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State launches special ed review

Original post made on Nov 14, 2013

In an emotional meeting Tuesday night, about 50 parents of Palo Alto special education students recounted their children's school experiences to state officials, who are in the process of "verifying" whether Palo Alto's special education program meets legal requirements.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, November 14, 2013, 2:53 PM

Comments (46)

Posted by hmmm
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

"Two parents who recently moved to Palo Alto from other school districts said they found special education services here to be far superior to services at their previous districts, one describing Palo Alto's program as "a dream come true," despite occasional disappointments."

Obviously district employees!

Posted by Comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm

@hmmm: No, not obviously district employees. Despite the chattering on these forums, there are dedicated, trained special education employees who do a very good job and often get no recognition.

Posted by Palo Verde
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I find very fishy that not all parents were invited to this important meeting, especially not the parents who have raised concerns about special education issues such us the parents who protested outside Gunn High School, they were not invited either. Could it be that Special Education Director Holy Wade decided not to invite them so they would not speak negatively about the special ed services they have or have not received. This is the big problem. The district is not transparent. They like to keep things private so no one else knows. I feel like this is not a valid evaluation, because not every special education parent was invited. Only the ones they thought were going to speak on behalf of the district. Thanks for reporting on this event. And thanks to Michelle Dauber for being there for all students.

Posted by Thanks
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

PAUSD is one of 30 districts out of 1000 in California selected for review of special education by the state. The feds are also still investigating. That's after finding that the district violated the civil rights of a special education student.
I have to ask, What is going on here? Why do we have one of the richest school districts in the state, yet our employees cannot seem to follow the law?

Posted by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 6:41 pm

"personally aware of more than a dozen parents who received no notice of this meeting."

Very odd comment. I personally know over 1,000 parents who were invited to this meeting.

Posted by questions
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Our child has been in special Ed for 3 years now. We also never received anything in the mail either?

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:07 pm

The article says that there were about 50 parents present at this meeting. Does that mean the parents of twenty-five students, or one parent for fifty students. The article does not provide any information as to who actually called the meeting. Nor does the article say if it was intended to be for the parents of a select few students--or for all of the parents of Special Education services.

Aren't there supposed to be about 10% of the PAUSD student body in special education programs? That would mean about 2,000 parents would have to be invited. Where would the PAUSD seat all 2,000 of those parents, who would no doubt want to participate in such a meeting?

All-in-all, not a very informative article.

Posted by conspiracy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I don't know why people weren't informed. It does appear strange. I saw several communications through the CAC and other forms as well as the invitation I received through mail. You have to wonder where they get their mailing list from. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Not so special
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Folks, you are to blame. You have helped perpetuate the notion that PAUSD employees are special just because they work in Palo Alto and get paid more than most other districts. The superintendent and his crew are highly paid, the principals run their schools like fiefdoms (site-based!), and the teachers union promotes a sense of entitlement among their members. In reality, we aren't that special. In fact, we are mediocre in quite a few areas, and downright incompetent in others. Special education and all the other messes have happened for a reason. There is no bogeyman out to get us, not the Weekly, not the Daubers, not the Office for Civil Rights, not a few disgruntled parents. The PAUSD system is just not that good.

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I didn't receive a notice and I have 2 children on IEPs. That makes 13 of us. I hope they have another meeting. Can te reporter please post the information where I can send my feedback to the state? Why wasn't everyone notified? The IT in this district is appalling.

Posted by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm

The survey's available here: Web Link
It isn't anonymous and this was made available to the over 1,000 people I personally know received the information.

Posted by Not informed by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

That link was not given out. Not sure if it is the right one or not. They did not require names on the surveys they had at the meeting at all. It was anonymous.

What are you suggesting informed? [Portion removed.]

Posted by 2nd grade dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

My child has an IEP and I didn't know about this until another dad called me about this article, for what it's worth.
75% of students not receiving the services on their IEP is a huge problem. I thought we were the only ones having trouble. This is an eye opener. Thanks for the article.

