Special Education News in Michigan
Michigan Teacher of The Year Sued by Walled Lake Consolidated SChools District over Special Education
When A District Sues Parents....
May 18, 2016 Walled Lake, Michigan
Melody Arabo, the 2015 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and her husband are now being sued by the Walled Lake Consolidated School District, over the education of one of their children.
In February of 2016, the Arabos filed a complaint with the State of Michigan over the education of one of their children, claiming violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When the Arabo’s filed their complaint, they expected to have a resolution from the State. What they did not expect was to find themselves sued by the school district.
Authorities from the Michigan Department of Education were already 32 days into their investigation, reviewing evidence from both sides and interviewing witnesses, at no cost to either party. But rather than allowing the State to make their determination, the district has gone against federal recommendations and filed for Federal Due Process. The state is now forced to stop their investigation until the federal process is finished.
The MDE responded to the district's complaint with the following excerpt from a Federal Office of Special Education Programs Dear Colleague letter:
"While a public agency has the right to file a due process complaint, we believe that in some situations, a public agency's filing of a due process complaint after a parent has filed a state complaint on the same issues may unreasonably deny a parent the right to use the state complaint process... It appears that in some instances, public agencies may have filed due process complaints against parents in an effort to prevent the state complaint process from moving forward."
We could not agree more with the DOE and their position that this type of action prevents parents from getting reasonable resolution from the State process….which is actually accessible to all parents without cost. Now, both parents and the district have hired lawyers and have to go to the expense of full litigation costs. The key issues we see are:
1) The state complaint process is one of the few ways that parents can resolve disputes with their school districts without hiring a lawyer and bringing suit, and incurring the costs that come with that. By its actions, the Walled Lake School District is taking that process away and needlessly entangling the parent in expensive litigation.
2) The state complaint process is a critical tool for the state to exercise general supervision and oversee use of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds provided to school districts to help students with disabilities succeed in school. By its actions, the Walled Lake School District is trying to block state oversight and avoid accountability for its use of public funds.
Most parents simply cannot afford this and many parents simply quit at this point. Districts have access to taxpayer money that parents do not, but that expense and use of it has its costs as well. Recently, we noted that Walled Lake Community Schools published their discussion of future cuts to their budget and services. You can see their discussion here.
Our questions: How much money is spent by the district on attorney fees when a process exists which doesn’t require that expense? Who is being well served here? How is this at all reasonable on the part of a cash strapped district? We hope you will ask them.
Attorneys from Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service (MPAS) have now joined the Arabo case, and attorney Mike Dorfman of Nykanen Dorfman PLLC, as they see the impact this could could have on all students with disabilities in Michigan. In the latest development, Walled Lake Schools filed a motion to move Arabo’s son from his local school, the school he’s attended the entire year, to a new school that he has never been to, with less than 30 school days left. The judge has acknowledged that moving him would not be in the child’s best interest and found the motion in favor of the family. Why even ask for such a move? What educator could possible think this a proper decision?
We strongly support the fight for the Arabo’s son, his inclusive education and the important principles in question for all families.
SEAD Voices Support for Teacher of the Year in Struggle to Get Fair Process for Her Sons
Does Special Education Permit "Special Contracts" for Placement?
February 2, 2016 - Walled Lake, MI
Today SEAD's leadership team has casts its support behind the Michigan Teacher of The Year 2015 Melody Arabo, and her family, as they fight to obtain a fair process in their school district. Melody Arabo and her husband Elias have been battling the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools district to have their twin sons attend their local kindergarten, like every other child expects to do. Sadly for the Arabos, they have been unable to find a normal process of special education for their sons, that we can recognize.
For over a year, the Arabo’s have been trying to have that moment all parents look forward to; watching their son’s head off to school with other neighborhood children and their big sister. Because the twins qualify for special education services, the district has apparently determined that both boys would be unable to ‘access the curriculum’ in Kindergarten and should be sent to a segregated school three cities away from their local neighborhood school, over the objection of their parents and by what appears to be a very unusual process.
The serious question is which parts of a kindergarten class that these boys would be unable to sufficiently access? We cannot imagine.
Both boys have speech apraxia and developmental delays, but are able to communicate well with each other, and with others, using words, sign language and a picture exchange communication system (PECS). Despite these abilities, and the desires of the parents, the district reportedly has made some unusual determinations on placement using some very odd system of agreements. The agreements are not the result of any formal dispute process (the only way we know of to step outside the process), but rather appear to be creations of the school district as tools for changing the accepted process of placement determinations under Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and the Michigan Administrative Rules on Special Education (MARSE). This is dumbfounding.
Have we reached a point where districts can make up their own rules and plans and simply discard the laws for special education? Are parents now supposed to bring attorneys to every meeting to try and understand what ever new agreement and contract a district decides to offer to them? This would surely create a nightmare scenario for parents, families and students.
