parents and children
are the three 'D's of special ed.
In rural Williford, Arkansas, there's a
by Tom Bradley
At first the
teachers tried to tell us he was retarded.
they tried to tell us there was nothing wrong with him.
son, David, was diagnosed with autism in 1987 when he was five years
old. He has attended school here in Williford since the first grade.
We have tried for many years to get the services guaranteed to our son
by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA.] The
school district gave us no assistance in obtaining for David what, by
law, is his right.
he entered seventh grade, he went from having one teacher all day to
having five. Right away it became an everyday battle to try to get him
to school. We tried to find out what the problem was. He could not tell
us; the teachers would not.
1994 Meeting with school staff. Told them our problems, asked
for help. The Special Ed teacher said he was "just having problems
making the change from elementary to junior high school." After the
first nine weeks, "everyone would have had time to adjust." We were
to wait it out.
1994 Meeting with school staff. Told them our problems again,
asked for help again. His health teacher told us, "You're wasting
my time trying to teach him." She suggested we get him some pottery
lessons so he could learn to make a living someday.
insisted that his teachers try to teach. We asked that staff be trained
following week I got a call from the school. They told me to come
get my son, that he had made an "unprovoked attack" on another student.
I found that my son had pushed a boy who was threatening to blow him
up with a bomb. The superintendent said that David "should have known
better than to believe that."
few days later, another call, another "unprovoked attack." This time
an older girl had been pestering David as he tried to eat breakfast.
He moved to a different table to get away. She persisted until he
tried to push her away. She hit him and choked him. The principal,
at a disciplinary conference, suggested we take David to a different
school. He was now "a disciplinary problem." I suggested that they
were trying to make my son a problem when he was only defending himself.
I again suggested staff training in autism.
attempted to get assistance from Advocacy Services [Protection
and Advocacy (P&A), a state- and federally-funded legal assistance
agency] but they told us they did not have the staff to handle
all the problems in the state.
David Bradley at about the time this process began, age 12, playing Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtle
David Bradley now, age 18, registering for the Selective
first due process hearing
1994 We called a consultant to come observe our son at school and
at home and make some recommendations for the school. The district told
us they didn't need help. We filed for our first due process hearing.
Opting for a pre-hearing conference, we heard the school district agree
to consult with a university-affiliated program and try to learn how
to teach our son.
1994 IEP meeting with two behavior specialists who presented recommendations.
Also evaluations from autism specialists and Easter Seals. The superintendent
of schools rejected all recommendations. He felt, he said, that David
had "reached his intellectual peak" and probably would not succeed in
the next several months we continued to try to get the school to work
with our son. But by this time things had gotten so unpleasant at school
that the only way our son would stay there was if his mother, Diane,
or I stayed at school with him. We took him out of the resource room
after we learned that his teacher only gave him a workbook page and
sent him to a corner while she worked with the other students.
mid-term, we put our son into a beginning algebra class. During
the first week of class he kept his coat pulled over his head, never
once looking at the blackboard. At the end of the week, when tested,
his grade was 100 percent.
we tried to get Advocacy Services to help us get an appropriate IEP
[Individual Education Plan, as called for by IDEA] and extended
year services [summer education]. Nell Bradley of their office
was assigned to help us. We had several telephone conferences, but
she never came to the school. We learned she was meeting with the
superintendent and had agreed to put off any meetings until after
school was out when it would be too late for getting extended year
were forced to hire a private attorney. Advocacy Services then said
it would not be able to help us because we had a private attorney.
1995 We filed a second request for due process. On the hearing
day in June, the district wanted to negotiate a settlement. With the
assistance of the hearing officer, we worked out what we thought was
a pretty good IEP. District agreed to hire an aide to take my place
by my son's side, agreed to provide access to computers and software,
agreed to provide training for staff, agreed to classroom and curriculum
modifications as recommended by experts. The hearing officer ordered
the IEP implemented immediately.
1995-96 school year was a disaster.
1995 School started and the school district was already in violation
of the IEP. I met with the superintendent who told me he had no intention
of doing what he had agreed to do. After two hearings, the school board
decided to remove the superintendent from any responsibility for implementing
the IEP, putting a teacher in charge instead.
helpful hearing officer, when we contacted her, said she had no responsibility
once the hearing was over and the decision made. We had to start all
contacted Advocacy Services, were told they could not help us because
we had hired a private attorney.
