Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Board Appeal Decision on enrollment discrimination complaint

This is important. This is, I think, one of the greatest things any Seattle School Board has ever done. I'm looking forward to how it ends and I'm optimistic that it will end well.

Here's the quick version:
A family applied for assignment to an Option School for their student with disabilities. While other general education students were assigned to the school, the District maintained a separate assignment queue for students with disabilities and set a capacity for students with disabilities at the school. In the end, the student was not assigned to the Option School. The family complained that the assignment process was discriminatory. Their complaint was denied at a variety of lower levels and appealed, eventually, to the Board.

Here's the Board's decision.

The Board had some findings. This was one:

2. The parent applied to have her student with special needs placed at an option school. However, because the demand for special education services at the option school was greater than the capacity, her student was placed on the waitlist and ultimately denied a placement. Her student was placed and now attends his neighborhood assignment school.
So I have to ask: What determined the "capacity" for special education services at the Option School? How is that set? And, more to the point, WHY is that set? Don't students with disabilities, for the most part, get assigned to their neighborhood schools without any of those schools setting a maximum number of Special Education students they will accept?

Here's another finding:
3. The parent filed a complaint alleging that the District's failure to provide the student with placement at the option school was the result of a discriminatory enrollment process. In response to the complaint, an investigation was conducted by the District and the Deputy Superintendent determined by letter dated May 27, 2016 that no discrimination had occurred. 
Holy Cow! How could anyone not find the enrollment process discriminatory?!? Student A would be enrolled if without a disability but because Student A has a disability, he is not enrolled. How in the world is that not discriminatory?

And yet, the Board decided:
The parent had the burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that the District's failure to place her student at the option school was discriminatory. School districts have legal leeway and latitude in reasonably allocating services throughout the District so long as the District is able to provide a continuum of educational placements to its students. The burden of proof was not satisfied in this case and the Board does not have sufficient facts to conclude that the enrolment process was discriminatory. 

Apparently the Board determined that the District has the legal authority to cap enrollment of students with disabilities at schools under the guise of "reasonably allocating services throughout the District". So, there was discrimination, but it was legally protected.

Not good, right?

But then the Board wrote this:
In addition, resolution of the broader, systemic issues raised by the appeal are most appropriately addressed by the Board in its legislative capacity rather than pursuant to an individual complaint process.
In other words, the Board acknowledges that the student assignment process is discriminatory and they plan to fix it. But they want to fix it at the policy level for all students, not at the complaint level for just one student.

So, while the Board denied the appeal, they are clearly troubled by the inequities in the assignment system and so they directed the Superintendent to take some specific actions by the end of October:
  1. Endeavor to place students according to their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) which address their specific needs;
  2. Provide the full Board with a report detailing
    1. the geographic allocation of special education services by type e.g., ACCESS, SM4, etc.;
    2. the number and ratios (special education to general education) of students at each location;
    3. the allocation of special education services to option schools by number and type; and, 
    4. the current policies, criteria and procedures used to make decisions about the placement of such services, including the number of allocated spaces, wait-listing practices and policies during the past three years;
  3. Complete and provide to the full Board your analysis of the current special education placement practices with regard to option schools and any equity issues raised by the current practices; and,
  4. Schedule a presentation to the Board during a Work Session to present the above information and undertake the Board's review of addressing any systemic inequities in the current practices and policies.
For the first time, the Superintendent is going to have to explain how he set the capacity for various types of service at each school. Let's face it; he can't. They are completely arbitrary.

When exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight, we can hope that these baseless and discriminatory practices will end. There is no legitimate reason to cap the enrollment of students with IEPs at Option Schools or any schools. There is no legitimate reason to have a separate waitlist for students with disabilities. It's time for this blatant discrimination to end.


ConcernedSPSParent said...

Is this another area of responsibility that needs to be pulled from Dr. Nyland as he can't be trusted?

Anonymous said...

Clearly an open and shut discrimination case, I will be more than happy to file a complaint with OSPI and OCR this week. JHC where is the new office of civil rights in all this? Did the district engage the office before turning away this student?

