By Aaron DeVries
A version of this article was published on the Just A Daddyo blog.
The Administrator’s Role In Service Delivery
The administrator’s responsibility to ensure efficient and effective delivery of services is part of the discretion as they are responsible for the finances of the school district. The administrator has to do what the law states but they have to do it in a way that is efficient and effective so the district is not wasting resources. The administrator’s responsibility to their own values is also part of the discretion as everyone brings their past to the table. Everyone has a different background and set of values that they have arrived at over their lifetime that they bring to the table all the time. Last year the local school district where I live stopped holding a special education prom that had taken place for years as a school sponsored event. One of the reasons that came up is that in Special Education the goal is for full inclusion but as you have seen in this essay that is not even in the law itself so they are bringing their own values into their discretion.
Training and expertise is also part of the administrator’s discretion. Depending on where you were trained or specifically what you are trained in you will have a different take on what the law means. If you get your degree at a college that is big on inclusion and someone else goes to a college that does not agree with inclusion they are going to interpret the laws differently. In the last year our district hired a new special education director who has he background in social work so she has different training than a director that was a special education teacher. The final area is the administrator’s responsibility to act in a manner consistent with the larger legal/constitutional structure and associated values. In this area of the law they have to look at the whole law and see how this piece fits in and then determine if how they are interpreting it is consistent.
It’s All About The Children
With the idea of inclusion in special education, since it is not mentioned in the law, it leaves room for administrative evil. Even though parents are part of a team making the decisions and there are remedies for solving disagreements, the deck seems to be stacked heavily in the school districts favor most of the time. I am a person that likes to have something in black and white and I read the regulations and come prepared to meetings to voice my opinion on the topics being discussed but there is a fine line that needs to be walked so that you do not end up hurting your child as well. In order for the team to make decisions they need to have data to base it off and we have had times where there was no data to be found. It is hard to argue with school staff on what should be done when you have no data to support either side of the discussion. The “banality” comes into play where the district administration is so wrapped up in not wanting to get sued that they lose sight of what we are all here for and that is the children. I think that if you blindly follow the administrative law without using any common sense you can get yourself in trouble pretty fast.
My background is in accounting and the reason I went to college for accounting is that in high school I took the classes and it was so black and white. Well needless to say when I got into college there was some gray added into it but I still liked the parts where it was black and white. I think because of this background I do not like laws that are written like this because it does not tell me exactly what needs to be done or what things will meet the definitions and which will not. I was a sales tax accountant at my previous job and there were states that would lay out exactly what something meant and then there were states that you could decide either way because it was written so vague. Since I have seen some laws written more precisely I know it can be done but I also know that every situation is not the same so if you write it more generically it will cover more situations.
Another reason why I would really love for these laws to be more specific is that I have seen what happens when they leave so much room for administrative discretion. As the statute says above parents are to be involved in any group that makes decisions on the placements of their children so naturally there are times when the parent and school district have two vastly different opinions on what needs to be done. I think most parents with a child in special education will just go along with the school district because they should know what is best for the student. If you are a parent that does not agree with the school district you find yourself having to spend a large amount of time looking at laws and talking to other parents to figure out what your options are. If you are able to come up with a good argument and work with the team you may get the placement you want. But if that does not work all you are left with are steps that may cause you to get a lawyer involved so you are probably going give up on your request or move the child to another school district where you can get the placement you want. The school district seems to hold the upper hand in these situations because they know that the chances are pretty slim that you will pursue legal actions against them.
Working As A Team
As a parent that has been involved in many meetings where we are discussing our daughter’s placement the holes in this process have become apparent. The parents and school staff are supposed to function as a team when making decisions in the best interest of the students, but that is hard to do when one side holds most of the information that is needed. Since the majority of the time that the parents see their kids is before or after school and on weekends they rarely see how they function in an academic setting. They may stop into school to observe but that is not very frequent and is only for a short period of time. The school staff sees the child in the academic setting day in and day out so they see how a child can handle what we are deciding for them. If the school staff is not relaying that information to the parents how are they supposed to be active team members and contribute to the discussions? Also if the parents do not have all the information that they need to help make a decision on placement how do they come to the meeting prepared to propose a placement? The parents then have to rely on what they are being told by school staff and defer to them with the placement decision. We had a situation a couple years ago with our daughter’s team where I had asked for data in writing in advance so I could look at it and be prepared to contribute for the meeting. I never heard anything back from them and during the meeting I again asked for the data and they just sat there quietly. I asked them “How am I supposed to contribute to the team if I do not have any information to look at?” and again there was no response. The regulations clearly say they have to keep progress information on the student and to provide it to parents when they ask for it. At that point in the meeting as a parent you have two choices you either go with what the school has proposed since you have no data to propose something different or you start working through the administrative appeals process. Parents do not often go through the appeals process as it is hard to go down that path without alienating the school staff and since most parents do not have the documentation they need to prove a better placement is necessary.
The system forces us to put our faith in the administrators as we hope they are looking to ensure efficient and effective delivery of services, have good values, have the required training and expertise, and have the necessary legal background to perform their job in the way it should be. I am one that does not take everything at face value and I will not take what they say as gospel just because they are an administrator. I am fearful that too many people just rely on administrators to be correct all of the time when they are human and they are going to make mistakes. In situations like special education where it involves my child there is no room for administrators to make mistakes.
Mirage or Right?
So now it is time to answer the question posed in the title “Is Inclusion a Right or a Mirage? Actually the answer is no to both parts. As I described earlier in the paper, it is not specifically addressed in IDEA 2004 so it is not a right. Since there are many people that think inclusion, as was defined, is the best thing for most kids I do not think it is a mirage either. Some school districts or even specific buildings in school districts are working towards inclusion and as long as school staff and parents are trying to make it happen it will never ride off into the sunset.
Photo Adapted from falcon0125