1995-96 school year was a disaster. The IEP was never implemented. We
filed a state complaint. State investigators came in, discounted our
evidence, told us the school was making a "good faith effort," that
we were "expecting too much." Soon several school staffers began a campaign
to turn other parents against us. Teachers told parents and students
they could not do anything for their children since they were having
to do so much for David. In one open meeting, a teacher referred to
him as "like some kind of mad scientist."
parent contacted the Governor's office asking to have our son removed
from the school. The Governor's office referred her to the State Department
of Ed. A department employee discussed David's IEP and his diagnosis
with that parent, then followed the phone conversation with a letter
containing further confidential information about him.
Services declined to help us to fight these invasions of privacy,
saying that while the Department of Ed and the school district shouldn't
be doing these things, Advocacy didn't want "to make a fuss that would
just cause more trouble."
found a new private attorney once the earlier one told us she could
not afford to antagonize the hearing officer by making any complaints
1996 At our annual review conference, the school district proposed
to throw out everything they had agreed to the previous year. The
teachers felt they "didn't need the IEP," preferring to do "what we
think best." We requested an independent evaluation. The district
and Summer of 1996 We filed for due process again. The hearing
officer denied us a hearing on half of the issues we raised, a violation
of IDEA. Nor did we receive a hearing decision in 45 days, another
filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of
Civil Rights. OCR declined to investigate. We notified OSEP (the Office
for Special Education Programs), asking for a legal opinion about
the state's actions. Thomas Hehir of OSEP notified the Arkansas Department
of Ed of the state's violations of Part B, IDEA, giving the state
30 days to correct the violations.
months later, Arkansas sent OSEP a letter saying, basically, that
all state hearing officers had been advised to abide by the forty-five
day rule. End of intervention by OSEP.
1996 The hearing officer would not tell our attorney what the
hearing rules would be. "I have a wide latitude," she said. "I pretty
much make them up as I go along. Don't worry. I'll tell you when you
break the rules." This same hearing officer, who had helped negotiate
the settlement in 1995, found in favor of the district in 1996 and
threw out everything she had helped us to negotiate. We appealed the
decision to federal court.
a lot of rural areas, the school district is the biggest employer.
We have had death threat phone calls, break-ins, people stopping on
the road and yelling at our house. When we got the phone calls traced,
the prosecutor refused to prosecute. Once, when we got one of the
death threat phone calls to court, and the people admitted to doing
it, the judge found them not guilty anyway. Then he lectured them
for about twenty minutes about why they shouldn't do it again.
we have asked people to assist us by testifying in court about what
our son needs, or about autism, or inclusion, the state Department
of Ed learns about it and leans on the people to scare them off. Several
have told us that if they help us they will be forced to leave the
state. We ourselves been told to leave the state, that we would be
hurt, that our house would be burned.
may be that nothing we are doing will benefit our son, but we are
determined to carry on this fight to insure that Arkansas cannot continue
with the three Ds. Our son has not had a chance for his free appropriate
public education because the school district, the state department
of ed, and the state attorney general's office would rather spend
their money on attorney fees than to educate David Bradley. They fear
that other parents will come right behind us, demanding services for
doctor prescribed a laptop computer for David to use as a writing
prosthesis. The school bought one that would not work right. We tried
to get them to put it in working order. The district filed due process
against us to deny David the right to assistive technology. We had
to go into that hearing without representation. The same hearing officer
decided in favor of the school.
superintendent of schools gave an interview to the newspaper calling
us "radicals and troublemakers" and saying we are not welcome at any
are outnumbered and overwhelmed. Over the years we have appealed to
our congressperson and senator to intercede for us. They have been
unsuccessful. We have asked for help from the White House, from the
Department of Education. We have asked for help from every disability
group in the state, but no one here is willing to help. We have no
money to hire expert witnesses, but the state attorney general's office
has all the state's resources at its disposal.
it's a federal case.
1997 Our case went into federal court. Arkansas Assistant Attorney
General Tim Humphries, representing the state, claimed in motions he
filed that the state is immune under the Constitution's eleventh amendment.
Federal Judge James Moody ruled that the state participates in federal
programs voluntarily. If the state wants the federal money, it must
abide by the federal rules. The state filed an appeal. Finding a way
to fund our answer to this appeal has become nearly a full-time job
that same month we filed another due process complaint for an assistive
technology evaluation. The district said that computers and software
are for teachers, and admitted under oath that no student but our son
has ever had an assistive technology evaluation.
1997 Meeting with the Williford superintendent of schools. I told
him I needed an agreement to provide my son with an appropriate education.
