Monday, February 9, 2009

Commentary: You are Now Entering the Twilight Zone...

You are Now Entering the Twilight Zone...
By Jennifer Searcy
Founder/Director of Public Policy & Affairs
The Coalition for Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports

AKA “How far will a district go-oh-oh to deny educational records?” (sung to the tune of “What would you dooo-oo-ooo for a Klondike bar.”)

No, don’t ask me why that song is going through my head; maybe it’s sleep deprivation finally kicking into overdrive, but quite possibly it’s the amazement I’m still feeling from last Monday at how far this one school district in North Carolina went to deny a mother’s right to access her son’s educational records.

Their story is complicated, as anyone who has gone to bat with a school district over a child’s right to FAPE can attest, but….

Long story short, she’s been trying for months and months to get her son’s educational records from his former and current elementary schools. Information is trickling in slowly, very….very….slowly, one or two pieces at a time, but the district keeps deliberately withholding important information from her, like tests results, behavioral logs, incident reports, etc. And some of the information that she has received so far - like his attendance log – is full or errors.

She finally formally filed a FERPA complaint because the district hasn’t fully complied with the FERPA request she made in I believe it was early November.

Finally, tired of waiting around for the district to share those records, she made an unannounced visit to his former elementary school to inspect those records, with FERPA letters and policy in hand, and…..she entered the Twilight Zone.

I swear, she must have. How else do you explain that when she tried to sign into the log book so there’d be an actual physical record of her visit and the reason for her visit, the secretary physically assaulted her by tugging, and pulling, and yanking the sign-in book away from this mom?

Seriously. And this was before anyone at the school knew WHY she was there to begin with.

Fortunately, dear Mom KEPT WRITING! Even as the book was tugged and pulled away from her, even as the secretary told her she couldn’t sign there, she kept her pen to paper and finished signing her name. She didn’t get to sign in WHY she was there, BUT, she signed her name.

And then she slapped on a visitor’s sticker and explained why she was there.

And how was Mom rewarded for her valiant efforts?

The secretary CROSSED OUT HER NAME!! Repeatedly!

And then Mom was told some confusing things.

First, she was told none of his records were in the building she was standing in, but had been transferred to the new school her son is currently attending; a placement that both she and the school district dispute is even appropriate for him. (Told you it was complicated.)

Mom asked if the behavioral log one of his former teachers had kept in a journal had also been forwarded, and, after the secretary consulted with said former teacher, Mom was told that the teacher confirmed that particular educational record was still there and still in that former teacher’s possession, and that she’d have to make an appointment with said former teacher, who has been holding that particular educational record hostage for whatever reason, if she wanted to see it.

Mom leaves note for said teacher, includes the day’s date, slaps her visitor’s pass onto that letter (also dated), and sweetly asked the secretary if she would make a copy of it for her records. Surprisingly, the secretary actually did. Bingo! Mom has record of being a visitor in that building that day.

Next Mom drives to the “new” school. Upon arrival she is also promptly told she’ll have to make an appointment to inspect those records. Mom tries to reason with the district, but no dice. I don’t even believe they would confirm the records were actually there.

I wish I were kidding. Can you just picture this? A grown woman grappling with another grown woman over a sign in sheet simply because the Mom wanted to inspect her child’s educational records, as is her legal right!?

Fortunately Mom and I had a good laugh over the ridiculousness of it all, but it does make you wonder what else – besides pulling his arm behind his back in a restraint and shoving at him from behind, tossing him on a carpet, physically yanking him away from a wall he was trailing his hand on, and screaming in his face how sick one of his former special education teachers is of everything being about him all the time that this former teacher admitted to in her own handwriting – the district is trying to hide.

And the battle continues to rage on into another day….

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