Just Sue

Anonymous said...

Every link to the OCR complaint on the other thread is broken including the one Mary G. posted.


mirmac1 said...

Having lost a civil rights appeal before the old board, I can say I am very happy to see it is no longer business as usual - at least with respect to rubberstamping predictable administration's "no findings" rulings.

mirmac1 said...

ED OCR has opened an investigation into my civil rights complaint regarding segregated district preschools. Perhaps this new board would not have responded in the mealy-mouthed way of the old board.....

mirmac1 said...

I have already heard whisperings of "oh! We just need a continuum of placements for preschool!" BS. When all research and Fed ED policy says our kids with disabilities should be included in high-quality preschools with typically-developing peers, than the district's reliance on their old saw exposes their bankrupt practice and laziness.

I hope this family files a complaint with the Department of Justice or the ED Dept Office of Civil Rights.

Mary G said...

There is another similar complaint lodged with OCR regarding the process for open enrollment at the same choice school by another parent.
fyi, I don't know what happens with that link. I will try again.

Ms206 said...

What kind of disability did the child have? If the disability is low incidence/significant - eg medically fragile, autism, or intellectual disability - and the child would receive most services in a self-contained class, I could understand why there would be a cap on numbers as well as a separate assignment process because SPS may have a certain staff:student ratio that they cannot exceed. However, to separate kids with disabilities in general does seem arbitrary and discriminatory.

Anonymous said...

So the board consulted with Ms.Schmidt and she Oked the discrimination? Then she Oked the board's wrong decision. Just as I suspected, the intention of hiring Ms.Schmidt was to gain insight on how to shirt around the laws and NOT to protect children from a notoriously discriminatory institution.


Mary G said...

As of March of this year, Kelli Schmidt informed me that all disability discrimination complaints go through Larry Dorsey of Safety and Security. I'd like to know what the process is now.

mirmac1 said...

Barbara Nahourii told me in Spring of 2015 that things went through Larry Dorsey. He quickly punted to Pegi McEvoy who proceeded to do a crappy job. That didn't stop admin/Supt to go along with the fabrications, and board to rubberstamp.

Charlie Mas said...

The fundamental point remains the same:

In the absence of "programs" - and remember that Seattle Public Schools doesn't serve students with disabilities, English Language Learners, or Advanced Learners in programs anymore; they get "services" - there should not be pre-determined capacity limits for students receiving services, there should not be separate waitlists for students receiving services, and there should not be a limit on the number of students who can receive services once enrolled. There should be one waitlist per school program - one - and all of the students should be on that waitlist together in whatever order is used to set the waitlist without regard to the services the student needs.

If there are programs within schools - and there still are some programs (HCC, Montessori, Language Immersion, etc.) - the capacity of those programs should be determined based on demand - the enrollment should not be determined based on an arbitrary cap on the size of the program.

Rachel said...

Wow- this was my discrimination complaint! I'm glad to see other folks are aware of the steps the school board wants to take. To answer another person's question- my son has autism and needed an access placement. We were also in the small one- mile "geo zone" around Hazel wolf (it's less than a mile from our home). We've since been placed at sacajawea and are thrilled with their commitment to inclusion.

The school board was very responsive and seems like they have a lot of energy around this issue. They asked me several times if an individual fix to my problem was enough and almost wanted me to say (which I did): "no- I want a systems fix for all kids with disabilities".

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Rachel. You have probably helped other parents whether you know it or not.

Anonymous said...

Don't they also have a separate HCC waiting list for Hazel Wolf? So bizarre. I'd like one waiting list for all option schools. And no geozones. Pure lottery.

NE Mom

Anonymous said...

