DC Mother and father Describe Annual ‘Struggle’ Securing Particular Training Providers – NBC4 Washington
For months, parents and children across the country have been preparing to go back to school, but Pamela Uqdah always has another worry: will her daughter’s school be ready for her?
Uqdah’s 17-year-old daughter, Aminah, is one of the thousands of children receiving special education in the district. Born with trisomy 13, a rare genetic disorder that most babies do not survive, Aminah faces several physical and developmental challenges that require her to receive home tuition and a range of services.
Aminah’s virtual school education started on time this year, but Uqdah said it rarely did. Her family had struggled for years to get these services approved and introduced at home by the first day of school.
“School started every year in August and Aminah’s teachers might not come until October, November or December,” she said. “It’s just got to a point where it is, so that’s what’s special about DCPS. We have to keep fighting. “
She is one of many parents who have shared challenges with the News4 I team that they have claimed to receive appropriate special education for their children in the district.
Federal law requires “free” and “adequate” education for children with disabilities and that most schools work with parents to develop individual education programs for qualified children – disputes that parents like Uqdah, special education teachers and lawyers share with the I- Team Telling are more common in DC than most other locations.
“If you live in the District of Columbia and have a child with special needs, you will likely get a fight at some point during your child’s education,” said Brian Gruber, an attorney who helps parents guide the bureaucracy.
The I-Team submitted several requests for comment to the DCPS and the Deputy Mayor for the Education Office, but received no response.
A 2020 report by the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education found that these disputes were far more common in DC than anywhere else in the country, with parties starting in 2018-2019 school year.
Although the same organization has seen an improvement in the district’s dispute rate in recent years, it is still nearly four times higher than Maryland and 15 times higher than Virginia, which has an “activity rate” of 74.1 and 18.8 per, respectively 10,000 children.
These dispute settlement measures, set out in the Disability Education Act, include mediation requests; Filing a so-called state complaint, which is essentially a formal complaint to an official state authority; or filing a due process lawsuit that may trigger a court hearing before a third party. The parties can also appeal a decision to the Federal Supreme Court.
“There is definitely undue reliance on the administrative hearing or final appeal against that hearing decision within the county,” said Gruber, who also practices in Maryland.
The most common argument between parents and schools is whether a child is rated for services, what those services include, and whether they are provided in a public school or in a private setting, Gruber said – disputes that often lead parents to hire costly lawyers to fight them their names.
Cheryl Anne Boyce said she eventually hired Gruber’s company after battling the district to put her daughter in a special school to help with her dyslexia. But even after she won her case by due process last year – a decision that forced DCPS to reimburse her for the cost of her daughter’s education in a private school – she said DCPS approved her application for this year as well contest.
“I just didn’t think it would be so long and difficult,” she said, adding, “It’s a very complicated process and not a very parent-friendly process.”
The district was previously subject to the supervision of a federal court and extensive, years of legal challenges in the handling of special education cases. Two high profile class action lawsuits filed in the late 1990s alleged systemic deficiencies in the DCPS’s ability to process and implement agreements on educational services for its students.
Records received by the News4 I team from the DC Office of the Attorney General show that dozens of disputes between families and DC schools have resulted in civil lawsuits, with nearly $ 4 million in court settlements from the DC as of 2014 – Taxpayers have not received any reimbursements or other expenses paid by the district to families outside of civil litigation.
Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas, Director of Justice and Education Lawyers, said there are several factors contributing to these disputes: Inadequate communication with parents about the conduct of the special education process, disagreement about whether a child should receive an assessment for these services, a lack of available special education teachers, and a lack of customer service.
“There has to be some trust building and basic customer service so families can say that I really care about your child’s well-being. I have your back, ”she said.
The state superintendent of education’s office, which monitors how well schools host students with special needs, issued a statement to News4 that partially stated, “Improving outcomes for students with disabilities is a top priority for the OSSE” and works to help schools “better serve our students with disabilities”.
In 2019, the OSSE published a comprehensive review of special needs education services in the district and found that test scores for students with disabilities in DC were well below the national average. This study is now helping to reshape their mission to improve DC performance for students with special needs.
An OSSE spokesman said it had just launched a new online “special education resource hub” for parents of students with disabilities; develop a special education resource center – due to open next year – where parents can get hands-on help with navigation; and offers teachers new training opportunities for working with students with special needs.
The Uqdahs said many parents are simply overwhelmed by the process and paperwork involved in securing special education for their child – something they both described as a full-time job.
During Aminah’s education, they filed 11 government complaints and five due process complaints about repeated annual delays in getting their school education delivered on time.
After exhausting their options, they filed a federal disability discrimination lawsuit against the district and the DCPS in June alleging that the years of delayed schooling amounted to discrimination because children without disabilities got to school on time . This case is still pending. DCPS did not respond to a request for comment on the submission.
“We hope this lawsuit will put an end to that,” said Taalib-Din Uqdah, Aminah’s father.
That year, according to the Uqdahs, Aminah’s virtual school only started on time after her lawyer called in to solve paperwork.
“We really don’t want to fight,” said Pamela Uqdah. “We just want our children to get what they need to develop.”
Narrated by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, directed and edited by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones.