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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/12/23

Who Will Slay The Beast?

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"The beast shows up in every corner of LAUSD but nowhere is it more damaging than with the special ed community." - Tracy Cook

Last week's meeting of the LAUSD Special Education Committee followed the same usual format. First, the District bureaucrats gave a presentation about how well they are performing. Questions were then allowed but in most cases were only answered with cursory responses. There was no real feeling from this Committee Member that there was any real exchange of ideas.

Next up were presentations from schools whose representatives seemed chosen to exemplify how well they followed the bureaucracy's mandates. This was followed by another unfulfilling Q&A session for the committee members.

Finally, it was the public's time to speak. Not surprisingly, the tone of these comments was in stark contrast to the message that had just been delivered by the District's staff. Apparently, when you look behind the curtain, things are not as rosy as the LAUSD would like the committee to believe.

The problems faced by the families of our most vulnerable children were summarized in the next-to-last comment by education activist Tracy Cook. Cook, whose successes include helping to save CTC West from being evicted from the Fairfax High School campus by Nick Melvoin, gave a name to the unyielding bureaucracy, it is The Beast:

Good evening board members and committee:

My tenure as an engaged parent in LAUSD began in 2007. I worked with parents, teachers, and administrators at my son's school, then organized stakeholders to amplify needs so that we could come together and build a supportive, enriched school environment. Obviously, I talked then and now to a lot of parents.

It was early into my journey that I heard about the Beast at LAUSD. The Beast blocks the good in classes. The Beast marginalizes the issues. The Beast misdirects parents and teachers to dead ends.

The Beast is not limited to an elected board member, a hired superintendent, or even a rogue department head. The Beast is a willful shirk of responsibility. The Beast is a "Not-My-Problem" attitude. The Beast is an "Oh well, what are you gonna do" mindset.

Because I was that parent, the one who asked parents how it was going and really wanted to hear the answer, I had parents let down their hair and get real with me. What I know is The beast shows up in every corner of LAUSD but nowhere is it more damaging than with the Special Ed community.

Early on I heard about the issues around Special Ed and IEPs. I would find the parent who had navigated the problem and then go to the new parent and have those two parents talk. It might have taken me a little time, but it was worth it because I wanted to help.

What I learned was Inevitably the answer was usually one solution; "Get a lawyer." Why should a parent of a special ed student who is already more burdened in so many ways resort to 'get a lawyer'? It is because of The Beast.

The Beast that Cook described had been on full display during the meeting. When asked to describe the difference between Behavioral Intervention Implementation (BII) specialists provided by the District and those contracted through outside agencies, Dr. James Koontz, the LAUSD's Coordinator for Moderate/Severe Instruction and LRE Programs, slipped in his opinion that:

"having an adult with you all day long can be a very limiting thing for students. They start to lose their voice, they start to lose those self-advocacy skills if they had them, and they sometimes don't develop those skills."

This is an overly simplified statement that seems more useful in discouraging parents from demanding a very expensive service than in helping students who are struggling. As I reminded Dr. Koontz, when done correctly a BII can help a student to find their voice. They can teach as they guide the student through the classroom experience. That was my experience with my two daughters, who both had the benefit of having a non-public BII.

Sure enough, one of the callers during public comment alleged that the LAUSD is telling IEP teams "that they have no authority to give even the most needy of child a dedicated one-to-one district aid." A parent stated that "a lot of times IEP teams are limited as to the decisions and support that they can provide students and we parents often have adversarial relationships because the schools have a limitation." Another complained that the IEP team unilaterally got rid of a "support that [she] felt was necessary for him."

Cook offered a solution to defeating The Beast:

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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