MS206, while it sounds reasonable that low-incidence kids are better served in a self-contained class, the reality is that most of these kids are NOT better served in a self-contained classes, and in most parts of the country they would automatically be placed in a general ed classroom with an aide. There is a huge amount of evidence that kids with intellectual disabilities that attend general education classes have better vocabularies & verbal skills as adults, and are 2 or 3 times as likely to be employed. Even if they are doing their own work well below grade level, there is a pulling-up effect from being in with kids that are higher-functioning. The other huge advantage of being in a general education class is that the disabled child learns to interact in a socially normal way with typical peers, which is the whole key to employment as an adult for individuals with cognitive or behavioral issues. It also teaches the typical children to be comfortable with and empathetic towards disabled individuals, and ultimately promotes a more accepting society.
Seattle, of course (along with most of Washington state), is a generation behind the times, and more or less forces kids into a self-contained classes. Many of those kids (including my daughter) are not in those self-contained classes because it is what the parents want - it definitely wasn't the placement I wanted. But I didn't have the time or energy (or stress-management ability) to fight with everyone and hire a lawyer to get her placement changed, so it is where she is. The truth is that I know more kids with Down syndrome that are in general ed classes in catholic schools than that were able to get into the Access program.

Mom of 4

Anonymous said...

MOM4, people also need to understand that even the students with high incidence LDs are not being served SDI regardless of where they sit. SPS has no programs or services that are proven to bring success to high incidence LD students. They simply log service minutes and believe they have met the IEP requirements.

The SPS graduation rate for students with IEPs is very low, 25% lower than its gen-ed rates and 15% lower than its black male non-SPED rates. That makes SPED students the most disenfranchised group in SPS.

What's even worst is the lowering of standards for students with IEPs from a score of 3 down to 2. I'm sure in some cases it might make sense to allow for the deviation, but the majority of SPED students do not suffer any cognitive impermanent requiring lowering of standards. The lower score of 2 is not a poor reflection on the student, it's a poor reflection on the district and it's employees. I'm also suspicious of test tampering with SPED test scores similar to what happened at Beacon hill.


Anonymous said...

Uh no MS206. ALL special education students are regular ed students first and foremost. And ALL special education students should spend time in regular education - to the maximum extent possible, even if they have significant disabilities. And no MS206. Lunch and recess isn't "time in regular education". Sharing the single real estate zones of the cafeteria and playground is not inclusion, it is marginalization. Go to any school cafeteria. The kids who are most marginalized are the sped kids sitting alone at 1 lunch table. If we want students with disabilities to be first class citizens, then they need to be included to the MAXIMUM extent appropriate, in the most important subjects of the school - whatever those may be. PE, for example, is not usually considered the most important subject, yet it is often the only subject students can with disabilities can participate with regular education students. This is marginalization. It says - unimportant kids can be included only during unimportant times of the day like PE.

Access to option schools needs to be equitable and equally include special education students. This is definitely not the case. Hazel Wolf, Tops, Salmon Bay, and even Orcas - and all the other desirable alt-schools have done their best to drive out students with disabilities, or to vastly reduce the type of disabilities they serve. This is illegal and discriminatory. Too bad the board didn't see it your way. It would have been good to present the evidence. It is massive. I hope you file an OSPI or OCR complaint.

With all the lip service to achievement gap, correcting equity in special education is probably the most bang for the buck to address the achievement gap.


mirmac1 said...

Yes Speddie. Your argument is why I am so affronted by the latest effort to exclude children with disabilities in its nascent SPP preschool classrooms. Let's talk about lowering the bar. It is so low that even a preschooler with a disability is presumed to not meet the bar in the spanky new City preschools. As we speak, there are administrators trying to find a way to justify corralling our youngest, most vulnerable, into half-day essentially self-contained preschools. That tells you the mindset at JSCEE. I hope the board will see fit to correct this myopic view.

Just sayin said...

Mirmaci, while I appreciate you advocacy, I find you misinformation abhorrent. There is no such "effort" to exclude preschoolers with disabilities from SPP. If anything there is a collective effort to INCLUDE them. As a member of the Preschool Task Force you of all people should be spreading this message. Shame on you! You are spreading misinformation and creating strife. There is no such "corralling" going on. Children are not intentionally being excluded. Isn't this the purpose of the task force of which you serve-- to fix the system?? Enough already. Sometimes you are right, this time you are wrong.

Just sayin

Anonymous said...

