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By Brenda Rogers, MA/ABD 
 
How many instances of procedural non-compliance does it take to make an institution lawless?  
 
When I think about the issues in IEPs I've dealt with this year, I am dismayed by procedural lawlessness. School districts are blowing timelines out of the water. For instance, one school district decided to ignore a written assessment request for seven months before conducting an assessment. Then, an assessment was conducted without a valid consent to assess form signed by a parent. This procedural "do what you want" operating standard is a problem for the public. The public school is a core government agency. When core government agencies do not consider procedural law important in performing core government functions, is the community faced with a lawless public institution?
 
Law and order in society is important. Procedural law in special education exists so that disabled students can expect to have their needs met within a time frame that addresses the need for developmentally appropriately intervention and intervention that helps slow the rate of educational loss. Not addressing assessment requests within the legal time limit means that disabled students may fall further and further behind without having their needs met. In the long run, this could produce a loss of educational benefit. Students with reading disorders, for example, may have their reading problems ignored for several years before receiving any intervention (and this is when parents choose to advocate for their children). Some people leave high school unable to read and some people leave high school with very low reading skills. It is the community that receives these young adults. The school gives the community young adults that are ill prepared for independence. 
 
The school and the school district must be held accountable for procedural compliance with law in special education. As community members, don't we have a right to demand our public institutions comply with procedural law? 
 
 
The Need for Public Oversight
 
The IEP is a wonderful document. I'm truly grateful to those wonderful people that created the Education for All Handicapped Act. There was a time when disabled children were not allowed to go to school. The EHA, and its predecessor, IDEA are truly wonderful laws. These laws afford disabled children the right to be in school and the right to fair treatment. 
 
However, special education does not enjoy the same public scrutiny that the prison system enjoys. Watchdog organizations and public oversight help keep state power in check within the corrections system. Special education operates with less accountability than the prison system. The IEP is a private document and the systematic procedural violations of law committed by schools systems are done in private. Parents experience these procedural violations in seclusion. Little, if any, of this lawlessness is reported to state agencies and most parents do not even know their rights have been violated. 
 
This secrecy and lack of public accountability for procedural lawlessness is unacceptable. Children with disabilities should be treated with least as much accountability as someone in the prison system.  Procedural compliance with law in special education needs to be an important issue in education. There has to be a way to get public oversight over procedural practices. We need IEP police
 
The IEP Police
 
The IDEA assigns a parent as a child's advocate. The IDEA assigns the parent as the advocate because the law acknowledges that school systems make decisions based upon budgetary concerns. Only the parent, in the IEP meeting, holds the child's interests as a primary concern over budgets.   
 
Parents need to make sure they read their rights. Parents also need to know what rules the school has to follow in administering special education. I recently reviewed a case where the school did not follow procedural law and the parent had to advocate for the child. From this experience, I decided to start writing about the importance of procedural law in special education. 
 
Anyone with an IEP needs a triennial assessment every three years because the law requires it. This is also good practice to ensure a student has a meaningful IEP. I recently consulted on a case where the school district was out of compliance for the triennial evaluation. The student's last evaluation was in elementary school but the student is now in high school. In this case, the student's goals were the same for the last four years. It makes sense that the goals never changed because there were no new assessments to create new baseline data for new goals. The parents had to be the IEP Police and ensure that the school comply with procedural law. 
 
When the school does not comply with procedural law in California, parents can file a state procedural compliance complaint. Parents have the right to file this complaint and get the department of education to force the school to follow procedural law. In cases where procedures were not followed and the child's IEP was not implemented, the department of education can correct the situation. For example, if the child was denied speech and language therapy for most of the school year but should have received speech services 3x per week for 30 minutes each session, these sessions need to be made up. The child has the right to those missed sessions and all pending sessions. The department of education has the ability to make the school implement the IEP and provide compensatory services. Please file a state procedural compliance complaint when the school does not follow the law.
 
