As a parents’ special education attorney in Connecticut, I hear outrageous statements that parents are told by their school districts on an almost daily basis. But, sometimes, I am told something that passes the realm of outrageous, and crosses into ridiculous.
Such statements mislead or misrepresent the school’s legal obligations, and always in a way that benefits the school district.
After hearing so many of them, I decided to add a separate category to my blog just for this purpose, where I will post these ridiculous comments and explain why it likely violates IDEA. Hopefully, if you’ve heard similar things from your district, next time around you will know better!
Today’s Ridiculous Comment
The comments I am getting from school district personnel at IEP meetings this year just keep getting more and more outrageous. If the future of a child’s education didn’t turn on many of them, it would almost be funny. Case in point:
Recently, I was attending a meeting on behalf of a client of mine who has a serious emotional disturbance. Sadly, it’s a case not dissimilar from many I’ve handled in my Connecticut special education law practice. The student is currently placed at a therapeutic school, and the parents are seeking reimbursement. The kid’s history includes suicidal and homicidal thoughts, and a number of hospitalizations.
As is more common than not, the school district is underplaying the seriousness of the student’s emotional disability, in a transparent effort to avoid the financial responsibility of the residential placement.
So, here we are, with the school district’s special education teacher reporting on her recent observation of the student. She is all excited about how my client is interested in film-making. “It’s just great that she’s found an interest in something like that,” she gushes, “she told me she recently finished a short film!”
The child’s mother asks whether the special education teacher has actually ever WATCHED any of her daughter’s films. The teacher said she had not. “I wish you had,” the mother indicated, “because they’re very disturbing. They are extremely, extremely violent. They are really gory, like Quentin Tarantino kind of gory. We’ve actually been working with the private school on this a lot.”
And here’s where the ridiculous comment comes in.
The special education director practically leaps over the table and says: “but Quentin Tarantino is VERY SUCCESSFUL! I mean, it sounds like a GREAT THING that she’s so interested in this! Why would you want to stifle that? In fact, I think this is something we should be putting into the IEP as part of her Transition Services.”
It was all I could do to keep the parents in their seats. “Yes, we understand how successful Quentin Tarantino is, but I think you’re missing the point,” I said. “If she was just a kid interested in horror flicks, I assure you, we wouldn’t be here today. It’s the fact that she’s a student with an emotional disability whose preoccupations with death are part of what necessitate her having to live away from home because she can’t be educated otherwise that’s the problem!”
Just because a student has a particular interest does NOT mean that we need to incorporate it into the IEP! Some interests are not healthy or productive.
Look, I’m all for finding a student’s strengths, and capitalizing on them. That’s part of what IEP teams are supposed to do. But when administrators are so desperate to avoid financial responsibility for a therapeutic placement that they make a very disturbing hobby sound like appropriate vocational services, then trust me, we have far bigger problems than who’s paying for the placement.