Denying services
Delaying due process
Deceiving parents and children

Those are the three 'D's of special ed.
In rural Williford, Arkansas, there's a fourth:

Death threats


Diary of
a Dad

up against the

4 'D's

by Tom Bradley 

At first the teachers tried to tell us he was retarded.

Then they tried to tell us there was nothing wrong with him.
Our 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.
When 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.

September, 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.

October, 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.
We insisted that his teachers try to teach. We asked that staff be trained about autism.
The 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."
A 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.

We 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.




photo shows a little boy, masked and striking a ninja pose on the front porch of his country home.Here's David Bradley at about the time this process began, age 12, playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle


This is a senior photo of the same little boy, six years older now.
Here's David Bradley now, age 18, registering for the Selective Service.

The first due process hearing

November, 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.
December, 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 high school.
For 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.
At 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.

Again 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 services.
We 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.
May, 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.



same photo of the ninja turtle boy


same photo of the pensive high school senior

The 1995-96 school year was a disaster.

August, 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.
That 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 over again.
Again contacted Advocacy Services, were told they could not help us because we had hired a private attorney.
The 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."

A 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.
Advocacy 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."
We found a new private attorney once the earlier one told us she could not afford to antagonize the hearing officer by making any complaints about him.

April, 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 refused.
Spring 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 IDEA violation.
We 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.
Four 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.

August, 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.

In 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.
When 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.
It 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 their children.

A 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.
The superintendent of schools gave an interview to the newspaper calling us "radicals and troublemakers" and saying we are not welcome at any school.
We 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.



same photo of the ninja turtle boy


same photo of the pensive high school senior

Now it's a federal case.

November, 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 in itself.
In 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.

December, 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 to.
A 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.
At 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.

March, 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 Rights.
April, 1998 Briefs in our case were filed in the Eighth Circuit Court. Arkansas is claiming, "No child has a constitutional right to an education."
August, 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.
At 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 at last.
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."
Attorneys 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.

November, 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 grade.
December, 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.
January, 1999 The software and computer are in place. The teacher, however, has refused training about autism. "I know all I need to know," she says.
April, 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.
October, 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.

February 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 disabilities.
The 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.
This 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 legal limit.

When 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.



same photo of the ninja turtle boy


same photo of the pensive high school senior


 photo shows a group on the steps of the federal courthouse

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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