Posted by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm

It was made available. The link is correct. [Portion removed.]
As was noted in the past, timeliness of notice of the meeting differs from district. It can be impacted by the method of delivery eg: US Mail or notice in child's backpack. All this was covered in the meeting.

Posted by Not informed by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm

[Portion removed.] What was said at the meeting was that nothing was supposed to be sent home in the backpack. The notice was supposed to be via US mail and the first question was about whether there was appropriate notice given in accord with law. The first thing that was uncovered was faulty notice. [Portion removed.]

Parents do not fill in the online link -- an anonymous survey is available . Request it. CDE Procedural Safeguards office; 800- 926-0648.

Posted by Informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I didn't state how Palo Alto notified the district, I stated it varied by district and more significantly based on the mode of delivery. US Mail is preferred and is how Palo Alto handled it. [Portion removed.]

You can request a survey to fill out yourself. The online survey is, obviously not anonymous. Use it, don't use it, it's up to you. It's available.

Posted by informed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Weekly, you're obviously showing your bias with your removals. Try this link, it gets you to the same place. The Sacramento County office of Eduction: Web Link

- Click on the on-line survey at the bottom
- Scroll down and select "Palo Alto Unified"

It notifies you that you have missed the meeting and then asked you to complete the on-line survey. Link is directly available.
If you want to fill it in and send it in, try here: Web Link
It provides the survey in several languages.

You'd think the Weekly wouldn't remove informative links.

Palo Alto Online moderator's comment: No links were removed from the comments made above.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Verification Review is a process by which California Department of Education staff investigate whether or not a district is in compliance with both the substantive and procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law, which was originally enacted in 1975, provides that children with disabilities must receive an IEP (individualized education program). Each child has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE ) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

Although this may sound like a lot of alphabet soup (IDEA, IEP, FAPE, LRE), what it means is that every child, regardless of disability, has the right to a public education. Historically, children with disabilities -- including the deaf and blind -- were excluded from public schools. As a result of the IDEA, all children are entitled to receive public education. Least Restrictive Environment means that the public schools cannot force parents to institutionalize their children in order to obtain that education. It does NOT mean that full inclusion is necessarily the LRE. Some children may need a more restrictive envirornment than mainstream education. They may need smaller class sizes or therapeutic programs. Although "full inclusion" is au courant, if it is a cost-savings measure it may not meet the requirements of the IDEA.

Disabled students and their families have rights under the IDEA -- for example they have the right to have IEP meetings at certain intervals, to have assessments considered in formulating the IEP, to have the services specified on the IEP actually provided, and other rights.

The California Department of Education conducts verification reviews when there is a problem. Contrary to what is reported above, the criteria for conducting a Verification Review (including the one being conducted of PAUSD) is very specific. It can only be conducted in one of three circumstances (and missing data is not one of those):

1. An allegation or reason to believe that a violation(s) of compliance exists based on data from CDE staff responsible for program approval and compliance. VRs may also result from complaint investigations.

2. Rank ordering school district performance on statewide issues (e.g., over-identification of children with disabilities, least restrictive environment, academic performance). School districts subject to VR demonstrate significantly subaverage performance.

3. Deficiencies in compliance identified in previous years and noted again in the current year.

See: Web Link

Data that will be considered in connection with a verification review can include: California Special
Education Management Information system (CASEMIS); district status on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and the district’s complaint and fair hearing history. See: Web Link

More information about verification review can be found here: Web Link

This means that at least one, and possibly more than one of the above three things have triggered this review, not as this story reports "missing data." It may be that the reporter misunderstood the comment of Ms. Singh, who may have been trying to communicate that there was aberrant data rather than "missing" data. It is also the case that CDE does not generally disclose the basis on which it has decided to make the verification review, likely to prevent the district from attempting to influence the outcome of that review by culling or otherwise managing its records.

