to nothing in the way of resources. With that said, a few teachers just don’t want a kid with a disability in their class and will either purposely or with ignorant intent sabotage the experience so the child will be removed into a segregated setting more often during the day or completely into a new school or self-contained classroom. Some school are notorious for dumping kids into segregated placement for behavior they would not even blink at in the general education population. Unfortunately, we place above average expectations of behavior on children with disabilities but have low expectation about what we will teach them or allow them to experience.

Universal design encompasses both widespread structural changes but also creative solutions that are right under our nose.
Here are some examples of creative solutions that benefit all kids in the classroom:
Alpha-smarts are mini word processors that have helped a lot of kids who have a hard time with writing or getting homework in. Give the kid in the class that takes the best notes some carbon paper so the child that cannot both listen to the teacher and write at the same time can have notes. Have the kids sit on exercise balls at their desks so the kids with ADHD can wake up their butts and everyone has better posture. Use colored carpet squares so the kids with autism can have a defined space but everyone knows where they need to be. Have the kid with the wheelchair use his tray board as the desk for other kids to dissect their frogs on. Use station learning with different choices about how to convey the concepts based on multiple intelligences. Pair the kid who is best at math with the kid that needs help; the student as teacher will cement the learning in a new way and the student being helped will be able to learn from a peer model. Many teachers have found that the best way to figure out how to modify curriculum is to expose students in general education to students with disabilities and then ask the kids how they think they can help their peers learn the material.

Kids get it when we give them a chance.

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.

2 Comments

Support House Bill 2944: Parents know what is best for their kids!

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that parents are presumed to act in the best interests of their children. So how come when parents act in their child’s best interest the IEP team brings in more and more bodies to fill the room to outnumber you in placement decisions?

On April 15th there is a hearing scheduled at 1pm in support of HB 2944 in Salem. This bill brings into the forefront the law that parents are presumed to act in the best interest of their children and sends a message to the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon school districts that the legislature is taking notice of their intimidation tactics in IEP meetings. Right now, if a parent questions a placement decision as too restrictive many school districts will bring in more and more “experts” to tell you what is best for your child. Parents understandably cave in to the pressure and this bill is a step in reclaiming our status as the true experts on our kids.

You can email your stories to Cynthia at westsidefamily@verizon.net and if you are able to show up and deliver it in person at the hearing in Salem or just sit in for support and larger numbers then email Cynthia and there is possibly some carpooling from the Lake Oswego area. This is your chance to get your stories in the hands of the lawmakers!!!

This bill is being sponsored by Rep. Chris Garrett and is supported by Rep. Sara Gelser and there may be others as well and I can add their names if I find out.

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.

8 Comments

Support MECP in person at the school board meeting April 13th

As I stated in a previous blog post Multnomah Early Childhood Program has been notified by PPS that they will not be renewing the contract for early intervention evaluations and PPS plans to take this over. MECP has a streamlined, cohesive, family-friendly, child empowering, and working system in place. This change will affect a lot of families and the risk of children unprepared for Kindergarten is at risk of increasing not to mention the philosophical difference I noted in my blog post.

This will be a showing support for the citizen comment section at the April 13th meeting on MECP. PPS is supposed to give MECP the final word on renewal next week and it is important that we show our support for good programs that work and we show it in person and in quantity.

The school board meeting is at 7pm at 501 N. Dixon in Portland. You can email me at stephanie.c.hunter@gmail.com if you want more information or if you would like to testify and need some input.

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.

10 Comments

Please no MORE, just the SAME for students with disabilities

In the early 1970’s the Pennsylvania ARC won a court case that allowed children with disabilities the right to a public education. Their attorney Thomas Gilhool used the precedent set by Brown v. Board of education in 1954 that separate but equal was inherently unequal. In 1973 the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed and people with disabilities were given legal protection for the first time. Section 504 of this Act prohibited discrimination based on disability in any program receiving federal funds. It took a lot of effort on the parts of advocates to get the regulations written and this finally happened in 1977. In 1974 the Amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act addressed issues related to students with disabilities and this led in 1975 to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which provides for a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities. This law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990. Also in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed finally giving full legal equality to people with disabilities.

