The Re-discrimination of Disabled Students

On July 10th, The New York Times had an interesting article by Michael Winerip about a disabled child forced out of a charter school.  This charter was founded by a woman named Eva Moskowitz who founded her Harlem Success Academy to supposedly give high need students a choice.  Well, this charter school gave this child little choice but to leave and ended up treating the child like a leper. You can read the story here.   However, when I read this article it came as no surprise to me.  I know a special education teacher who works during the summer for one of the city’s ten Committees on Special Education.  These offices are in charge of holding IEP meetings for students who attend private schools, parochial schools, charter schools, and New York State approved nonpublic schools that provide services to the disabled.  Many of the private/charter schools have students who receive special educational services paid for by the Department of Education.  Therefore, they need a special type of individual educational program which allows parents to find a provider that serves the child either at home or within the school itself during the day.  It should be noted that several charters do provide minimal special educational services, such as Harlem Success, but because they do not have IEP teams within their school, the meetings must be held in these CSEs.

Well, this special education teacher has repeatedly told me of his dealings with these charter schools.  If a child is not a problem to them, they usually do not attend the yearly meetings to update a student’s IEP.  However, the CSE appears to always have a lot of difficulty acquiring updated teacher reports and service provider reports from these charters.  Although the CSE requests these reports in advance of the meeting, the parent often have to take the initiative and do the legwork necessary to get progress reports and updated goals from service providers in these charters.  On the other hand, if a student receives a special education service, but continues to have academic difficulty, the charter convinces the parent to ask the CSE to re evaluate the student (because most do not believe in investing in personnel that will conduct multidisciplinary assessments within the charter itself).  When these CSEs have IEP meetings for these students, the charters always send their “educational director” to the meeting.  The purpose of this person is to make sure the CSE recommends a special education program that the school does not have, so he or she can counsel the parent into leaving the school.  This looks so much nicer than the school expelling the student because of a disability. The parent decides “by her own free will” to leave the school so that the child can get needed services which are often within a public school.

This special educator told me of a situation last year in which the IEP team disagreed with the charter.  The CSEs IEP team felt that if the charter’s resource room teacher used a more multisensory approach to teach decoding skills, it might make a difference.  The charter disagreed saying that their resource room teacher can’t take the time to teach this child differently than the other students that were being served.  I found this situation to be very interesting because I always thought that the charters claimed that they can differentiate instruction better than those tired old public school teachers.  When, at the end of the meeting, the district representative for the IEP team decided that the child’s present level of services were appropriate to meet his needs, this educational director said to the parent that he had no choice but to “terminate the contract we have with you because the agreement was that you (the parent) had to ensure that your child would achieve at a certain level.

Simply, what transpired at the end of that IEP meeting between the parent and the charter’s educational director was nothing less than discrimination and the school got away with it.  If a public school administrator said such a thing to a parent, he or she would probably be brought up on charges and subsequently fired.  I have a problem with these charter schools that are accepting public money and yet are forcing disabled students out of their schools.  To me, if a school accepts public money, they have to accept and work with all students.  If a charter refuses to take that public money and create programs that can serve a wide variety of disabled students through a continuum of services (which the Federal law states public schools must do), then these charters should not be given any public money.   Furthermore, parents must be willing to take these schools into court and charge them with discrimination.

At this point, the state and the Feds do nothing about the rediscrimination of the disabled by these charters.  There cannot be two different standards–one for public schools and one for charters.  The Individual Disability Education Act which governs disabled children in this country is clear.  If you accept public money, you must serve “all” disabled students.  Those who want to privatize education are smart.  It is in their interest that disabled children not be served by their beloved charters so they can inflate the school’s achievement scores and they also know that most parents–especially of high needs students, do not have the sophistication to legally challenge these schools.  It is no wonder that these schools do not have multidisciplinary teams that would tell parents their legal rights.  Simply, these charters do not want such parents to know their rights.  Here are these charters who claim that they care more for the education of kids in poverty, but in reality treat certain parents–those of disabled children–with complete arrogance and disrespect.  It is the attitude that we know what is best for your child.  I have news for such charter schools. The Federal law governing disabled students has a very different philosophy. It is the philosophy that the parent is a partner in determining the educational needs of a student.  An IEP meeting is not legal unless a parent participates and know their due process rights in case of a disagreement.

What is going to happen to disabled students if government entities allow charters to discriminate and at the same time defund public schools which will result in programs and services being cut for such children?  Secondly, with public school teachers being evaluated based upon student achievement, teachers will not want to become special educators in fear that the they will not be able to get such children to achieve at a level mandated by a district.  Are you going to fire a special educator someday because NCLB states that by 2014 all children must be proficient on an “invalid and unreliable” state assessment? Do those in power really believe they can get “all” children who are autistic, have traumatic brain injury, or have significant pervasive developmental disabilities on grade level in math and reading?  If they do, then why do we even need special education when supposedly by a stroke of a pen “all” kid will be at grade level in just a few short years.  Any law, such as NCLB or any rating system that asks for the impossible is disingenuous and really has another type of agenda.  It is an agenda that will cause irreparable harm to disabled students and those public school teachers who devote their lives to serve them.