Notice is important because it ensures that the reviewers find out whether or not they have missed any significant issues in formulating the basis for their verification review. If parents are unaware of the review or a broad cross section has not been invited to participate then reviewers may miss out on crucial information that could help them structure the review.

Based on the many irregularities that were reported in this story, it seems well that the review is being conducted. While those who are likely to come to such a meeting are those with problems, it is also the case that 75% of parents present reported that they were not receiving the services that they were supposed to be provided in accordance with their IEPs. if that is the case, then each one of those families has a valid legal complaint under the IDEA.

Enforcing the provision of services listed on an IEP is generally one of the most frustrating parts of being a special education parent. Visibility into the classroom is limited. Often parents do not know that their child is not receiving the service. Complaints are often met by delays and promises that do not materialize but which run out the clock. Parents fear being combative or confrontational. They worry that they will be viewed as "problem" families or troublemakers. They know that their child's well-being depends on being cooperative. They fear retaliation. They often receive legally dubious reasons for the lack of service but they do not know their rights, and they become exhausted and worn down by the struggle -- there can be many reasons for a parent failing to enforce an IEP.

That is why a verification review is a valuable event, and that is why notice and participation is important.

Posted by special ed parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm

I was at the meeting. Here are some more numbers I wrote down from the meeting:

70% said the results of the assessment were not used to plan the IEP.

65% said information and concerns parents had about their child were not used to plan and write the IEP.

70% said that teachers and service providers were not informed of specific responsibilities related to implementing a child's IEP (so teachers did not even know what they were supposed to do);

75% said that there was no discussion of a variety of program options for a child at the IEP meeting;

65% said that IEP goals and objectives were not reviewed and revised at the IEP meeting based on progress and lack of progress. Many people pointed out the lack of data, benchmarks, and measurable goals.

The only number that I heard all night in which a majority answered in the affirmative is the number in this story that 65% said that their child's strengths were taken into account. However this report is misleading because that report was very quickly followed by several parent comments indicating that they felt their child's strengths were used against him or her in negating/denying services that were called for by the assessment results.

This meeting was good only in that I saw that I am not alone. It was otherwise very highly upsetting and depressing.

Posted by Neither did I
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I did not attend the meeting because I did not know that it was happening, but now that I see what happened there, I feel bad because I should had been there. I have have had two kids in IEP's for a long time. One graduated last year, and still one more to go. I am wonder why they did not give notification to everyone. Could it be that they only wanted certain number of parents? Still the investigation will not be valid because I was not there, and yes, I do have many things to complain about it. Specially the intimidation I have always receive front he special ed. administrators when we have IEP meetings. Also and inefficient and even overqualified special ed. teachers who instead of teaching they put a movie to keep children entertain. I feel sorry for those parents who think that education is going on in the special ed. classroom. They just do not get it. For many of the special ed teacher, Special ed is just a a place to babysit the kids. Parents should should visit the classroom more often. I am glad this review is going on. Hopefully they will find out that the administrators need be fired. For the person who says that PAUSD is a dream come true, or something like that. For me to it is better than from my country of origin because over there we did not even had an special education program, but at least everyone was included and not discriminated, but that is not the point, we are paying big $ and we need to have first quality service, and not humiliation or intimidation from the administrators.They are supposed to work for us.

Posted by Specialismo
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 14, 2013 at 10:44 pm

After elementary school, the special education in PAUSD is the pits, especially in the past two years. Our son was mainstreamed far too soon, and set up to fail. We have arranged for him to attend a special school for learning disabled kids starting in January.

Our objections to the mainstreaming were ignored by the special ed teacher, the counselor, the principal, and the superintendent. So were our complaints about bullying. It was never a problem until middle school and the reign of Kevin Skelly.

Has anyone noticed just how many teachers enroll their own children in private schools? Go figure.