If I could not get that, I would sue him personally. The superintendent
did make an agreement, then reneged on it two days later and filed
criminal charges against me for terroristic threatening and disorderly
conduct. I was arrested and ordered to stay away from the school --
this in spite of the fact that my son has only been able to attend
school for the past three and a half years when his mother or I went
with him and stayed with him so he could come to us when he needed
doctor we explained this to gave David a prescription for "homebound
education." The school told us to "put the kid on the bus and send
him to school like everyone else." We filed a request for due process.
While waiting for the due process hearing, the school had me arrested
again for truancy.
this time we started getting threats that David would be taken from
us and placed in a juvenile detention facility for failure to attend
school. For the next several months, Diane kept David in hiding in
different locations while I tried to get our due process hearing expedited.
The strain on them was enormous.
1998 The court found me not guilty of terroristic threatening
and disorderly conduct, but guilty of my son's nonattendance at school.
I was ordered to have my son in school Monday morning or go to jail
for contempt of court. On the following Monday we had our due process
hearing at last. The hearing officer ordered a temporary placement
in home&endash;bound instruction. The school was ordered to provide
one hour of instruction four days a week at the local fire station.
I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Ed's Office for Civil
1998 Briefs in our case were filed in the Eighth Circuit Court.
Arkansas is claiming, "No child has a constitutional right to an education."
1998 The school had hired a doctor to provide a "second opinion"
evaluation of my son's need for homebound instruction. The due process
hearing I requested eight months earlier now resumed. The school superintendent
tried to ignore his own doctor's second opinion. The hearing officer,
at the last hearing, had said that if the second doctor agreed with
the first, "That's it." I reminded her. The hearing officer agreed
she had made that statement and ordered the school to provide homebound
instruction as recommended by the doctor the school had chosen.
the following day's IEP meeting, the school agreed to hire a homebound
teacher to work with David four hours a day, with the parents having
final approval of the teacher hired. Other school concessions included
that the curriculum would be designed to allow credits to be earned
toward graduation, and that David would have a computer and software
September 24, 1998 The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
in St. Louis, Missouri, heard the state's appeal of
our case. Assistant AG Tim Humphries argued that "No
child has a fundamental right to education," and that
"There is no law prohibiting Arkansas from
discriminating against the disabled."
Thomas K. Gilhool from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
and Seth Galanter of the U.S. Department of Justice argued in support
of our family and of IDEA.
1998 The school hired a special education teacher to work with
David at our home three days per week, four hours per day. The teacher
and school ignored the hearing officer's order requiring a computer
and software. The teacher began instruction using textbooks from seventh
1998 We called an IEP meeting to demand the school provide the
computer and software. The superintendent said they were unable to
find appropriate software. We presented him with a prepared order
form for software we had found. All that was left for him to do was
write a check.
1999 The software and computer are in place. The teacher, however,
has refused training about autism. "I know all I need to know," she
1999 Transition plan meeting. Here's where we were to discuss
what we would like to do to prepare David for life after high school.
We asked that a Vocational Rehab staffer be present to help us figure
out what would be available. VR personnel refused to attend until
his final semester in high school. So much for a transition plan at
age 14. Once again, Arkansas ignores the law.
1999 The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in
our case, finally. Arkansas' claim of immunity was denied. The state
must provide services to disabled kids.
18, 2000 Still waiting for our day in court, we feel thoroughly
betrayed by the writers of IDEA. To write such a law and give parents
hope, then do nothing to enforce it is a cruel hoax to play on parents
already suffering from the requirements of educating a child with
National Council on Disability report recently released shows quite
clearly that all states, not just Arkansas, have failed to implement
IDEA, that the U.S. Department of Education fails to hold states accountable.
entire system is analogous to writing a law requiring all cars to
be driven no faster than 65 m.p.h., and providing all police departments
with the money to buy advanced radar equipment to check speeds. Regulations
are written, police officers are hired, equipment is purchased. Then,
as the law plays out, passengers learn that they and only they are
responsible for reporting and prosecuting any driver who exceeds the
we began this process, David was twelve and playing Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles. Now he is eighteen, registering for Selective Service,
and we are still years away from resolving his education.
Photo from left:
attorneys Susan Goodman and
Tom Gilhool accompany David and Diane Bradley
for a day in federal court. Photo by Tom Bradley
who says, "Thank God I have had my wife Diane
to stand with me in this because I sure did not
have anyone else."
To read what another
full-time advocate of a parent does to keep his kid in a regular classroom,
click here. (This dad's in Portland,
Oregon, not Williford, Arkansas. We'll bet the rules are different there.)
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