Quite simply, this cannot be allowed to stand. We strongly support the complaint filed today by the Arabo family on behalf of their son Adam.
FOLLOW SEAD LIVE on our Twitter @SEADofMI or live feed here
Lt. Gov. Calley Presented to the State Board of Education 9/8/2015 the initial results of our tour work and your feedback.
The initial results of the Listening Leading Learning Lt. Gov tour on Special Education in Michigan were presented to the State Board of Education. This was the result of all the hard work by so many folks!
Parents made arrangements for kids so they could come and speak We know how difiult that can be. It made a difference!
Educatators took time to come and be a part of the solution, and in some cases speak hard truths in public. It was a risk we all respect.
This is the first step on the route to change for our kids. We all know that things must be better for them in our society and our home state. One day, we will be gone and this will be their world. We are determined to leave it a good place for them to live and work as full members of our Michigan community.
You can see copies of the findings and presentation here. Please feel free to share them as well.
Keep up the good work everyone. we are making a difference together!
Click Image for Document
You can also see the PRESS that has been gained for this issue here.
SEAD Hosting Parents of Special Education Students "Listening Tour" with Lt. Governor Brian Calley
As a follow on from our work to stop the MARSE changes, Lt. Governor Calley has expressed interest in understanding the challenges facing families whose children receive special education in Michigan.
Government is not always easily accessible to parents and we are invited now to speak directly to the highest levels of our Michigan government.
Meetings are to be hosted in various locations around the State of Michigan. Additionally, we expect to have a written forum for parents to submit information on line as well.
Please, tell your friends and family, and come out prepared to relate the problems, practices, and areas of concern and missed opportunities with special education in Michigan.
Our first hosted meeting was Wednesday April 15th from 6 pm to 8 pm in Dexter, MI. We had a wonderful turn out and much information was shared about service needs, transitions, teacher education and the need for more uniform Special Education across the State. The take away’s were many and it was very clear that parents know a lot about our system and their children’s needs.
Our second stop was in Indian River, with the Cheboygan Ostego Presque Isle Educational Services District on April 22nd. Parents had a great deal to say about inclusion, funding, transitions and isolation. Overall, information sharing was one of the more prominent topics. It was so impressive to see parents make the needed adjustments in their lives to come out and participate in this important process.
Past Stops: Grand Rapids at the Kent County ISD on Monday 4/27
Benton Harbor on 6/15
Canter Line on 6/17
Coming up: Oakland County, Wayne County, TRaverse Area and Lansing Areas!
Michigan Office of Special Education to Change Rules Governing Special Ed.
Laura Jones June 24, 2014
The State of Michigan Office of Special Education has made proposal to change the rules that govern special educaiton in Michigan. Known as the MARSE (Michigan Adminsitrative Rule for Special Educaiton), the rules are currently closed to public comment and prepared to be sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for approval.
SEAD has taken a position of apposing many of the rules changes and is currently working with Lt. Governor Brian Calley's office to develop a working dialogue with the OSE.
UPDATE: December, 2014
After being unable to gain a working dialogue wth the OSE, our group was able to secure meetings with memebers of the JCAR Committee. Senator Pappageorge and Representative McMillan heard our concerns and along with the voices of over 10,000 concerned people, prevented the proposed rules changes to the MARSE from happening.
The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules declined to move the proposed MARSE change forward to become rules, at an open meeting on December 11th. Lt. Governor Brian Calley came forward to speak to the JCAR assembled to review the proposed changes, in a packed, standing room only chamber. He spoke about the lack of access parents have to this legal process, and yet are the most affected. He asked the JCAR not to admit the rules. Senator Pappageorge agreed with the Lt. Governor and asked the MDE to withdraw the proposed changes. The MDE complied, granting us a round 1 victory.
UPDATE: February, 2015
The MDE resubmitted the MARSE changes to LARA for review, asking them to be sent on to JCAR again. In the first attempt in 2014, LARA was required by statute to pass the rules to JCAR for action. This time, LARA was not required to pass them to JCAR again, and informed MDE that the proposed changes, still the same as in December, would not be passed to JCAR. Nothing had changed.
The MDE spent their intervening time between rejection assuring themselves and others that the proposed changes were being interpreted incorrectly, and that the designated parent body SEAC was all in favor of them, meaning that parents were represented and did agree with the changes. This, more than anything, assures this group that MDE has little interest in listening to the concerns of parents or providing any spot at the table for us. Very disappointing, we will continue to ask for that seat and to speak up on issues concerning our children.
Read our brief prepared on the proposed MARSE changes which we presented to members of the JCAR and Lt. Governor Calley. Click the Image above to read the PDF.