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 8:38 am

Edmund, what is the connection between this study by the State of our education practices for Special Education students and the findings of Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights findings? Both call into question how the district serves students with disabilities. What is the root cause of the mounting level of concerns - inadequate funding? a rush to mainstreaming? site based control? poor performance? inadequate policy setting and oversight? I am interested in hearing your comments, since, as readers in this thread point out, the reporting on this meeting, is not adequate to help the community understand the causes and scope of the issues impacting our children.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2013 at 9:48 am

Thank you for your question Gunn parent.

You asked two things. First, what is the connection between this study by the State of our education practices for Special Education students and the findings of Dept of Education Office of Civil Rights findings? and second, you ask what the reason might be that PAUSD is having so much difficulty with special education issues.

Both of these questions are important.

It appears to me that what might unite and explain both of these investigations is the lack of what you might think of as a "culture of compliance" within PAUSD. Many of the actions taken by PAUSD and statements made by its administrators evince the belief that rules exist to govern the conduct of bad actors. Since they view themselves as smart, elite, and good actors with good intentions, the rules are unimportant. One example of this belief system is the statement of Katherine Baker to the OCR attorneys investigating the bullying of a disabled student that her staff "was very sophisticated" and therefore did not need any training on disability harassment. Beyond the irony of this statement lies a hint about the view that rules are for other people.

Another example can be found in Kevin Skelly's statement quoted in the Weekly that "People may be worried about getting a bullying policy, but I think they in general know that if their kid is not feeling comfortable at school, they should go and have a conversation with an administrator, and see how we can resolve things." See:Web Link

Again as with Baker's statement we can see in this the notion that rules are unnecessary because in PAUSD we can count on our administrators to know how and when to act without the guidance of rules. Rules are for people who lack sophistication or trustworthiness.

This is the wrong perspective on the role of policy and rules and it is one that is getting PAUSD into tremendous difficulty in the area of special education -- a field that is extremely tightly regulated and in which rules and procedures are very important.

A second, somewhat less benign explanation for PAUSD's particular difficulty around special education is that PAUSD has two specific problems in this area that are by-products of its stature as a high-achieving district. First, many of the students placed in special education are minority students and PAUSD has historically devoted little attention to the achievement or ability of these students. As the state found, PAUSD was disproportionately (and illegaly) dumping 50% of its black students and 30% of its Latino students into special education. Teachers were confusing "poor" with "learning disabled' and these students were labeled, given up on, and miseducated for generations.

Only due to state intervention, is that practice now beginning to change. This provides of course a useful counter-case to the notion promoted by Baker and Skelly that PAUSD does not need the benefit of rules.

In addition to being comprised chiefly of minority students, special education students are those who struggle or have emotional problems. Some of these students are what you might consider to be the victims of a high-pressure, high-stress system. Anxiety and depression are very common among our students. These issues are triggered or exacerbated by high-stress classes, testing and homework loads. PAUSD rewards students who are good at "doing school" but not every student is. Some have trouble and struggle and these are not the students that PAUSD has typically rewarded and showcased.

These are students who typically are not paid much attention, and the fact that the district does not devote much attention to solving the problems of these families isn't all that surprising perhaps.

You ask whether expense plays a role. PAUSD currently has a large surplus -- so much that it is having difficulty deciding where to spend it all. There is not a lack of revenue. One place many dollars are currently being spent is on legal fees to press the district's desire to cut expenditures on special education. A backwards example of this funding decision can be illustrated with respect to the district's decision to contest, by going to a due process hearing (a form of court-like trial to determine a service for a special needs student).

Let's say that a parent thinks that a student suffers from autism spectrum and needs help of some kiind. The district disagrees and produces an assessment to the contrary conducted by a school employee. The parent wants an independent evaluation. The parent is entitled under the law to request an independent evaluation at public expense (IEE), and then to have another meeting to consider the results of the new evaluation. That evaluation is to be conducted by an independent evaluator and therefore to be neutral and more reliable.

