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1. Creative Solutions Contest: The Inside Story
"What happened to Georgia Mom?" readers ask. "What happened to the little boy with cerebral palsy who had to walk down a long dirt road to ride the school bus?"
Last month, we sent a newsletter to subscribers about the Creative Solutions Contest. We described the Problem:
"I have a 3 year old son who has cerebral palsy and is autistic. He attends a special needs Pre-Kindergarten program at our local school in Georgia. He is supposed to ride a special ed bus back and forth to school."
"The superintendent won’t let the bus driver pick him up at our house and makes him walk 3/4 of a mile between the house and the main road. The reason they give for refusing to pick him up at home is that we live on a private road so they don’t feel it is safe."
You sent Creative Solutions and we posted them on the Wrightslaw site. We asked you to read the Creative Solutions and vote for your favorite. We tallied your votes.
The winners were Dr. John O. Willis, a New Hampshire school psychologist, and Becky Milton, the mother of a 16 year old boy with ADHD.
What happened next?
THE INSIDE STORY BY BECKY MILTON
Within hours, John Willis and Becky Milton were communicating by email. They brainstormed about ways to solve Nancy’s problem. John understood the power of negative publicity. He wondered about turning the Wrightslaw file over to the superintendent, advising the superintendent that the country was watching.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Becky Milton wrote to Nancy: "Understand that you are not alone anymore. A lot of people are keeping a close eye on this situation."
"An advocate told me that I should look at these people as NOT being my friends. As hard as it was, I had to start looking at them through different eyes. I had to stop telling them how I felt about situations."
"After I stopped telling them everything, they started wondering what I was doing. What will I do next? It keeps them on the edge rather than putting me there. I ask questions. I don’t tell them everything I think and feel."
Nancy faxed Becky documents, including the doctor’s letter stating that Justin needed to be transported back and forth to school and the superintendent’s letter refusing transportation. Nancy authorized Becky to contact the school district on her behalf.
BECKY TALKED TO SUPERINTENDENT
On Monday, Becky Milton contacted the superintendent on Nancy's behalf. "I decided to call Dr. S. because Nancy said the special ed director was helpful, cooperative and understanding. In other words, the problem was not coming from the special education department, but from the school bureaucracy."
"When I talked to the superintendent, I brought up his letter where he wrote ‘Even though it (the private dirt road) can be traveled in dry weather, it would not be safe for a bus during rainy weather. Therefore, the bus will continue to stop for the children at the mailbox area.’"
"In other words, he felt the road was safe in fair weather. When I brought this up, he said he had to go to a meeting. I explained that not only did I have questions and concerns about this, but that others were concerned too."
"That same day, I called the Assistant Superintendent who is also the director of transportation. I brought up the letter from Dr. S. I asked if he was aware that the child wears leg braces. "Yes." I asked if he was familiar with IDEA. He said "Yes."
THE STATE GETS INVOLVED
Nancy received an unexpected call from the state Department of Education. Later, the state department of education staff person called back to advise Nancy that there would be an IEP meeting the following day, and to "keep an open mind."
THE SCHOOL OFFERS AN UNCREATIVE "SOLUTION"
At the IEP meeting, the school generated a "solution" to the problem which was to change Justin's special education program from a half day to a full day program. This meant 3 year old Justin would leave for school at 7:45 a.m. and get home at around 4:30 p.m. Justin had a 9 hour day, 4 hrs of which would be spent on a bus.
From our perspective, the school’s "solution" wasn’t creative. They shifted the responsibility for transporting Justin onto his brothers who were supposed to ensure that he got home safely.
The assistant superintendent/transportation director called Nancy and said he had arranged for her older sons to ride the special ed bus so they could get Justin home. Becky called the assistant superintendent to advise him that the oldest boy could not ride the special ed bus and he would have to make other arrangements.
BECKY DOES RESEARCH AND FINDS GOLD
Becky began to do research about early childhood special education. She found this nugget of gold which she sent to John:
"This is from the Office of School Readiness for the State of Ga."
"Note the sentence "shall not be denied
3.7 Children with Disabilities
"Section 504 also demands access. Has the Office of Civil Rights been involved yet? "
Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/
"How does the Governor handle adverse publicity?"
CHANGING BUS ROUTES
The school changed bus routes, transferring the older boys so they could take charge of Justin. This was a disaster. To avoid the 5 minute drive to Justin’s house, the bus driver had to sit at the end of the road for 35 to 40 minutes every day. This meant the bus driver was getting home almost an hour late.
