‘Education’ articles

‘Catch Me If You Can,’ Part 2

CCSD regularly ignores the recommendations
of internationally recognized experts on autism

Is deliberate indifference to the physical abuse of its autistic students part of Clark County School District’s business plan?

An entirely outrageous allegation, you may well think.

Surely, no organization charged with educating Nevada children would allow mistreatment of a significant number of its children — right?

However, court records — specifically, federal complaints filed and adjudicated against the district over the last two decades — present a darker picture.

News stories based on those lawsuits suggest that, in too many instances, CCSD teachers and aides — either inadequately trained or vetted or both — simply lose it. Or actually turn out to have serious psychological issues themselves.

For example:

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'Catch me if you can,' Part 3

New parents should not be naïve about CCSD special-ed

Nevada Journal recently spoke with the mother of the boy who had been called “Preschooler” in the highly revealing 2004-2008 lawsuit. In the following report, we’ll call him Bobby — not his actual name.

Directly asked how her son is doing today, she was silent before answering.

“Not very well,” she finally said.

The boy had never been the same, she explained, after those early experiences of adult aggression in the Betsy Rhodes KIDS program.

“In my opinion, it has devastated his life,” she said.

“He didn’t have any of that aggression before that happened. He was barely four years old when all that started. And then — for the first time ever — we saw him hitting himself.”

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‘Catch Me If You Can,’ Part 4

Have an autistic child? Be cautious of CCSD

The latest big lawsuit against Southern Nevada’s public-school system over its treatment of nonverbal autistic students appears to be coming to a head.

Hurd et al v. Clark County School District et al was filed in August 2016, almost exactly one year after the underlying story hit the news, in 2015.

“A special education teacher with the Clark County School District,” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “faces abuse charges after colleagues reported that he hit and threw an autistic student who is unable to speak.

“It happened over the course of several months, according to a school police investigation,” continued the RJ report.

Now, more than three years after the initial Forbuss Elementary School incidents, multiple depositions have been filed in the lawsuit against CCSD, Forbuss Principal Shawn Paquette and first-year autism teacher James Doran.

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'Catch Me If You Can,' Part 1

Hurd v. Clark County School District lawsuit
reprises decades of special-ed problems

If you’ve ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can, you’ll remember the title character, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Frank Abagnale was a bright, charming but conscienceless teen who’d discovered he had a talent for scamming people.

Eventually, with the help of his wife and a good FBI friend — plus multiple stints in prison — Abagnale abandoned the marauding life.

Today he teaches businesses how to protect themselves from people like his younger self.

As Americans regularly learn, however, significant national institutions nowadays think likethe young Abagnale.

Their M.O., also, when it comes down to it, is: Catch Me If You Can!

Many Southern Nevada special-needs families — as evidenced by their lawsuits in federal court — see the Clark County School District is such an institution. CCSD, however, is not a special case. All across the country, more often than not, large public school districts follow the same method of operation.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 7:
Autism, dyslexia, societal changes
reveal a broken special-ed system

Foot-dragging school districts face
future of increasingly costly settlements

Once upon a time — say, back in 1975 — the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was, at least on paper, the very model of customized, personalized education.

Not only did it promise individualized public education for millions of children who until then had been barred from public schools, but it also appeared to give parents an explicit, legal voice in that education.

Nevertheless, today more and more parents of special-needs children are turning away from their local school district’s implementation of IDEA as they seek better solutions to their children’s learning needs.

Why is that?

Generally, it’s because millions of parents by now have had their own personal experiences with this too-frequently dysfunctional system, or, more fortunately, had already learned of others’ experiences. And this knowledge, in turn, has fueled the broad rise of an active desire — indeed, a market demand — for something different and more effective.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 6:
Special-ed has a fundamental problem: Government rigidity blocks innovation

Leaves school administrators stuck within
a system-corrupting dilemma: kids vs costs

When Congress in 1975 passed into law the legislation now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the bipartisan majorities were overwhelming.

In the U.S. Senate, the vote was 87 to 7. And in the House of Representatives, it was 404 to 7.