The typical cost of an IEE would be less than $2000 per child.

The district has lately been contesting these requests by taking parents to something called a due process hearing. The legal fees to litigate a due process case in PAUSD would generally run between $10 and $50 thousand dollars depending on complexity of the case, time to prepare, number of expert and other witnesses to be presented, and other factors.

The idea that the district is now spending $20K to avoid spending $2K suggests that there is a serious issue in the special education program that requires oversight by the board. Yet recently the special education director provided a board update that included only positive information and the board praised her and the department without asking any difficult questions.

That brings me to my final, and perhaps most important hypothesis as to the reasons for state and federal involvement in overseeing PAUSD. The state and federal regulators are engaged in a process of rule enforcement and oversight because our elected officials that are supposed to be engaged in that oversight are abdicating their jobs and not fulfilling that role. PAUSD is in the midst of a limited state and federal takeover of its special education program due to poor management by Dr. Skelly and Holly Wade, poor attention to rules and procedures, and no oversight by the board.

In that leadership vacuum, the federal and state governments are acting to protect the district's special ed students.

When the district takes the rule of law and procedures seriously then we will see diminished federal and state oversight.

Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2013 at 10:56 am

Edmund Burke for PAUSD school board!

Posted by Ann
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

We have had an excellent experience with special education in PAUSD and in middle school in particular over the last 3 years as have many other parents we know. Perhaps we are not as vocal as those that are dissatisfied but we do need to make our voices heard. Our experience is that the school district and special education works hard to meet the diverse needs of their population.

Posted by Another Dissatisfied Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Correction to Edmundo Burkey,
The evaluaution costs more than $3,000. That is what I was told by the special ed director, when we asked for a private evaluation. The way she say it, was very intimidating. She said she could not conduct an IEE because it cost that much. The school had done one in fifth grade, but they found my son not eligible for special ed. And the prize was more than 3,000. Her words still ring in my ears. My son needed help so badly. To make things short, we hire an attorney, and all of sudden they did the private evaluation, and it was found out that he qualified for special ed. at the end of sixth grade al this time fighting for the eval. he did not receive support. That was a nightmare.

Posted by Randie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Hi, I am a parent of a special ed student who knew nothing about the meeting. I also have noticed that the assessment (in house) was not used in planning my son's IEP; in fact, the only services I ever got for my son were things I demanded.
I have since taken all my son's records to an outside advocate agency who is advising legal action to get compensatory services.
I have taken my son out of a very dysfunctional classroom where the teacher, sweet as she may be, has no idea how to handle his needs. THere was no inclusion specialist or anyone even versed in the ideas of ABA (applied behavior analysis- something autistic kids benefit from), things I am learning about now The services he was receiving were minimal and patchwork. His mental health is suffering immensely from the punishment system in place at the school. After 7 days in a row of him being sent to the office, I have stopped sending him to school and filed a homeschool affidavit for this year. I want my kid in school, and I have to work. This is complete financial hardship on our family.
Thanks for reading!!!

Posted by Duveneck parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I also think we need Edmund Burke on the School Board!!!

Posted by A raise for everyone
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

And Holly Wade will keep her job and will probably get a raise like most of the other administrators.

Posted by parent
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

It would be hard for "Edmund Burke" to run since he has been dead for many years. Web Link [Portion removed.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I was at that meeting too, and while I have some complaints regarding services in PAUSD, my experience has been generally positive. the meeting was definitely biased and dominated by dissatisfied parents, who obviously were more motivated to attend than satisfied parents. These dissatisfied parents seemed to be largely of older middle/high school kids with less severe special needs who are mainstreamed- I can imagine it is a harder and longer fight by them than for those of us with younger kids with more severe special needs/ more obvious disabilities, but I do have friends with older kids in nearby school districts and I do not think the grass is any greener in those school districts.
On the point regarding press presence- while the press can do a lot of good- for those of us that did receive the letter, it stated that it was a meeting for parents and guardians of kids in special education, it did not state that it was a public meeting and I was also personally shocked to find out that the press were invited by other parents or someone without the permission of everyone there, the meeting was for PARENTS and those parents that left because of the press, should not have had to do so in order to feel comfortable.
On another note, yes the translator was a district employee- she is a secretary at one of the elementary schools here.