A teacher complained that the new bus schedule meant that Nancy’s older son had to leave school 15 to 20 minutes early each day.
CONSIDERING AN OCR COMPLAINT
Becky and John decided that an OCR Complaint was the next step. Becky would help Nancy write a powerful "Letter to the Stranger" which would accompany the Complaint.
Before filing the OCR Complaint, Becky advised Nancy to give the school one more chance to resolve the problem.
"Ask them one more time to bring Justin home. Explain that it makes no sense to you that this child, and other children, and the bus driver have to sit and wait. Explain how long Justin has to spend h on the bus. Explain that you take him to the bus stop in the mornings. You have met them half way and will continue to meet them halfway. If they will not meet you halfway, you are considering contacting OCR."
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS: USE 5 W’S + H + E
"Keep notes on every word said. Ask lots of questions. Their answers to your questions will help you understand their reasoning."
"Keep your cool. Keep your requests simple. Stay on one subject. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked. By staying on track, you start the process of advocating effectively for Justin."
HELP! A MEETING IN ATLANTA
Nancy heard there was to be a meeting in Atlanta. She wrote to Becky:
"I hear there will be a meeting in Atlanta. Do I have to get an attorney to handle this for me? I just don’t know if I can do much more of this."
Becky said, "Nancy was tired, very tired and stressed. I advised her to ‘sit back.’ Because she was stressed and overwhelmed, she gladly stayed out of it. When people had questions, she advised them to contact me."
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: OCTOBER 6, 1999
On Friday, October 6, the special ed director called Nancy and told her that the special ed bus would pick Justin up and deliver him at home every day.
Later that day, Nancy wrote to us: "I wanted to tell you that as far as I know, the bus situation has been resolved. I was informed by the bus driver this afternoon that she will pick Justin up at the door and bring him back home to the door."
"I am so grateful to each of you for
your help. I met a very wonderful person named Becky Milton who is
an advocate in my state. She was very instrumental in helping with
this. Also John Willis helped very much. If it weren’t for the two
of them along with your mailing, there is no way I could ever have
resolved this problem.
We read Nancy’s letter while we were driving to Washington, DC for the CHADD Conference. Suddenly, the date hit us. Six years earlier, on October 6, 1993, Pete had oral argument in the Carter case! October 6 is a good day!
"THE INSIDE STORY" BY BECKY
Becky wrote, "During the negotiations with Nancy’s school district, I maintained contact with John Willis. I sent him all the correspondence and asked for his opinions and input. He gave advice and supported our course of action."
"When days passed and we heard nothing, we made the decision to write a Letter to the Stranger and send it to the Office of Civil Rights. We didn’t have to do this because they suddenly decided to do the right thing."
Becky’s son continued to have school problems.
"Focusing on Nancy’s problems gave me a break from my son's problems. Two days into this, my son received a "progress report" that he was failing 3 classes. He had worked so hard and was very discouraged. He said he was going to quit school. (16 is the legal age in Georgia)."
You can read Becky’s story at
"As you know, I am on the COPAA list. On the advice of Brice Palmer, a Vermont advocate, I requested an emergency IEP meeting. The day before the IEP meeting, Mr. Palmer contacted my director of special ed. He explained that he had not planned to attend the IEP meeting but if necessary, he would come from Vermont to Georgia."
"The IEP meeting the next day was a great success. The director agreed to place my son in an area Technical School."
"During the negotiations, I felt empowered by the information and knowledge Mr. Palmer instilled in me. I asked myself what would Brice do? He was my "Guiding Light".
Brice Palmer wrote "Letter from a Vermont Advocate: How to Prepare Your Case" in the Advocacy Library:
BECKY’S WEB SITE
Becky wrote, "I decided to put up a web site to help other parents. Would you take a look and tell me what you think?"
2. 3rd Annual COPAA Conference
The organization Becky mentioned is The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).
The 3rd Annual COPAA Conference will be held in Houston on March 3-5, 2000. For more information about COPAA, advocacy training, and the Houston Conference, go to the COPAA web site at –
3. Advocacy Pak: Progress Report
Many of you have learned that the Advocacy Pak is unavailable. We expected to have the Advocacy Pak revised and available before now.
The special education regulations were released in March. Since that time, our time and energy has been spent working on WRIGHTSLAW: SPECIAL EDUCATION LAW.
When we started to revise the Advocacy Pak, we decided to give it a complete overhaul. We are adding several new articles about tactics and strategy. All articles are being revised to make them consistent with the new IDEA regulations.
We will send an announcement to newsletter subscribers when the ADVOCACY PAK IS BACK!