A year ago I heard that a top political figure in this City was describing me as “a hysterical woman” for standing up before City Council and asking them to hold back money from the School District until the district stopped using gagged settlement agreements to silence parents of disabled students.
Last August that same person blamed me for leading “a special education faction” to influence candidate endorsement at the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) convention.
So the hysterical moms are now a “political faction.”
Of course both monikers are meant to denigrate, but no matter. From where I see it, the fact that a local power broker goes to the trouble of denigrating us means things are getting better. And they are. There has been a significant and healthy shift in the school culture. Everyone is benefiting. We have four members of our City Council to thank for that: Bobby Shriver, Herb Katz, Bob Holbrook and Ken Genser.
For decades in Santa Monica, it has been politically incorrect to criticize our school district about anything. A well-organized group has made it their business to enforce this edict by campaigning against candidates who violate it. So Shriver, Katz, Holbrook and Genser had everything to lose and nothing to gain when they stood up for Special Ed families and told the school district that the gags had to stop. The Council also called for an independent audit of Special Education as a condition for the release of a portion of the City funds earmarked for the schools. Independent auditor Lou Barber issued a report that revealed many of our district’s core problems. Although the audit has yet to be fully acted on, it has informed a shift at the district office and in the community.
Administrators who approved the use of gagged contracts are gone or are being replaced. The Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council has recently stood up in support of Special Ed parents and created a Special Education Committee that will offer a Fall Forum on November 15 at John Adams Middle School. Also in November, a Special Education Parent Handbook written by parents for parents, will be published in English and Spanish and distributed by the district to all parents of newly identified special education students. We have been trying to get that handbook published for six years.
While there are still concerns about the District’s reliance on lawyers to negotiate students’ individual Special Ed plans and a need for Special Ed teacher training and programs, things are getting better. The courage and leadership of Shriver, Katz, Holbrook, and Genser caused this shift to happen. Without their action, we would still be saddled with administrators crafting secret deals and fostering a culture of fear.
Since the four Councilmembers risked taking a political hit for their actions on behalf of our most fragile students, doing the right thing has now become the politically correct position to take. So in this election season it is important to remember those who have made our lives better and not followed the safe political path.
We need the kind of integrity they have demonstrated. We need to re-elect Bobby Shriver, Herb Katz and Ken Genser to the Santa Monica City Council on November 4.