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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Judge Wendy Baxter's Opinion & Order: Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb & Control of Academics

Dear Readers,
Aurora Harris here....

On December 6, 2010,  regarding the case of the Detroit Board of Education vs Robert Bobb, Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools, Case No. 09-020160 AW, Honorable Judge Wendy Baxter of the Circuit Court of the County of Wayne, ruled in favor of the Detroit Board of Education. A few days ago, I posted that I would post the legal document on this blog. However, due to the size of the document (over 60 pages long), I found that I couldn't post it. Therefore, if anyone would like a copy of the case please send an email to me at

With regard to the state of education in Detroit, my particular focus as a parent and advocate of an autistic person has been to bring to the forefront of discussions, whether they be at community, local and state, or academic levels, the voice of parents with special needs/disabled children and transition adults in vocational schools.

From late August through October 8, 2010, I was a member of the Detroit Public Schools Academic Transition Team with two other parents of children with special needs, and, members of the community (parents, educators, public education supporters, reform supporters, charter school supporters). During those two and a half months, the concerns and issues of parents with special needs children in the Detroit Public Schools were brought to the discussion of education during the analysis of the DPS District Plans of former Superintendent Theresa Gueyser and the Excellent Schools reform plan of EMF Robert Bobb, for the purpose of making recommendations to the Board and the new Superintendent.

During that time, if it had not been for the three of us parents with special needs children...Special Education, the certified special education teachers, and special needs students K-12, and transition students (aged 20-26) in Detroit's only two adult vocational schools for disabled adults would not have been heard.

The 16 areas that we, The Team discussed and made recommendations included the following, with input from We, the Parents and Guardians of Special Needs/ Disabled Students:
  • Assumptions (address assumptions about the District)
  • Vision (develop a vision statement)
  • Goals of the District / Schools (...goals for the educational process and issues emanating from the experiences of the committee members)
  • Personnel-Contract Issues
  • Student Assessment
  • Culture Issues
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Decision-Making
  • Community/Parents
  • Interactions  (Student/Adult Relationships and involving parents as volunteers)
  • Collaboration
  • Reform
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Safety
  • Capacity
  • Attendance
  • Administration
  • Options/Opportunities
As I participated in the discussions and analyzed the plans with attention to the District, and, concerns with Special Education and Bi-lingual education and supports, some of the things that I spoke about were:
1. Under the current climate of reform in Detroit, there is the overall appearance of invisibility of Special Education, Special Needs Students, Parents,  Certified Special Ed Teachers, Resource Support Staff, and, Bi-lingual instructors, Bi-lingual Support Staff, as if we and the laws at Federal, State, County, and Local levels that protect Special needs/ disabled children and adults do not exist. Within this appearance of invisibility are the people who have been rendered silent...people that can speak about the spectrum of disabilities that exist and their concerns with the Special needs and Bi-lingual education of our children.

On many occasions, the formula rhetoric and belief, "All we have to do is send them to school, get them educated, get them into college, get them a job" was presented without consideration to class, ethnicity, race, cultural and language differences, and spectrum of disabilities that exist.  One of the things that parents with special needs children pointed out at the meetings was the fact that there was no plan within the Excellent Schools plan that addressed the education of Special needs children, their hopes, or dreams, or independence as transitioned adults. Other than longer class hours, increasing academic achievement, or meeting Annual Yearly Progress, there was no detailed plan who, what,  where, or, how to get Special needs K-12 students into post secondary vocational schools educated, working in the community, or into community colleges, colleges or universities. There was no mention of where parents could go to get assistance from the schools or the community. Therefore, it was up to us, to ensure that these things were mentioned, discussed, and included in our recommendations to the DPS Board and future Superintendent.

While I was basically reminded that "The Feds go to 21," by one of the team members (like our children in adult transition vocational schools were already eliminated or nonexistent in the Detroit District or Wayne County for that matter) whenever I mentioned concerns with our children not being trained and not being sent out to train in the community to obtain work skills, I found myself repeating and reminding people that "In Michigan, we go to age 26. Therefore, all laws that protect our children from birth to age 26 are still in effect."

While members talked about how "education had to be inclusive," I quickly pointed out that I found it ironic that while inclusion was mentioned, the exclusion of Special needs children and Special Education from discussion was practiced until we spoke up about it. I learned that in reform lingo that "inclusive" meant mainstreaming special needs students into general education classes, which many parents that I have spoken to disagree with because under the current EMF administration, there are not enough Special Ed, Resource, Bi-lingual or General Ed teachers in every school operating in the district. Most parents that I have spoken to do not want an non-certified "Ed Tech" teaching their children because they have not been trained in any area of disability.

Under the current education reform climate, there appears to be an air of "All disabled kids are the same...what they need as individuals doesn't matter, so just put them in any general education class." I mention this because in my case, with a person with Autism, there is a spectrum. Therefore, my child's Autism is not the same as Michigan Lt. Governor-elect Calley's child's Autism. That is why there is a name for the disability called AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER.