Just Sayin, not sure the details of what mirmac is saying, but the SPP initiative has been totally negative for preschoolers with disabilities who have been essentially driven out of the district and wharehoused in a giant sped dump at a far, isolated facility in the district, Old Van Asselt, by the introduction of SPP. This dilapidated and overgrown facility also houses adults with disabilities and ebd students the district is pushing out of other schools. Hardly a move for inclusion for preschoolers by SPP.


Anonymous said...

@Just Sayin, do you work for the district?

Just Askin

mirmac1 said...

Just saying, I don't consider my role on a Task Force as one that means I must spread a message, be an "Ambassador", and do district CYA. Creating strife? If anything I am trying to undo strife created by SPS' separate and unequal preschool structure. I don't relish having to tell the district and city their duty. Wish they'd be diligent to follow evidence-based practice, proven methods, and civil rights laws.

No, it was not all right for the city to have fewer sites with shorter hours for disabled kids during last year's strike. No, it's not all right to offer a third of the time and benefit to over 420 preschoolers with disabilities in this district.

While I won't discuss Task Force proceedings at this time, I thought it interesting that some district staff that were present have tried to interrupt my comments, or have failed to provide important information to the group.

Melissa Westbrook said...

If anything there is a collective effort to INCLUDE them

Just Sayin' and your evidence of this is what? Because I haven't seen it and I am trying to track this program. Also, do you know what the Taskforce has been told that would lead them to disseminate this info?

Being on a taskforce does not mean you have to toe some party line.

Liza Rankin said...

The EEU is piloting 2 preschool classrooms this year with SPP, with all kids there full inclusion all day. The city has hired an inclusion specialist to train and advocate among SPP sites, and part of the new contract between SPS and EEU includes a specialist housed at EEU to promote inclusion in SPS (inclusion kindergartens). It doesn't solve everything, but it's progress, and they will hopefully be given support and some time to prove effective.

Ms206 said...

Mom of 4,
I am a special education teacher who currently teaches in Philadelphia, PA. (I'm a Seattle native.) This is my 4th year teaching. I currently teach K-2 Autistic Support for grades K-2 (self-contained class for kids who have autism in a neighborhood school). I also taught a grades 3-5 Life Skills Support class (self-contained class for kids who have ID in a neighborhood school). I agree with you that there is a tendency with children who have more significant disabilities for the school district/LEA to recommend a self-contained class. It's not unique to Seattle. I believe that a major reason for this is a lack of resources to support inclusion. IDEIA and its earlier versions provide all kinds of rights for students who have disabilities & place many responsibilities on schools to educate students who have disabilities, but Congress has NEVER fully funded these laws. As a result, the resources are not there to support an optimal level of mainstreaming and inclusion. I agree w/ you that many children w/ more significant disabilities, such as ID & autism, could benefit from more exposure to the general education environment/curriculum. As a teacher, I support children being included, but there must be more advocacy done to ensure that the resources are there in order to support more optimal mainstreaming and inclusion. To ask a teacher who has 25+ students, some of whom have IEPs, to be able to appropriately support a child with a significant disability in the classroom - while conducting a lesson, making sure children are on task, ensuring that the classroom is safe - is a heavy responsibility for even the most organized, energetic, and capable teacher to shoulder. Additional support needs to be provided - whether it mean a classroom assistant or a 1:1. It is a fundamental problem with the law in my opinion, that the law mandates educating a child in the LRE (as it should) without providing resources to make this mandate a realistic reality.

