The Last Wave

Like most Civil Libertarians, we were thrilled when the US Supreme Court recently issued its Decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which finally made marriage equality the law of the land.

As professionals who are in the Civil Rights advocacy business, we were especially savoring these words of Justice Kennedy: "(t)he nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning."  Beautiful words, but we couldn’t help but wonder: when will the Civil Rights of individuals with disabilities be fully realized? Read more

COPAA Round-up from Paradise
JJSanDiego

We've just returned from Paradise, as in Paradise Point Island, San Diego, where we attended the 17th annual COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates) conference.  We can't say we missed the snow!

COPAA's conference is an annual source of inspiration to us, as we join our colleagues in protecting the Civil Rights of students who have disabilities. At YourSpecialEducationRights.com, we constantly strive to empower parents, and COPAA is an organization committed to this cause we hold so dear. Read more

Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools

Source: NEA Today

Workplace bullying is on the rise. About a third of American workers have been impacted by bullying in the workplace, either as a target or as witness to abusive behavior against a co-worker. Unfortunately, it’s even more prevalent in the field of education. In a recent survey of medium-sized school districts, 25 percent of employees reported that they had been bullied.

A teacher from Augusta, Maine, was so traumatized by her principal and superintendent that she didn’t want her name or school mentioned, but wanted to share her story because she believes the pervasive problem of workplace bullying has gone on unchecked for too long.

“I am sufficiently frightened enough by my former employers to fear that maybe they could still hurt me,” she says. “I need to get a new job but won’t be able to do so if I am unable to receive even one recommendation from an administrator. I know it and so do they.”

After the Augusta educator resisted being transferred to a new school and new grade level, she began to be scrutinized by her administrators. First, they began examining her test scores, her communications with parents, and her relationships with colleagues. Then, with no explanation and no warning, the principal began interrupting her class to pull out students one-by-one to talk to them. When the educator asked the students why they were being pulled out, they told her they were instructed not to tell.

She was accused of not using technology in her class, even though each student had a laptop. She was criticized for relying on a literacy mentor, even though some of her students were struggling with reading. She was put on a behavior modification plan and was told to submit her lesson plans a week in advance for review by administrators. Her peers warned her that she was being targeted, and she began to believe it. Finally, she left her job after her health began to deteriorate.

It’s not just administrators bullying teachers, says Carv Wilson, a geography teacher at Legacy Junior High in Layton, Utah. He’s been an educator for 18 years, and has seen teachers bullying each other to get their way, as well as aggressive parents who fly off the handle and threaten and intimidate their child’s educators. But he says the worst case of ongoing workplace bullying he witnessed was by a principal.

“I was heavily involved in school leadership both as a Davis Education Association Rep and on the school representative counsel, and I heard about or witnessed first-hand the abuse of other teachers, staff, and students by this principal,” he says. “She specifically targeted individual teachers and the only thing that seemed to offer any protection was membership in our local association.”

Wilson says more than 60 percent of the educators were NEA members, and the other 30 percent “suffered dramatically at her hands.” The number of transfers out of the school was higher than 50 percent each year of the eight years that she was principal of the school.

“She seemed to revel in people being driven out of education or to another school,” he says. “The memories of that time still haunt me from time to time, but it solidified my belief that having representation both in school and in the local community through the association is critical. It’s the only defense against unfair and even punitive measures that are sometimes solely prompted by personality conflicts.”

Denise Mirandola is a union representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association who holds trainings for members called “Bullying in the Workplace.”

“I presented it at an Education Support Professionals meeting and was surprised to see so many heads nodding,” she says. “I believe that the phenomenon has been overlooked far too long and should be brought to the surface quickly.”

Like Wilson from Utah, she says association representation is vital if you’re being targeted by a workplace bully. The first thing you should do, in fact, is contact your union representative. Then, document, document, document – save emails, letters, memos, notes from conversations, or anything that shows the mistreatment. She also recommends confronting the bully with a supportive ally, like a union rep – and to describe the offensive behavior you’re experiencing, and the change in behavior you’d like to see.

According to Dr. Matt Spencer of the Workplace Bullying in Schools Project, “the bully steals the dignity, self-esteem, confidence, joy, happiness, and quality of life of the targeted victim”. And when the target is an educator, it is a great “injustice” because the bully deprives students of a caring adult who is crucial to their education.

School Disability Complaints Hit Record High

By Michelle Diament

Federal education officials are handling a record number of disability-related civil rights complaints in the nation’s schools.

