I soon realized that we as parents had no established vehicle to participate in the decision making process on a district t or even site based level. I read about the passage of Goals 2000. (GOALS 2000 – Educate America) It was an approach to site based educational reform using the creation of School Advisory Councils (SACs) that represented the diversity of the population that attended the school. The schools received some funding based on the school improvement plan developed by the SAC. I decided to conduct an informal survey of my own and selected ten schools at random to call. I requested to be provided with the name of the person representing students with disabilities. The results confirmed my suspicion that, once again, disability had been excluded from the process as not one SAC contained a parent or educator representing children with disabilities.
This afterthought, when considering the disability community, is a pattern I saw repeated again and again over the years. If you aren’t at the table you are not counted. I began to do some research looking at different models in existence. There were a variety of parent coalitions in place in other parts of the state but none that seemed to fulfill what it was I felt we needed. Although parents of students in ESE back then were referred to as the “parents stirring up trouble”, looking back I think we would have fit into the description of a parent coalition.
My son settled down into the normalcy of being an elementary student and becoming a part of his school once more. It was time to focus on the task I had accepted as the Area Training Coordinator for the parent Training and Information Center (Parent Center Network). I was taking phone calls from parents and setting up and presenting workshops on IDEA topics for them.
Although I knew I was helping other parents, I felt I had to do more. Fueled by the success of my complaint, I renewed my efforts toward educational reform in our school district. I began with another Board presentation. I requested of the Board that we as parents needed a forum by which we could meaningfully participate in all aspects of the special education process. At that time there was nothing. The board agreed with me and ordered that an advisory committee be formed to allow parents to access information and to meaningfully participate in the process. (Sharing the Commitment)
The Superintendent was then charged with carrying out the Board directive. He turned to the Special Education Director assigning her that task. Things had not gone well for her in the eyes of the district. The decisions that to this point were creating a major embarrassment to the school board were deemed her responsibility and before long it was announced that she was accepting a new position and being replaced.
I will say her replacement was a noticeable improvement. The forming of the advisory became her responsibility. I participated initially with that process and then moved on to other issues and really began to dissect written policies. It was obvious she had been charged to rein in those parents and still the raging waters. One of the things she did was to offer me employment as the Parent Liaison. It paid considerably more than the position I had with the parent center but would come with restrictions to my advocacy. I respectively declined.
I was taking calls from parents in a five county area and was becoming aware of issues beyond the county in which I lived. Many of the issues seemed systemic no matter where you lived. I had learned from my first OCR complaint regarding the bus ride for my son that written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken, if it is something you routinely do it is policy and all policies must be consistent with state and federal law. I began a process of zero tolerance for non-compliance. If I saw it happening I filed a complaint, either with the state under IDEA (NICHCY – Filing a State Complaint), or OCR under 504 (OCR – Complaint Process).
During this period of my career it is worth noting that for the next five years our school district led the state of Florida in the number of complaints filed. This included filing sixteen OCR complaints spaced two days apart. This meant that, for the period of one month OCR received a complaint every other day from our district. Part of that resolution was that they had to have OCR provide in-service training to every building principal in the district and it was to be open to the public. The training was held in a high school and as I walked down to the front I could hear the whispers. That’s him. That’s Hawke. I was a marked man.
I filed an OCR complaint using 504 that moved students with intellectual disabilities that were kept in middle schools until they aged out into high School settings. This required those students to be placed into high school settings at the same time and same age as their nondisabled peers. I filed a state complaint regarding the provision of Independent Educational Evaluations. The policy required parents to pay for the IEE and then the district would parents if they were going to reimburse them. They had to rewrite that policy.(NICHCY – Independent Educational Evaluation) I reviewed our Section 504 Procedural Manual. This is a written document outlining how our district complied with 504. After reading it I highlighted a couple of passages and sent it in as an OCR complaint and prevailed again. This time the resolution was to have the District rewrite the entire manual page by page with approval from OCR. I also filed on the failure to conduct the required ADA self-evaluation. I once again prevailed resulting in some access changes but the most noticeable was the addition of van accessible parking spaces for unloading of a wheelchair. Fresh paint was in every parking lot. (Section 504 – District Requirements) I attended a multitude of IEP meetings in all the counties I served and my presence would send staff scattering to sound the alarm. Fathers Network – Reflections of the ESE Policeman
I had reached success with my own son and was now learning more and receiving training from the Parent Center. As I learned the laws I was also learning the history of where they came from.