I dealt w/ this situation personally last year w/ my Autistic Support class. I had 2 (1 2nd grader, 1 3rd grader) students who could have been mainstreamed for most of the school day IF our school had adequate staff to support the mainstreaming, e.g. full-time classroom assistants in the regular ed classes. Both of these boys went to the regular ed classroom for literacy & did well. They were both reading on grade level in terms of phonics and decoding skills. Both of these boys had started kindergarten in the regular ed class, were struggling, & needed more support & structure than what regular ed could provide for them. My school district has a shortage of 1:1s--there are not enough people to staff the positions. My district is also chronically underfunded, is dealing w/ a lot of financial pressures from the charter school sector, & the powers that be in the district don't always spend money wisely. I say all of this to illustrate that sometimes, teachers like myself are caught between a rock & a hard place--I know that students should be included more, but I also know that even the best teachers won't be able to fully implement the child's IEP or meet his/her needs because there are 29 other kids. Some regular ed classrooms have a part time assistant, some don't. I also don't want a student to be in an unsafe environment all day where there are disruptions such as frequent fights, furniture being thrown, that occur even when teachers are implementing PBIS, de-escalating situations, & differentiating instruction so as not to frustrate students.

So what I hope is that a parent like you could consider being an advocate for more funding for IDEIA. More funding would help. Currently, the demands of the law often fall on teachers who are overworked and underpaid. I'm not trying to garner sympathy, I'm stating the reality that I see every day at work.

Ms206 said...


I disagree with you regarding ALL students spending time in the regular education environment. I am a special education teacher who currently teaches in Philadelphia, PA. (I'm a Seattle native.) This is my 4th year teaching. I currently teach K-2 Autistic Support for grades K-2 (self-contained class for kids who have autism in a neighborhood school). I also taught a grades 3-5 Life Skills Support class (self-contained class for kids who have ID in a neighborhood school). I have students currently and have had students in the past who could not handle being in a regular education classroom, even with supplementary supports and services or a 1:1. Some of these children started in regular ed and ended up in a self-contained class because they were struggling. Regular ed was overstimulating to them and the curriculum could not meet all of their needs. I have/have had students who need instruction in toileting, who need procedures broken down using task analysis, who need a VERY high level of structure, a slower pace, and more direct instruction that is not available in regular ed. Self-contained classes don't just exclude or marginalize kids with disabilities. When overused, self-contained classes CAN marginalize and exclude. But self-contained classes also are necessary for some children because these classes provide kids with disabilities with instruction and services that are not available in regular education.

As my reply to Mom of 4's comment states, I believe that more students with disabilities could be included if schools had more resources (which could come from FULLY FUNDING IDEIA). However, IDEIA requires that LEAs provide a continuum of alternate placements because not all children can learn in a regular education environment. Quite frankly, for some children who have severe behavior problems due to EBD or autism, it would not be safe for that child or for the child's peers if that child were in a regular ed classroom (even with a 1:1). There is the "Holland test" which is a way that some courts have resolved disputes regarding LRE. And one of the components of the Holland test is safety.

For some kids, regular ed isn't appropriate. This is why LEAs provide a continuum of alternate placements and why placement decisions are IEP team decisions. I have my issues with IDEIA, but I am absolutely in agreement with the principle of LRE and the need for there to be a continuum of alternate placements.

Also, I'm not trying to be smart, isn't it a bit ironic that you strongly favor inclusion but have the alias "Speddie"?

xiebob said...

To answer your question "Don't students with disabilities, for the most part, get assigned to their neighborhood schools without any of those schools setting a maximum number of Special Education students they will accept?", the answer is no. Most neighborhood elementary schools only have the barest of special ed services, so students are placed (without their input) at a "linked school" that has the required program and has available spots in that program. So the kids have to be taken away from their neighborhoods and shipped off to go to school with kids from some other neighborhood.

We had the same situation, where we didn't receive a placement at an option school and were told by administration that there were exactly the same number of spots in the Access (autism inclusion) program as there were students, so that none of the students could move to an options school unless they convinced another student to trade places with them. Sure enough, we were in waitlist position 1 and were not moved, while students on the non-Access waitlist were moved into the school ahead of us. Very, very frustrating. (And this was after a huge run-around where our option application was lost by the system because we were requesting both Access and HCC, and the computer didn't know what to do with that.)

Anyway, I'm glad that the board wants to address this! Here's hoping for some follow-through.

Just sayin said...
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Just sayin said...

I suggest that you addres your concerns at the next meeting. AND I suggest that you share your take-away. Surely, everyone there is committed, not just you. It is voluntary, afterall...

Just sayin said...
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Just sayin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.