Be the IEP Police for your child!!!  
 
 Do You Need An Advocate? 
 
I think that advocates are critically necessary in an institutional society. I believe parents that face difficult circumstances surrounding their child's education need access to advocates for guidance, information, advice and the consulting services of a special education advocate. Parents that have access to the information, advice and guidance of an advocate are better equipped to make informed decisions for their children. 
 
Some Humor  
 
The following cartoon represents one perspective on the use of psychostimulant medication in children diagnosed with a disability. For parents facing a situation like the one represented in this cartoon, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes it illegal to deny a child an education because parents will not give the child psychostimulant medication. Some parents are against medication and others consider medication an important part of treatment. At ACE, we respect the freedom of each parent to form their own opinion about the use of psychostimulant medications. 
 
 

One Path to Low Wage Labor 

The following poster is from the Women's Movement of the 1920's and was displayed at the Washington DC Smithsonian Historical Museum. This poster about child labor makes me think about the human product of modern American public schools. In some cases, the product of an American public school education is the destruction of a person's self-image and the ruin of potential. 
 
Systematic lawless administration of special education is the number one problem for students with IEPs and students needing special education intervention. If the school system would follow procedural law, then over half the conflicts in special education would not exist.  For example, I have a case where a student is in 3rd grade but reads at a 1st grade level. I was called because the child was over a year below grade level in reading. The student's mother explained that she had asked for a special education assessment early in 1st grade but nothing was done. Then, mom asked for a special education assessment early in second grade, by writing a letter, but nothing was done. I advised mom to write another letter requesting assessment and take the letter to the special education department at the distract office. Then, I advised mom to get that letter date stamped received by the district office.
 
The next thing that happened was that the mother got an assessment plan and the student was assessed. The student qualified for special education as learning disabled. By the time we got the child reading intervention, the child was two years below grade level in reading.
 
This gap between reading ability and grade level is a serious problem for this student. This student is learning about who he is, as a person, from the experience of sitting in a third grade classroom unable to read what every other kid in that class is reading. In fact, this student cannot even read the tests and quizzes handed out in class. The student failed his quizzes and tests because he can't read them. We had to attend an IEP meeting to request the accommodation that an aid or RSP teacher read all quizzes and tests to the student because the student cannot read. What does the experience of being the only non-reader in 3rd grade teach this child about himself?
 
This situation could have been prevented. Had the school assessed when the mother first requested (as required by law), the student would not be two years behind. This child's failure in 3rd grade is caused by the school's lawlessness of refusing to assess a child when the parent makes the referral for special needs assessment. The school violated child find procedural law. 
 
The worst thing about this situation is that this child is not alone. This same situation is happening to children in every district within every state across the country. Systemic school failure is a group experience caused by school personnel systematic non compliance with procedural law. 
 
So, I ask: "Can lawless administration of special education produce the same human junk represented in this poster below? There is a popular saying in New Orleans that claims: "prison's estimate their future population density based upon the rate of non-reading boys in 4th grade." Katie Sanders reports that "...the Nevada Department of Corrections..." revealed that California uses the number of non-readers in 3rd grade to estimates prison populations (http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2013/jul/16/kathleen-ford/kathleen-ford-says-private-prisons-use-third-grade/).  How much different is the compulsory education system for learning disabled special education students of 2017 than the factory labor system for poor children in the 1930's?
 
Many learning disabled students enter school as good human material. These students enter school feeling good about themselves. These students want to please their teachers. Then, the process of schooling teaches these students that they are failures and bad students. Children learn to see themselves as bad people. Often children come home and tell their parents "I'm stupid and no-one likes me."  The school experience starts the process of learned self-hatred and if this process is left unchecked, the school produces barely literate adults who believe their personal failure is their own fault. Through the process of systemic lawlessness, the American school system takes advantage of the weaker students within the system and produces an underclass of docile young adults prepared only for a future of low-wage labor. 
 
 

 
 Smithsonian 

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