Sunday, May 20, 2012

"A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him."  ~ David Brinkley

It's been a while since my last post.  Much has happened since then.  My son has been successfully placed in a state funded private school for children on the autism spectrum.  Aren is in a smaller class size of approximately 12 students and 4 adults.  Needless to say the combination of smaller class size and lots of individualized instruction and help, he is doing much better in school.  My son actually enjoys going to school now and LOVES his teachers.  In this school, the teachers and administrators work collaboratively with parents as a team.  They listen to the parents concerns and work toward establishing and modifying goals.  It's the first time in a very long time, I feel to be part of the team.  It is a breath of fresh air.

Last week, I attend a workshop funded through The Advocacy Center,  Rochester, NY on filing for due process.  It wasn't completely what I expected.   Instead of being a workshop where you learn some new skill, it turned into a question and answer session.   A couple of the participants expressed a certain amount of impatience that the workshop wasn't moving along as anticipated.  I felt it also - it seemed very disorganized.  It is not a tremendous surprise as one of the co-presenters happened to be the public attorney who assisted me and my husband haphazardly with our due process complaint.  During our due process filing, she was not exactly organized and basically dragged us through a living hell.  This individual hosts mini informational sessions for parents twice a month.  I ask myself - why?  She could barely handle my case although everything was handed to her.  All of the ground work was covered.   We provided a huge file and three recorded CSE meetings.  In addition, all the evaluations my son had was given to her.  Basically, she had everything.  I've been hesitant to discuss my experience but after this workshop, it seemed to me it was just an opportunity to drum up business.  Business that this woman could barely handle when after everything was provided to her.  Was it a lack of organization?  Was it one personal problem after another which she claimed to have.  Was it an overwhelming caseload?  I don't have a good answer and will not make excuses for anyone.  All I know is, this public attorney's behavior with our case hindered on cruelty and was extremely unprofessional.  I was reduced to begging and pleading.  Finally, I had enough and had to launch a complaint with the executive director of the agency.  Even after her supervisor got involved, she was less than communicative.  She would fall off the map; disappear, not respond to my emails or voice mail messages.  Basically she made every attempt to ignore me thinking perhaps that I would give up and fade away. 

Hiring an attorney for due process filing can be prohibitive for many parents.  It's expensive to have an attorney on retainer.  Plus, if you don't prevail in your case, the financial burden falls on to the parents.  There is no chance of recovering attorney fees, (yours and the school district attorney with related fees), or expert witness fees which can be costly.  A due process case can easily escalate to $5,000.  We didn't have the money so we had to literally fall on the good graces of a public attorney.   Since there was another attorney presenting at the workshop (who did most of the talking), one participant asked about probono which means attorney services at no charge.  Attorneys will take on probono cases from time to time.  However, I believe they must have a good handle on the ability of winning the case.  The "what's in it for me" but I can't say I blame them.  Everyone wants to win and have something to show for their efforts.  With that being said, the one thing that was emphasized heavily at the workshop was probono cases would likely be taken on from a client who has done all of the ground work like I had done.   Compiling a paper trail over the course of one year for example along with recorded CSE meetings.

My former attorney asked the participants who in the room had success writing to Albany about their issues with school related problems.  I was the only one to raise my hand.  I believe I was 1 out of 20 participants because my best guess, I was likely the only one to actually work the system in that way.  I mentioned that I contact Dr John King, NYS Commissioner on Education and felt I got results.   This attorney was very quick to shoot it down stating my situation was an isolated one.  I raised my eyebrow thinking, my situation is not all that different from many of the parents in the room.  We're all singing the same tune with a slightly different melody.  We all want a FAPE for our children and on one level or another, we each have our own bag of mess to contend with trying to make it happen.  I found it suspect how quickly this attorney was trying to squelch my input.  Let us not forget that our tax dollars pay the salaries of those working at the state level.  They are there to serve not decide to help a constituent based on a popularity contest or whatever.  If we as parents file a substantiated complaint, it is up to the those that serve us to do due diligence.  It is not a favor.  They are expected to follow through and help us help our children and hold those accountable who are failing in following the law.  In this regard, write to your representatives and certainly write to the NYS Commissioner on Education if you're unable to get a FAPE for your child.  Just be sure to provide testimony and evidence to the best of your ability.  Write a well thought out and concise letter with supporting documentation.  Make it easy to read and highlight areas you want to be sure to have read.  Use post-it notes to flag pages if you're sending a copy of the evaluation.  Things like that.  You want to gain the attention of the Commissioner but not overwhelm him with information that is not well presented.  In essence, help him to help you.

Our children are the most vulnerable along with many unsuspecting parents who can be equally vulnerable.  Parents who are completely overwhelmed with the entire process of getting their child's needs met in school.  This is further compounded when public servants fail us as well.  One can't help to wonder, where is the agenda when public attorneys who are suppose to help us uphold the law turn around and mess with our heads and not protect our children as prescribed by law.

"Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear."  ~ Mahatma Gandhi