Posted by Old School
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

All this negativity does not comport with my personal experiences in the PAUSD. This is a wonderful district for my kids. There may be some problems, but they are minor in the scheme of things and can be fixed with a constructive and positive approach. The reality is that there is a finite amount of funding available, and we need to figure out an equitable distribution of those funds to all stakeholders. It would be great for example if the district provided several full time tutors for each special ed student, but with such a large special ed population this is just not possible. Just what is possible within the limited constraints of our funding? Lets debate that.

Posted by Dreamer
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2013 at 10:42 am

Yes, let's debate.

Resolved: PAUSD should fully comply with all aspects of state and federal civil rights law.

My opening: I do not believe PAUSD is funds constrained to do this but if it is I propose that the PR officer be fired and the money for that position be devoted to special education.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

I could not attend the meeting but did fill out the survey online ANONYMOUSLY. Yes, it does ask for your name, but I just left it blank and submitted. It was submitted successfully!

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2013 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

Resolved: PAUSD should fully comply with all aspects of state and federal civil rights law.

One of the reasons that PAUSD is under so much federal and state scrutiny regarding the compliance of its special education program is that it is receiving funding from the federal and state governments. There is at this time a budget surplus in PAUSD. Teachers, administrators, and staff have all received generous raises as well as bonuses from this surplus. New positons such as "public information officer" have been created. Administrators who had retired or left the district have reappeared as "contractors", hired without competition, making far more per hour than their previous salaried role. The board is currently debating how to spend several million dollars.

Yet parents are being informed that the district lacks adequate funding to fulfill the commitments made in IEPs.

This is a prescription for litigation and complaints that will waste even more money. For example, the state audit will waste more taxpayer money on legal fees to defend the district against whatever findings the state will make and to negotiate with the state auditors over the resolution of those findings. Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost has billed the district over a quarter of a million dollars since the onset of the OCR investigation, not all for that investigation, but much of it related to it. Dora Dome has now also billed the district more thousands to handle the same investigation. Fagen Friedman will receive more public funds to address any special education deficiencies uncovered by the state.

These funds constitute a deadweight loss of public monies that could be spent in the classroom. It is economically inefficient to spend money on lawyers rather than on compliance in the first place where the costs of compliance are low. Where a student needs social skills support provided in school the cost is relatively minimal, while the cost of litigating to due process or even federal court against that support is potentially huge. Where should the dollars go? To support families and students or to support district outside counsel.

The district's spending on outside counsel is profligate and not in the interest of our students and families.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

I attended this meeting, and decided to eventually leave it. I found it it to be overwhelmingly negative forum, based on survey questions that focused mainly on the IEP process rather than a full review of the special education program and all its components. If it is true that there are 1,115 special education students in PAUSD, then this meeting represented 4% at most. How about some feedback from the other 96%? Until there are survey results from a larger, representative set of parents, I find this article to be of little use and potentially misleading.

Since our sons' early years at Pre-School Family, they (now in high school) have had some superb teachers (both special ed and mainstream), aide support when needed, counseling, speech and occupational therapy, and opportunities to personally grow and develop made possible from many at our Palo Alto public schools.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:19 am


You are absolutely correct that many people who came to the meeting did so because they feel that they are not receiving appropriate and legally required services and they saw the opportunity to discuss that with a state auditor as a possible chance to receive those services.

