From Emotions to Advocacy
The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam & Pete Wright
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Year in Review Series
Success Story: How I Won a Private Placement
Last year, I attended the Wrightslaw conference in Jefferson City, Missouri. Thank goodness I attended that program. I didn't anticipate having to use what I learned so soon.
You gave me the tools to endure a very stressful battle with the Kansas City School District. This story is a summary of that battle. Two weeks after I made this presentation to the school board, the district entered into a settlement agreement with me. My son is allowed to attend a great private school where he is making tremendous progress.
Keep up the good work and fighting the good fight!
Testimony by Kim Riley before the Kansas City School District School Board
Good evening. My name is Kim Riley and I’m an alumnus of the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD). I attended Sanford B. Ladd Elementary from 1975-82, from kindergarten to 6th grade. And I attended Lincoln Academy from 1982-88, 7th to 12th grade. I was always an honor roll student – National Honor Society, Who’s Who, Student Council, etc.
Now I’m on the other side of the fence.
I’m the parent of a child in the district. My son is 6 years old, has autism, and is in kindergarten. Instead of the achievement-driven educational system that I'm accustomed to, we’re in the special education arena. And we desperately need your help.
On May 25th, I contacted my son’s teacher to schedule a meeting with the Exceptional Education officials to revise Kendall's Individualized Education Plan and placement for the fall. Kendall had been evaluated by staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The staff made some specific recommendations.
A week later (the day before the last day of school), the teacher called me. She said she left messages for Gayla Wampler, Diane Odegard, Cheryl Stefanella and Jennifer Cramer. No one returned her calls.
I called Jennifer Cramer on June 3rd and left a message asking that she call. She didn’t return my call. On June 16, I faxed a letter to her and requested a meeting.
Meeting #1 was held on June 25th, 30 days after my first request for a meeting. I provided copies of the evaluation from Children’s Mercy. The KCMSD officials said they needed time to review the evaluation. They asked to reschedule the IEP meeting to the following month. They suggested that I invite the therapists who work with my son to the meeting so we can get complete information about Kendall and his needs.
Meeting #2 was held on July 26th. I provided copies of the Children’s Mercy evaluation to those individuals who did not attend the June meeting. I invited a therapist who works with Kendall at home, his case manager from the Kansas City Regional Center, several family advocates, and a representative from Milestones Academy. At the June meeting, I asked the team to consider Milestones Academy as a placement option for Kendall. This school uses a behaviorally-based therapy approach that has proven to be effective with helping people with autism overcome their symptoms and live productive lives.
A third meeting was scheduled for August 26 to allow Gayla Wampler, District placement coordinator, to review the Children’s Mercy evaluation.
Meeting #3 was held on August 26th. We reviewed Kendall’s Individualized Education Plan. I submitted new Present Levels of Performance and goals and objectives for the coming school year. KCMSD officials agreed that the District couldn’t educate Kendall. This decision was based on the Children’s Mercy evaluation and the revised IEP goals and objectives.
The team decided that to place Kendall at Paige Elementary School for 30 days, until we could agree on an appropriate placement. The district asked me to visit four schools and observe the programs. For the third time, I asked the district to visit one school – Milestones Academy.
Documented Missteps Along the Way
There have been missteps along the way. On the first day of school, I contacted the superintendent about the Exceptional Education department’s failure to keep their promise to enroll Kendall in Paige, and my concern that I would have to take off work again to do so.
A more serious offense occurred during the second week of school. The wrong bus was sent to my home to pick up and drop-off my non-verbal child at the wrong school.
I sent a letter to the superintendent and spoke with Gayla Wampler about this incident. Months have passed. I have not received an apology or any evidence that an investigation was conducted into this child endangerment matter.
What happened during six months of meetings and conversations with the placement coordinator, the interim director of Exceptional Education, the superintendent -- and anyone who would listen to me?
1. The KCMSD ignored the Children’s Mercy Hospital recommendations. They continued to use the same speech goals and program that have been unsuccessful in teaching my child to speak for three years.
2. After nearly four months, my son continues to be placed in the interim 30-day placement at Paige Elementary, despite the District’s admission that this school is not appropriate for him.
3. In October, I realized that I could no longer jeopardize my son’s life by negotiating in good faith with the KCMSD. I filed child complaint charges with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Special Education. The district hired an attorney to fight me. The district has continued its pattern of stalling by having this attorney file for an extension to answer the charges. A decision was due this month. Because of these legal tactics, the decision will be delayed for at least another month.
Negotiating in Good Faith
As a product of the KCMSD, I am deeply saddened that the District treats children with disabilities in this neglectful manner. While these children have limitations, they can learn and live productive lives.
As a parent and consumer, I am shocked at the non-existent customer service the District extends to parents.
As a taxpayer, I am outraged the District spends our tax dollars to hire attorneys to fight against the interests of children, instead of investing these dollars into their education. I thought educating children was the mission of KCMSD.
I ask the board to conduct a thorough internal investigation of the Exceptional Education Department and to take action by holding your employees accountable for their actions and/or inactions.
In this District, there is a pervasive attitude that kids with disabilities are uneducable. The opposite is true. Countless interventions are successful at teaching kids with disabilities. There are people with autism who have completed college, have jobs and families.
But kids with disabilities in this District will never learn, and will never live up to their potential as long as the District continues to put up road blocks, uses stall tactics, turns a blind eye to the truth, and abandons children who desperately need their help.
I beg of you to review the attached timeline so you can see how parents are treated when they attempt to be proactive and negotiate in good faith for their children.
For six months, I’ve tried to get the District to follow the doctor's orders and implement an intensive program to address my son's delays.
I beg you to act. DO SOMETHING and DO IT QUICKLY. Kendall Riley and other kids with disabilities in this District cannot speak or fight for themselves. Their lives and futures are in your hands.
Kim & Kendall Riley
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