Closed Mediation, Hidden Resolution

In the last blog post Environment IS Everything! I told you about this wonderful charter school, CDL, that my daughter was attending and how well she was doing. Since CDL was a K-12 school, you would think that this would be the end of the story. Unfortunately, it is not. This is a story of pain and angst for my family with a glimmer of hope.

In January 2005, the school district decided to close CDL because student test scores were not high enough. The school board, however, realized that many students in the school needed an environment like CDL and told the superintendent of schools to create an option school to replace it. CDL parents and educators spent hours explaining to the district and its representatives how CDL was currently meeting the needs of their students and that these needs still needed to be met in the new school.

Sadly, this information fell on deaf ears. No one listened and the new school did not meet the needs of the students from CDL. It was basically a traditional school with 7 classes a day. Almost all of the teachers from CDL were fired. The new teachers did not understand students who learn differently and received no preparation before the school year started. Many previous CDL students left and found other schools. We had no other school for Elizabeth to attend.

By November of Elizabeth’s first semester at the new school, she was leaving school every day in tears. In fact, I removed her from school so that she would not become further traumatized. I sent a letter to the area superintendent telling him that Elizabeth would not return to school until a solution could be reached. He actually told me that this was a good idea and not to worry about the time she was missing. After a couple of weeks, the school was able to put some supports in place and Elizabeth was able to return. Luckily, this was a triennial year and Elizabeth was fully evaluated. I was assigned a person from the district who was a specialist in writing IEPs to work with me to make sure that Elizabeth’s IEP was thorough and complete. I was also assigned a different area superintendent to manage the IEP process and to investigate the placement options for Elizabeth for high school. It was obvious that her current placement was not going to work.

I visited every school that the area superintendent recommended, even one for children with cognitive challenges. Every principal/special education teacher I met said that their school could not meet Elizabeth’s needs. So, we started looking into private school options. After researching many private schools, we found one that appeared to meet Elizabeth’s needs. At this point, the school started to hem and haw about Elizabeth’s placement. The area superintendent actually told us that the district did not place children in private schools. We knew that this not what was stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). We knew that if the school district could not offer a placement in the public school setting that would meet the educational needs of a child, then they had to pay for a private placement.

With tears, frustration, and anger, we hired an attorney. The attorney explained to us what due process is and how it is very expensive and, if possible, should be avoided. We found out that we should have an official placement meeting. In this meeting, the school district is supposed to tell you what placement they believe will meet the needs of your child.

We had a placement meeting. The school district said that they could accommodate Elizabeth’s needs, yet they did not put forward an official placement. The only documentation provided about the potential schools in the district was provided by me. Even though the teachers and administrators at the placement meeting had talked to me privately and told me that there was not a good placement within the district for Elizabeth, none were willing to say this at the meeting. We left the meeting with no placement for Elizabeth.

A recommended step (in some states required) before filing for due process is mediation. This is where a trained mediator hired by the state department of education tries to help the school district and parents reach an agreement. Mediations are confidential and private.

We had a mediation meeting. The list of the attendees was: us, our attorney, the district’s attorney, the area superintendent, and the mediator. At the end of this very long mediation meeting, we finally had an agreement. Elizabeth would attend the private school called Humanex Academy. We would pay part of the tuition and the district would pay the other part of the tuition. Please NOTE: I did not say we had a placement for Elizabeth. The district did not want it public knowledge that the district placed a child in a private school, so there was a contract negotiated between the school district and us. The contract had a non-disclosure statement and specifically stated that this was not an official placement.

As with CDL, the environment at this school helped Elizabeth greatly. Even though Humanex did not have block learning, they did have individualized learning, an excellent staff, and a school counselor who was awesome. This wonderful team worked with Elizabeth to overcome the trauma from the last school and soon she began to enjoy learning again.