Guest Column: Special Needs children not served by Dist. 205
By Dianne Helm
Rockford, Ill., Sept. 27, 2002, my son and I were thrown into yet again another vicious battle with the Rockford school system. Lines were drawn in the schools main office. It has been a war, 20 years long (my sons entire lifetime), since he first started going to school. Once again, it was over his IEP (Individual Education Plan). You see, my son is a special needs kid, and he has unique educational needs. The fulfillment of those needs is guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States, the state of Illinois and the mandates of the Rockford School District 205 Schools, Code of Disciplinary Procedures booklet, which they have, in fact, written. Unfortunately, the Rockford School District does not seem to want to provide the services or programs to which he is entitled, to be successful in life.
The war isnt fought with guns or knives; its a war of words and stonewall tactics. As far as most of the public is concerned, its a quiet battle; no cannons are used, no gunshots are fired, and no bombs explode. However, make no mistake, it is a battle. What we are fighting for is my sons right to be successful in the everyday world.
Again, the right of all Americans to a high school education is guaranteed by both federal and state constitutions. That it will be provided in an appropriate manner to guarantee my sons chances of success in the everyday world is guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504, Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Public Law 105-17, Title 9 of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 226 of 23 Illinois Administrative Code and Illinois Public Law 109.
This latest battle was a prolonged pre-IEP meeting with the school counselor, the school psychologist, the assistant principal, the special ed coordinator, the special ed teacher, the school nurse, the school social worker, the speech and language therapist, a regular teacher and the case manager (hereinafter referred to as the team). Our team consisted of my son, myself as the parent, and representatives from the only local organizations that cater to the needs of Special Needs kids in the school environment C.A.S.S. (Community Advocate Support Services) and RAMP (Regional Access and Mobilization Project), a service organization that provides outreach services to disabled and mentally challenged individuals. We began the usual mediation attempts in the hope of resolving issues, that have been longstanding for my son. After an hour and a half, we were able to come to an interim agreement for my son.
However, the very next day, the school district recanted a portion of its part of the agreement. This put us in a situation that forced us to seek a different remedy. We appealed their decision, and the school called a meeting with the regional superintendent, the assistant principal, the special education supervisor, and a teacher. I contacted the representative from C.A.S.S., who accompanied me to the meeting with a letter, citing the specific law, which allowed my son to continue his education while the issues were being resolved.
The assistant principal was handed the letter, which he read, and then he stated that if he was made to accommodate one special needs student, then he would have to accommodate all of the special needs students. He stated that he could not do that. At which point, we decided that we should leave the meeting since it was obvious that we would not be able to accomplish what we needed to accomplish for my son.
The C.A.S.S. representative recommended a secondary solution to this latest problem, a legal means called a due process hearing. We decided to pursue this remedy and took the necessary steps to start the ball rolling. A lawyer was consulted, and Due Process papers were drawn up. We attempted via phone (six times) to contact the assistant principal once more to try to address one of the issues with my sons appeal. I was given every and any excuse as to why I was not allowed to speak with the assistant principal until the sixth call. He acquiesced over this one issue, agreed to our request at that time, and told me that the regional superintendent would contact me, or I could contact her myself if I so chose. We felt it necessary to proceed with the due process paperwork, so I went to the board of education on Madison Street to visit the superintendent of schools, Alan Brown, to serve his secretary with a copy of the due process papers.
Then I went to the school to serve the principal. I signed in at the office, and I put on a name tag, which identified me as a visitor to school. I then informed the receptionist that I wanted to talk with the principal. As I sat down to wait, a student also waiting in the office identified the principal for me. I got up, walked over to her, and handed her an envelope. I informed her that I had due process paperwork for her. She replied that she wanted to talk with me about it, whereupon I told her that I had done enough talking. It hadnt gotten us anywhere, and if she needed to speak with me, she could do so through my lawyer. Then I walked away.
At that point, the receptionist told me to stop, and I told her that she could talk to my lawyer. I then proceeded to walk down the hall to the exit and left the building. While I was leaving, I overheard the office calling the police who patrol the grounds. An officer approached me from behind and told me to stop. I told him that if he had any questions, he could speak to my lawyer. I stated that my purpose was to serve due process papers and continued to walk to my car. At that time, he told me, Stop-you are resisting arrest if you dont stop. As I continued to my car, he threatened to have me arrested and took down my license plate number.
The next day, the officer arrived at my home, scaring my kids. They called me at my office and told me that there was a cop at our door looking for me. I told them to put him on the phone and informed him that I was at my office, and if he needed to speak with me, then he could come to my office. I gave him the address, and approximately 10 minutes later, he arrived and presented me with a summons, which he stated I had to sign. I refused. The officer told me that if I didnt sign it, he would arrest me. He then asked me to tell him my version of what had occurred at the school the previous day. I explained the whole story again. He said he needed to check with his superiors and would contact me in an hour with their decision. When the hour was up, he returned to my office and, based upon the information I had given him, declined to arrest me. Then he left.
As of this writing, my son has been traumatized and intimidated by these actions and continues to be abused by the Rockford School District. We currently are awaiting our due process hearing. If you see yourself in this article, maybe to a lesser degree, Im not surprised. My advice for all parents seeking remediation for their childrens education planning is, dont give up. It may be the hardest thing to do, but that is what the school system does the bestintimidate and stonewall. We, as parents, must be educated with the laws and procedures set in place by those very schools and districts to ensure that our sons and daughters receive the most appropriate, free public education where possible.
Dianne Helm is an educational advocate with C.A.S.S. and the parent of a special needs child.