While all of this history was being made there were still children being placed in institutions into the 1970’s. When a mother gave birth to a child with a disability the physician commonly recommended immediate placement into the institution and to forget about the child and go have more babies. If the parent did not take this advice the child was still relatively invisible even if you were a part of the parent movement. Even if you did not put your child away you eventually had to send them to the institution for their services because that was the only way to get specialized medical help. When you watch a film from the 50’s and 60’s about Oregon’s Institution the Fairview Training Center (Once called the Institute for the Feeble Minded) you see rows and rows of infants in cribs and nurses in crisp uniforms. You see children no older than 4 in a stark white room with a few dolls and some balls. Fairview Training Center did not close until 2000. I worked with people that had been placed in Fairview as young children and had lived there 40 years and often more. They had no friends and their family had been told to forget about them a long time ago. I read reports about people that entered Fairview walking, talking, and with skills and now this person was in a wheelchair, could not talk, and could not even do the most basic things for themselves.

When do we get to at least start having the conversations about implementing the ADA in public buildings and places? I often get asked, “What about buildings that were built before the ADA was made into law? That will cost a lot of money.” Well schools were supposed to be equalized by federal funding since 1973 and the ADA brought more regulation in 1990; how many more years can we get out of that excuse? When there is talk about minorities, diversity, and equity people with disabilities are not always included. Important, life changing decisions are made for people with physical, medical, cognitive, and acquired disabilities all the time without their consent or opinion. Parents hear, “Your child’s needs are going to be best served in this special classroom with other kids like them. I am a professional you know and evidence based best practices say that this is best for your child.” This logic sounds a little bit like those doctors back in the day that said, “This is the best place for your child with people like them. Go home, have more kids and forget about this one. “We already did that and it wasn’t very nice.

Special education pull-outs from general education are supposed to be a pit stop to gain some skills and quickly get back into the race; not a place you stay your entire school career. These pull-outs from general education currently are a door that closes once you step through it. These children might be sheltered and warehoused in separate wings, portables on the playground, converted locker rooms, basements. Their classrooms are prone to change to new buildings from one year to the next forcing children to transfer. Children with IEP’s do not have the same rights as other children to attend their neighborhood school. If you have a disability and live across the street from a school they will short bus you all the way across town anyway. They will have a variety of reasons for this. Some of them are ADA related or there simply is not a classroom that will meet the needs of the child according to the IEP team. A parent that wants something different has to seek due process. We are discussing transfer options at length and there are some students in PPS that would just like to attend their neighborhood school and they are told NO.

Don’t strategize how you can give people more services to “fix” them, throw more pots of money at them, plan how to give them “special” opportunities to be equitably distributed, and don’t immerse them with people of “their” kind and let them prove to you in segregation with lack of peer models that they “deserve” to be with everyone else. Please no MORE, People with disabilities (teachers, parents, students, staff, citizens) should have the same right to complain about their neighborhood school like everyone else. Students should be able to attend in the neighborhood. Parents in wheelchairs should be able to have access to their child’s school. Administrators, teachers, and staff in wheelchairs should have the opportunity to work in any school they wish.

Please do continue to give people with disabilities a voice in the forum that includes minorities and diversity but only the same, not more. Allow them to have similar joys and worries any student, parent, teacher, citizen might have.

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.

8 Comments

Charters and PPS

Responding to the recent audit of PPS charter schools, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith had this to say:

“The track record of PPS charter schools — and of the district’s success in managing and partnering with those schools — is a mixed bag. After 10 years, it is time for a deep and thoughtful assessment of charter schools, in theory and in practice.”

Given the Board’s rejection of the most recent charter applications, it looks like the worm might be turning. Odd timing, given the rest of the country under our new President is going ga-ga over charters.

Full disclosure: my daughter attends Trillium right now. There are lot of great things about the school, e.g., not holding kids to artificial benchmarks, integrating art and music across the curriculum, theme-based education that ties in different learning styles, project-based learning, and allowing kids to choose things they are interested in learning and then giving them time and support to pursue these things. As an educator and parent, I appreciate these forms of pedagogy.

But as an activist, I question the role of charters and worry about their draining effect on neighborhood schools. On this blog, Rose and Stephanie have shared information about the way kids with IEP’s and kids with disabilities are served by PPS. The way charters handle this concerns me even more.

I think we as a community need to look carefully at the charter movement here in PPS. Is there a way that charters can become community partners, or will they always serve a niche? And why?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

222 Comments

« Previous Entries