Monday, February 16, 2009
Due Process - Part One
Amazing Grace left a comment on one of my posts last week saying she would like to hear about the due process case I filed against my school district. I learned a lot during the case, and I believe what I learned may help other parents facing similar problems with their school districts. So, I am going to do a series of posts. The first will address what things led up to my filing suit. In the second post I will talk about the actual due process hearing, and in the third, I’ll share what life post-due process has been like.
The posts may be long so I will spread them over three weeks, with the first one being today.
THE PATH TO DUE PROCESS
Ashley started school when she was just 2 ½ years old. I adopted when she was 2 years old and immediately began early intervention services specifically to address her diagnosis of deafblindness. The early intervention staff suggested after 6 months that Ashley was probably ready for school and a more challenging environment. I agreed, and our first IEP meeting was held.
Ashley spent her school years leading up to kindergarten in a preschool class designed specifically for children with hearing impairments. Sign language was used by teachers and students alike, and I believe that was the reason Ashley’s love of sign language blossomed.
Just as Ashley was going into kindergarten, my school district made the decision to take a fully oral approach to hearing impairments. Sign language classes were disbanded and children without cochlear implants were moved to general special education classes. Unfortunately in the general classes, sign language was a rare commodity, and I had to start supplementing Ashley’s school day with home schooling each evening and on the weekends.
About the same time the sign language classes were disbanded, my school district also decided to cut back on ESY (Extended School Year) services. Where once Ashley had gone to school year round – summer and all breaks included – every new IEP brought arguments and reduced services. I saw those reduced services take their toll on Ashley’s progress and my home school efforts had to be increased. That increase was difficult given the fact that I am a single parent and I have to work full time. It was also tough on Ashley to have to concentrate so many hours each day on school work, but it was the only way I could ensure her progress.
Finally, when Ashley was in 4th grade, the school district wanted to suspend all summer and winter and spring break services. I knew I couldn’t make up all that lost time for Ashley, and began talking to an attorney.
The first thing the attorney had me do was to ask the school for an independent evaluation of Ashley. The evaluations done by the school district had been slanted towards the outcome they wanted, i.e. extra services were not needed. It took months – almost half a school year – for the school district to agree, but they finally did. They located a person who had experience in deafblindness and contracted with him to do an evaluation.
Although the evaluator’s skills in the area of deafblindness seemed a little dated to me, he did a pretty good evaluation. His recommendation to the school district – increase sign language skills and provide year-round schooling. The school district then spent the next two months arguing with the evaluator that they had found and hired.
In the meantime, my attorney and I decided we would get our own evaluation. We brought in the most experienced, most published, most well respected expert in deafblindness in the U.S. It cost an outrageous amount, but we felt it was the only way to ensure a fair, good evaluation, and our key to obtaining the services we believed Ashley needed.
Again, the school district scoffed at the expert’s evaluation and recommendations. They dug in their heels, and pronounced that there would be no summer, winter break or spring break services. My only option at that point was to file due process.
Coming in the next week’s installment – THE DUE PROCESS HEARING