2. With regard to the Board being rendered powerless and/or voiceless, so are parents of Special needs children, and others from the community.  I pointed out at some of the meetings that many of our parents are not the "uncaring- uninvolved-dumb-special ed parents themselves- illiterate-undereducated" stereotype that has often been presented to me and promoted in the media as the "face" of Detroit's poor, non-working, underemployed or working class citizens. On more than one occasion, I felt that if it had not been for two other community citizens and myself feeling the need to state our academic and professional backgrounds in relation to education, higher education, politics, social work, and civic literacy,  in order to be heard or taken seriously, our voices would have continued to be ignored or talked over. Two of us told the team that we have children who are autistic.

3. Within Detroit's population of English speaking Special Needs students and their parents, exists an internal population of those who are non English Speaking and English Language Learners, particularly the Spanish, Arab, Hmong, Bengali, and Hindi speaking populations. While I was challenged on the fact that non-English speaking students are not considered "Special Ed," I brought up the fact that in many cases, non English Speaking students are often times placed into Special Education classes, and, we need more translators for both educational and safety related concerns.

4. With regard to the "75,000 existing students in DPS," I put forth to the Team, made up of those from the Educational Reform groups in favor of the Bobb Plan, and, members of the community, the fact that I disagreed with that number. As a researcher with a background in sociology and education, I disagreed based on the absence of population statistics that include both general education and special education students from the previously mentioned ethnic groups, that are also a part of the City of Detroit, that may still be sitting at home, left un-enrolled in our schools due to a. The lack of Bi-lingual staff, educators, and Resource persons to assist in the enrollment process, and, b. The lack of Bi-lingual staff to assist in explaining what Special education is to non-English Speaking parents, and, c. Feelings of helplessness, fear, and/or intimidation when faced with an enrollment process where everyone around you cannot communicate with you or your child.

Therefore, if the parents and students from those populations could be located and properly instructed in their languages about the enrollment process, Special Education, and services that are available through the District, I believe, that the District's student population would increase.

5. The Federal and State mandated removal of parental consent from Individual Education Plans after the Initial IEP, and, the implications and future effects on Special needs students, their parents, and Special Education educators.

At this point,  I will now turn my attention to the new Governor, Assistant Governor, Legislators of the State of Michigan, The Mayors, Provosts and Deans of "teacher universities, colleges and programs," and employed certified Special Education Teachers, Social Workers,  Psychologists and Resource Assistants,  to ask "market economy" questions as they relate to proposed changes of the Michigan Constitution and Detroit's City Charter...questions that I have asked constituents and colleagues:

1.  While the "Inclusion" or "General Education" model of Educational Reform is foregrounded in discussions at every level of government in the State of Michigan when it comes to Special needs/disabled students... If Michigan has a high joblessness and unemployment rate, and Special Education is eliminated in the State of Michigan, wouldn't the elimination of that area of education create more unemployment as it relates to professors in universities and colleges that specialize in Education or have programs that teach people how to become teachers in the area of Special Education? 

2. What will teachers or educators who are certified as Highly Qualified Special Education Teachers do when they are fired from their jobs, lose their health benefits, retirement or pension funds?

3. What will the Special Education Social Workers and Psychologists or ""Psyche Evaluation Teams" do when they are fired from their jobs?

 4. Who will the State of Michigan and City of Detroit be hiring to replace those who are experienced in every or most or some areas of special need / disability; and have certification; and are qualified to teach, counsel, or render a social, psychological,  or educational opinion about Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Sight Impairment, Speech Impairment,  Hearing Impairment, wheel chair bound students, or disabilities across the board?

5. As a parent of guardian of a special needs / disabled child, who do you want teaching your children?

6. As a parent or guardian of a special needs/ disabled child or children, regardless of your age, sex, education level, etcetera, do you know how to educate your child yourself or know the laws so that you can advocate effectively on behalf of your child?

7.  As a parent or guardian of a special need/disabled child are you economically sound enough, "liquid enough," or wealthy enough to take on the responsibilities of educating your child at home and providing the support services that your child needs, or, hiring someone who can? For aunts, uncles, elder grandparent or great grandparent caretakers, how much time do you really have to seek out support services or train your transition adult in employable skills?

Overall, the things that I have mentioned, are things that I feel parents and guardians of special needs children should be thinking about or discussing. All of these things I have brought to your attention today are things that I feel can open up areas of legal study and discussion for any parent, student, or educator to investigate in relation to discrimination and violations of IDEA, American Disability Act, 504, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Mental Health Recipient Rights, and, other laws, amendments and mandates... the history of reasons...the why and how, during the past and existing administration under an EMF or State takeover, the many things in Detroit's School District that led to continued non-compliance as we know and experience today, how an elected Board can be rendered null, and how an entire population of special needs students, their parents, and educators, are rendered invisible and voiceless within the current climate of education reform in Detroit.

In conclusion, while I feel that the effort to eliminate special education in the State of Michigan and Detroit is underway, I would like to remind everyone that special needs and disabilities cut across all political party lines. Please see Fox 2 News:

Calley Fighting for Kids with Autism

Michigan's Lt. Governor-elect Brian Calley is in favor of autism insurance reform in the state. He joined FOX 2's Deena Centofanti Friday morning to share his family's story and give reasons why the change is needed.

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