Special Education parents apprehensively aired their concerns at a series of meetings last week with Lou Barber, the outside consultant hired by the School District to audit the Special Education program.
The audit was prompted when Santa Monica’s City Council withheld $530,000 of a $750,000 increase in funding to the District because of concerns raised by Special Education parents during the City’s annual budget process in May of 2007. At that time, parents told the Council confidential agreements are routinely signed by Special Education parents in order to secure services for their children. They also mentioned that the process frequently evokes a lot of fear and intimidation for the families. Such agreements preclude the community from access to the financial records, and there is also no accounting as to the actual cost of these services.
At the February 6 meeting, parents demanded anonymity because of fear of retribution by the District. Many complained that when they attended Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings with District representatives, the meetings are intimidating rather than being collaborative, and many leave in tears. One familiar with the situation, who asked to remain anonymous, said that parents are frequently “bullied,” their comments are not written into the IEP report, the school psychologist can’t participate because she is running the meeting and preparing meeting notes, and if parents bring their own experts, they are not permitted to speak.
Other parents implied that something at the District level “was controlling what goes on at the IEP meeting.” Some went a bit further, saying if they aren’t willing to agree to what the District is offering, they must meet with Deputy Superintendent Tim Walker. Many believe that the confidential agreements are “designed to circumvent federal law,” which mandates that each child in a public school receive a free and appropriate education.
A Special Education advocate told the consultant, “What’s happened with the Special Education program in the District is unconscionable. It’s the most adversarial scenario I’ve ever seen. There’s a staggering amount of deals” and “a lot of money on the table.”
Parents also noted that as the academic year progresses, items that were supposed to be part of the IEP agreement drop off or seem to be forgotten. Many complained there was no suitable Special Education program available for their child in the District. Some said that everyone has had to become “lawyered up,” and those who a can’t afford a lawyer “get screwed.”
After the parent comments, Barber mentioned that the “District will have oversight over the report.” He also asked that those who had confidential agreements with the District meet with him privately to air their concerns.
The only School Board member in attendance, Barry Snell, said the “report will hopefully be the beginning of a process to make changes.”