Throw away kids, dyslexic and discarded

 
Due to the consistent lack of trained reading instruction* for dyslexic children, the following true stories are all too typical of schools in the Bay Area and across the nation,  A local special education lawyer tells me about her work.  Here is her story.
"My practice has been consumed recently with children who have been under served and then discarded.  At some point, the District realizes that they have failed these children and instead of working harder to educate them, they wash their hands of them by way of expulsion.   Unfortunately, when I get them relief, the first thing the District does, is require a confidentiality agreement to avoid the shame and embarrassment of admitting what they did.  I can offer hypothetical examples because of the confidentiality agreements, but it's a huge issue that warrants further exploration."
 
For example, Maria transfers into a district as a 10th grader.  Maria's parents inform the school district that she has a learning disability.  The testing is extremely outdated and district has the parents sign assessment plan, The school never completes the assessment.  They note the triennial is due in later that year. 
 
Maria is placed in special day classes (with no testing to support placement), but doesn't really get any support. 
 
Discipline records note Maria was sent to office for not being prepared for class that is supposed to prepare her! Maria starts cutting classes, but no SARB (School Attendance Review Board) referral was sent to parents even after over 30 absences.  Maria is caught cutting class in park, then she is suspended. 
 
School staff discusses a "behavior plan" for attendance and discusses SARB with parents, but does nothing.  A few days after Maria returns from suspension, she's referred for expulsion for "hanging out in park and smelling like marijuana", however there is no actual possession, not even paraphernalia evidence to suggest actual drug use. 
 
Maria's mother is so upset with school, she withdraws Maria.  The school district hold manifestation determination AFTER Maria withdraws. District neglects to notify the parents and cannot produce any proof they even tried to contact parents. 
 
The IEP team "conveniently" finds that Maria's behavior is not (1) related to disability (how do they know about the disability if they never tested?) and (2) not related to failure to implement IEP (behavior plan discussed, but never implemented).  Maria was referred for expulsion and expelled. The mother didn't attend  the suspension hearing because Maria had withdrawn by that time.  Maria's parents did not realize that this expulsion would come back to haunt them.  No other school would take Maria nor could she return to her district because of expulsion.
 
Eventually, Maria returns to the school district  two years later after several failed attempts at other districts.  The district pulls up conditions from prior expulsion (however the conditions were never met because the student had withdrawn) and tries to expel student again for not complying with the conditions of the previous expulsion as soon as enrollment is started.  Maria, now seven to eight grade levels behind in reading /language arts (they finally do the testing) and hasn't been in the District for more than a month, before District starts trying to expel again. 
 
In the IEP meeting, the District does not have a transition plan that addresses "self sufficiency",  the IEP notes, "Maria cannot drive" (because she cannot pass the written drivers exam) , no employment experience and transition goal is "student will take a class (not obtain AA degree) at a community college."  Maria can't pass the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) .  In fact, at the IEPmeeting, the English teacher admits that the Special Day Class (SDC) does not read any books, do any written reports or projects and gets no homework.  Maria is passing because the only assignment is learning 10 vocabulary words, making collages, and reading in class.  Maria is rarely called on.
 
After Due Process is filed to prevent 2nd expulsion, the District agrees to fund a non-public school placement that serves dyslexic students, like Maria, because they don't have a multi-sensory program, They give her parents enough money to fund an NPS placement that serves dyslexic students.  The District conceded Maria will be considered "functionally illiterate" if she doesn't improve reading to at least sixth grade level and her transition plan is severely lacking.  District realizes that Maria will be stuck there until age 22 because passing the CAHSEE will be impossible as she reads at 4th grade and they're doing nothing to improve reading.  Maria's parents rightly refused to accept a worthless certificate of completion in lieu of a high school diploma.
 
 Here is Mason's story. Mason had severe reading problems that were identified in first grade.  He was held back in fifth grade.  By sixth grade, Mason was cutting school and stealing Jack Daniels from the local grocery store and drinking at school.  By seventh grade, Mason was using a coke can as a weed bong in the bathroom.   Mason was continually suspended from school.

In the mean time  school district was eventually sued via class action  for suspending kids without holding manifestation determination hearings. The class action suit resulted in Mason  finally getting appropriate tutoring.  He improved but was still many grade levels behind.  However, the tutoring lit a spark in Mason and he was trying really hard. 

Unfortunately, Mason was referred for expulsion, but by this time he was involved in the juvenile delinquency system.  He  was extremely far behind in reading.  Mason's parents sued his school district and they promised to do better.  Finally, in a confidential settlement agreement and the school agreed to provide lots of compensatory learning services, but a few months later Mason was killed walking home from school.  He never received any of the services. 
 
In general, I see a glaring pattern.   By high school, kids with Learning Disabilities are fully aware of their shortcomings and are forced to choose between being identified as the "cool bad kid" or the "stupid special ed kid"  ....They always choose cool trouble maker, cutting classes and smoking pot.  School districts know they've failed these students early on. 
 
Right now I'm averaging one to two expulsion cases per month.  I think things are getting worse because of the budget cuts.  Schools are slashing Special Day Classes and Resource Specialist Pullout programs and expelling Special Education kids.  A few months ago, I got two in one week.  One School district just cancels the expulsion hearing as soon as I send the representation letter because they know their justification will not hold up in court.  One school district recently told a parent there's no point in fighting because they won't win.  The parents didn't hire me because didn't think they would win.  This kid was only in middle school. 
 
Also, Districts are required to provide alternate placements and expelled Students are still entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education(FAPE).  These alternate placements are nothing but the road to drop out land.*  http://www.sfbg.com/39/04/news_education.html 

In cases where parents can afford it, they can simply provide 10 days notice, place in an non public school at parent expense and file for due process to seek reimbursement.  However, for low income families, those options are not available.  Parents can't afford to place.  In fact, most parents can't even afford to challenge the expulsions then the kids are simply kicked out.  Many of the more serious cases, I have to take at no cost to parents and seek fees from the school district.  I shudder to think of all the kids that don't find me.

Recently, I'm seeing a new phenomenon on the horizon.  They are cases with students who clearly qualify for special education, but are getting expelled before they can be tested.  There are many protections afforded to special education students that are not afforded to regular education students.  Since the School Districts are aware of that, they are abandoning their Child Find (Districts have an affirmative duty to seek out students with special needs and serve them) obligation and expelling before they are tested. 
 
One parent was actively discouraged from having their child tested and he was then referred for expulsion.  Fortunately, the standard for a regular education child to avoid expulsion is whether the District knew or should have known the child has a disability.  I get the expulsion proceedings halted and that child is immediately tested for special education before the District can move forward with the expulsion.  If the child is determined eligible for special education, then all of the Due Process rights help protect that child.
 
The biggest questions after reading Mason and  Maria's story are:
 
 WHY do schools schools promote children who cannot read?  
 
How can these children complete any type of academic work to stay in school?  
 
How can teachers/administrators pass these children along when they are 6-7 grade levels behind? 
 
When parents DO ask questions, why are their concerns are dismissed?
 
Why don't public school implement proven methodology that work for dyslexic children? 
 
*Maria's story:

 

http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-SF-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m5d7-Thow-away-kids-dyslexic-and-discarded

 

For more info*:  http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/may/03/ridge80910/  

http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-SF-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m3d25-Dyslexia-or-dysteachea

http://www.examiner.com/x-4959-SF-Special-Education-Examiner~y2009m3d29-The-best-kept-secret-in-special-education