In a report out this week [October 3, 2012], the U.S. Department of Education says that more than 11,700 complaints alleging violations of disability rights were filed with its Office of Civil Rights between 2009 and 2011. That’s the highest number ever received in a three-year period, the agency said.

The vast majority of concerns — more than 4,600 — hinged on the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE.

Other commonly cited problems related to retaliation, exclusion/denial of benefits, academic adjustments and disability harassment, the report indicates.

Disability-related complaints accounted for over 55 percent of those received by the Education Department during the three-year period. The nearly 600 staffers in the agency’s Office of Civil Rights also investigate concerns based on race, color, national origin, sex and age.

Source: Disability Scoop

Court Rules to Protect Special Education Teacher from Retaliation from Administration

One of the more controversial posts I’ve written is this one, encouraging public school teachers and service providers to speak out against violations of the civil rights of children with disabilities when they see it.

Of course, I didn’t think it was controversial when I wrote it; I thought it was common sense.

My goal was to let educators know that they, too, have rights, including the right to be free from retaliation if they are honest with parents and colleagues about what those children need. It was, and is, my belief that the vast majority of special educators genuinely care about kids with special needs, and that they feel intimidated, coerced, and generally pressured to “tow the party line” and either side with the administration openly, or stay silent when they see the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA being violated.

I caught a lot of flack for that piece, both “on the record” and off, by those who were offended by it.

I received emails and other communications from public school employees (interestingly, mostly special education administrators) who expressed shock, dismay and outrage I could even suggest such a thing. Not surprisingly, the most violent reactions tended to come from those most likely to violate the IDEA, who vehemently denied not just participating in any such conduct, but also having ever witnessed anything like it ever in decades of service.

Right. Because all of the teachers I’ve met over the years who’ve told me horrible stories about pressure they receive to misrepresent how a child is doing were just making it all up.

School district employees who work with children with disabilities face these tough choices every day.

Well, last week I returned from a family vacation to learn that an excellent Decision just was issued on October 23rd by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. As a reminder, the US Courts of Appeal are those federal courts just below the United States Supreme Court, so their rulings are extremely important and of strong precedential value. In Barker v. Riverside County Office of Education, the Ninth Circuit held that Ms. Barker, a veteran special education teacher, had standing to sue under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for being retaliated against by her school district employer.

What did Ms. Barker do to invoke the wrath of her bosses?

She filed a Complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) because she felt that the special education students in her charge were being denied free and appropriate public educations by the school district. In response, she was intimidated, excluded from staff meetings and email communications, assigned jobs farther away, and was denied work opportunities and benefits.

The conditions became so extreme that Ms. Barker was forced to leave her job entirely.

The school district’s legal argument for consideration by the Court was, basically, that Mrs. Barker did not have “standing” to sue under these statutes because she, herself, is not disabled.

In finding in her favor, the Ninth Circuit wrote as follows:

"While Congress could have limited the remedial provisions of the Rehabilitation Act to claims brought by or on behalf of disabled individuals, it did not do so in apparent recognition of the fact that disabled individuals may need assistance in vindicating their rights…’ Weber 212 F. 3d at 49. Indeed, empathetic people who teach and interact frequently with the disabled are those most likely to recognize their mistreatment and to advocate on their behalf.”

I love that language: “empathetic people who teach and interact frequently with the disabled are those most likely to recognize their mistreatment and to advocate on their behalf.”

How very true. If you are one of those “empathetic people,” or you know one…perhaps you want to share this important Ruling with them today. You may never know how many children you might help by doing so, but I assure you, it will be worth the effort if you help even one.

Department of Justice Says LSATs Discriminate Against Those with Disabilities

By Ashley Post - September 7, 2012

The federal government is supporting a discrimination lawsuit against the organization that administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Yesterday, lawyers for the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to intervene in a class action in which a group of law school hopefuls accuses the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT, of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate test takers with disabilities.

In its motion, the DOJ claims the LSAC improperly flags tests completed with accommodations, thus identifying disabled test takers and implying “that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received.”

The LSAC denies the accusations and is moving to dismiss the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time that LSAT takers have claimed the test discriminates against individuals with disabilities. In June, a blind law school candidate sued the American Bar Association, claiming the LSAT violates the ADA, and last December, a New York woman with a cognitive disability sued the LSAC for not giving her an extension to take the exam.

Source: Inside Counsel

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