Nevertheless, the law, in truth, constituted only a first stab at solving a nationwide problem that had long bedeviled America’s conscience — namely, that public schools all across the country continued to routinely and thoughtlessly exclude handicapped kids.

What had happened by 1975, however, was that further dithering was no longer politically possible.

Federal courts were compelling states to address the issue, disabled children’s parents and advocates were becoming politically formidable, and everyone in Congress — especially following the seamy Watergate revelations of 1974 — was eager to appear before voters as high-minded and compassionate.

Yet the fact remained that the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act,” as the law was known at the time, was largely untested and experimental.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 5:
2001: CCSD, State of Nevada lose
precedent-setting Amanda J. case

Apparent shift in district's strategy follows:
Fight until jury trial looms, then settle with parents

One of the most startling revelations about how Clark County School District had been treating — or mistreating — special-needs families surfaced in 2001.

That was when a four-year-old lawsuit — accusing CCSD of denying appropriate education to a child years earlier — was finally decided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case would set an important legal precedent.

By 2001, the girl at the center of the litigation — called “Amanda J.,” in the lawsuit — was 10 years old.

What was at issue, however, was what CCSD should have told her parents six years before.

Born in Las Vegas in 1991, Amanda at two years old had been found by a psychologist in to be “moderately low” in communication and daily living skills, and recommended for the District’s early childhood program.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 4:
CCSD asked for special-ed audit
then attempted to hide results

Revealed: Records tampering, state and
federal law violations, illegal IEP changes

Remarkably, LAUSD’s current Independent Monitor, Dr. David Rostetter, who figured prominently in Part Three of this series, also has had a significant history with Nevada — specifically, with the Clark County School District.

In the 1990s, CCSD retained Rostetter and another nationally credentialed educational consultant, Dr. Ed Sontag, to audit the district’s special-education program.

The background of that hire, according to the Las Vegas Sun’s then-assistant managing editor, Ken Ward, was that since 1991 at least the district had been receiving complaints from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over CCSD’s instruction and transportation services for special-needs students.

Then, in October 1995, the OCR filed yet another complaint against the district, asserting five other serious issues, specifically:

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 3:
School systems have circumvented
federal special-ed law for decades

Los Angeles, Texas, New York exemplify styles of noncompliance

If you’ve ever doubted that special-needs families face grudging resistance and outright lawbreaking in America’s school districts, David Rostetter can quickly destroy any illusions you may have.

Since May 2014 Rostetter has headed federal supervision over the special-education program in America’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles United. Before that, he had a lengthy, high-level career in the federal administration and oversight of American special-education law.

Speaking to EducationWeek reporter John Tulenko in 2016, Rostetter acknowledged on the public record what many parents of special-needs children have long believed — that systemic flouting of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is conscious school-district policy in many locales across the U.S.

“I’ve had a lot of superintendents around the country,” Rostetter began. “I’ll go to them and say, ‘This is really bad over here. You know, it’s a budding lawsuit and it’s patently illegal.’

“And their answer will actually be, literally be, ‘I’ll deal with it when we get sued about it. Thanks for your advice, Dave.’”

PBS aired the full report on February 23, 2016. An MP3 recording and a transcript are online here.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 2:
New, higher special-ed costs
looming for State of Nevada

9th Circuit signals lack of patience with ploys
school districts have used to suppress costs

Today the effective legal standard for the education and services that Nevada public schools must provide special-needs children is significantly higher than it was just 11 months ago.

That’s because of the Supreme Court’s March 22, 2017 Endrew F. decision, followed — a mere five days later — by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the M.C. v. Antelope Valley Union High School District case.

The latter decision is especially significant for Nevada children because federal appeals out of Nevada go the 9th Circuit. And that court, in its M.C v. Antelope Valley ruling, demonstrated at least two things.

One is that the 9th will now be enforcing the new, higher, Endrew F. standard diligently — rather than tolerating, as has the Circuit at times previously, use of the de minimis approach that the Supremes struck down with Endrew F.

Another signal from the 9th, however, may be just as important.

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