It is not unusual for a survey like this one to receive responses from those who are highly motivated to respond, such as those having a quite difficult time who are hoping for some assistance.

That does not invalidate those responses. The state already has a basis, in the district's own data as reported to the state, to believe that the district is systematically noncompliant with the IDEA. That is what triggered the review. The purpose of the parent meeting is to collect any other complaints that might inform their audit so as to ensure that they do not miss pertinent aspects of the district's practices.

For this purpose, the parent information meeting is a useful event precisely for the reason you critique it: because it is likely to attract those who have experienced illegality and will help the auditors know what to look for in the records. The auditors are well aware that these meetings are not random samples and do not rely on them to gain an overall view of the district's special ed program.

Your hypothesis is that essentially every single unhappy person who experienced illegality was present, making the proportion of unlawful conduct very low. If that is the case, then the records review, site visits, and randomized interviews will reveal that.

While it is likely that parent information meetings do lean toward more unhappy parents, it is very unlikely that their cases are unrepresentative of at least some proportion of cases. Organizations tend to repeat behavior, and there are rarely truly one-off instances. That is why litigation of a particular instance of harm resulting from a negligent practice usually yields records of many other complaints of the same injury due to the same practice handled in much the same way. That is why the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal wasn't just about one rogue priest in one place.

It may be that the state auditors will discover no problems or areas for improvement in PAUSD. But there is no problem with them listening to the complaints of those who have had difficulties as they begin their review.

Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

The numbers reported at the meeting clearly indicate a problem. How big a problem is an important question. I tend to agree with Mr. Burke that organizations tend to behave in the same way across cases. But this is really a question to ask the district. How about a survey of special ed parents asking these questions?

Posted by Mamacita
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Please correct me if I am wrong! but I recall reading an article so ether in which Kevin Skelly claimed that each IEP student cost the PAUSD $8,000/year! This was his justification for mainstreaming as many IEP kids as possible as early as possible.

If this is true, wouldn't this cause API scores to fall, as well as cheating IEP students out of what they need?

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Even if students are mainstreamed they are still on IEPs and would not need to take the STAR test (now defunct). The state provided special assessments for students on IEPs. See: Web Link

The district's API would not fall due to inclusion or mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is decided based on whether or not the child is being served in the Least Restrictive Alternative and receiving an appropriate education based on their disability. There can be financial incentives for districts to operate inclusion programs if they are run on thin staffing -- an allegation that has been made about PAUSD's program by some parents.

Here are articles both pro: Web Link and con: Web Link regarding inclusion.

Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:03 am

You families who stand for the rights of your children are courageous and benefit many. Fighting for documentation of the bullying in PAUSD schools and compliance to resolve them accordingly, are also benefitting the entire PAUSD population.

Many bullying incidents with mainstream children of PAUSD were not recorded and various tactics were used to make families "disappear" with their complaints. What Edmund Burke suggested is true from what I've heard from families who have children that are not in Special Education. The administrators took it upon themselves to use their "sophistication" to resolve the problem. The "sophisticated" process of resolution are the many ways families can be shamed, blamed, confused, intimidated, and misdirected from having their bullying situation properly documented and resolved within PAUSD system. It's incredibly hurtful to witness what happens to an entire family when this happens - emotionally, financially, and mostly, for the child involved. Families learned to lie low and suffer than call attention to their situations for that type of "sophistication".

The obfuscation PAUSD is allowed to practice under Skelly is hurting families, the children, and the community. Let mistakes stay in the past, Skelly. Skelly and administrators under Skelly, please put children first and you will make the right choices going forward.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:08 am

@PAUSD parent

You may be interested in my new blog: Web Link

I have just posted at length about the new Palo Alto bullying policies and how they are set up to provide lesser protection to children who are bullied for a reason not related to discrimination.

Posted by Terman student
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 5, 2014 at 6:35 pm

As a stdent at terman, the special education classes have not changed one bit. In fact, students are sometimes neglected.

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