Welcome, parents of special-needs children! Get help–and give it–right here.

The Atlanta Public Schools Program for Exceptional Children is a badly neglected, poorly managed special-ed program that unashamedly victimizes our most vulnerable children.
It is overwhelmingly populated by do-nothing, unskilled paper-pushers whose salaries are a form of theft against deserving children and taxpaying parents.
For too long, the PEC has relied on parents' silence and isolation, and used that to leverage too many of us into poorly-constructed IEPs
that don't begin to meet the definition of an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.
This is a place to tell your stories so that a critical mass may form and ignite real change.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PEC's Greatest Hits! (Vol. 1)

To be the worst program in a public school system now accused of the biggest cheating scandal in standardized testing history, you've got to really work at it. But the PEC's hits just keep comin'!

Here, courtesy of Greenwood Records, are just a few candidates for our first compilation!

1. Oh, Baby, I'm Barely Literate
2. Race To The Bottom
3. Slow Train to Reformville
4. Felonious Junk (one of my personal faves)
5. Let's Break A Deal
6. Doin' The Zombie Shuffle (extended dance mix)
7. Yore Cheetin' Hart (cover of original Erasure hit!)

Our story

Our son Vance was diagnosed with autism in 2005. He is a cheerful, affectionate kid with very mild symptoms overall-never a tantrum, only mild stimming, no face-blindness, good social awareness; but he has a profound spoken-language obstacle and is easily bored--a recipe for great difficulty in any public school system, but especially the APS PEC, which is the slummiest part of the intellectual slum that is the Atlanta Public School district bureaucracy ("Now even Cheatier!"*)

Like many of you, I suspect, we came to the realization that the PEC is as corrupt, venal and mismanaged as it is only gradually. That's because many PEC employees put on a big show of appearing to be doing their jobs. It's only later, while you wait weeks and months for promises to be kept and plans to be implemented that you begin to realize the almost incomprehensible amount of incompetence in this system. These people literally don't talk to each other and they don't talk to you except when they must. And the they tell you what you want to hear only to retreat into a secure compound at 130 Trinity Ave where compliance, competence and accountability are never permitted to follow.

Not all PEC employees are undereducated, undermotivated mismanaged fools. Some of the teachers have been great, and we have met a therapist or two who actually seem to know what they are doing. But here's what I want to emphasize to those of you who are just beginning to learn the scale of this horror-show: 90% of the bureaucrats who are paid good salaries to help you design an appropriate placement for your child in the least restrictive environment neither know what they are doing nor much care; they are in this to do the least possible for you and your child and their objectives are not your objectives. They want to avoid spending money, avoid creating work for themselves or others and prevent you from learning enough to become dangerous to them.

Over the past three years, we have gradually evolved from polite, cooperative, collaborative and friendly with PEC employees to adversarial and sometimes openly nasty. I have yelled at Interim Director Constance Goodson on the phone (yes, I know Constance Goodson no longer officially carries the "interim" tag, but I am using interim in an editorial sense because I don't believe she is going to be in that post very long) and listened to outright lies from one of the program's compliance officers while her boss, the APS's Aaron Fernander, sat at the same table, stone-faced. (Fernander may yet make needed changes in the program; I'm not writing him off yet, but he certainly is not a guy who is willing to act quickly and decisively to confront obvious, terrible problems. In other words, he's so far putting the welfare of career bureaucrats over that of special-ed families. And if he's going to take that approach, we owe him nothing).

The PEC at first refused to provide our son with a paraprofessional, even though it was (and is) obvious to anyone with a brain that he could not function in a mainstream classroom without one, and even though ample precedent had been set by other parents whose children have the same diagnosis and general level of functionality as our son. Not only did we cite these precedents, we actually brought an entire case file from a wonderful family who volunteered to let us use their autistic son's history as leverage in our battle for a parapro.

The PEC officials at that meeting were apoplectic. How dare we use someone else's private information in the IEP meeting! But, we explained, we have their explicit permission to use it. "It doesn't matter," said the officious and rude bureaucrat who was running that meeting for the PEC side; "we are not going to allow you to use this information --in fact, we are not even going to discuss it."

It's now three years later. We eventually won the battle for a para, after our child's teachers made the case for us. We then made a disastrous decision to place our child in the specialized autism classroom (known as the "self-contained" classroom) at the excellent Morningside Elementary school in SY 2008-2009. We had a great teacher, the talented Christa Paul, who has since fled APS for a job in North Carolina, but the placement was a terrible experience for our son. The class was overcrowded; Ms. Paul had three paras helping her who had neither the experience nor energy for the task of educating so many severely impaired children, and by the end of the school year parents were fleeing a program many of them (including us) had fought to get into.

This year, in our wonderful new school Springdale Park, we've had a good teacher, a completely ineffective, untrained para (you will read on this blog how we consider the paraprofessional to be the key person in our child's educational day, and yet the PEC only cares about finding people who will work extra-cheap); we have fought all year over a crucial piece of educational software, and only managed to get it installed for our kid when I told our principal Yolonda Brown that I was going to install it myself and the only way she was going to stop me was to have me arrested at which point I would go on local TV with my beautiful son to talk about it (amazingly, I managed to get the software installed a few days later, with complete APS cooperation); we have been lied to and given the run-around and had to chase down officials who refuse to answer their emails or return phone calls.

Let me give you one particularly vivid example of how you can expect to be treated by these people.

Last October, we were in the middle of a meeting at which we were demonstrating the promise of an incredible software program from Scientific Learning called Fast ForWord (the photo at the top shows our son doing Fast ForWord exercises at home) when we were quite rudely interrupted by a PEC technology "specialist" named Jennifer Holloway who declared that our son needed no such help because he was "already progressing." Already "progressing?" What does that even mean? Vance is getting older every day. Once in awhile he learns something new. You can say that's progress, but the whole point of us calling the meeting was that it clearly isn't enough progress.

What Holloway was really saying is she wanted no part of the project of supplying this software for our child no matter how obvious its benefits, because it would add to her workload. (And she proved as much shortly thereafter: she was assigned the task of researching alternative software programs for our child and never (according to APS emails obtained under the Open Records Act) did any of the work it was agreed she would do. She simply flat-out refused to do it, and refused to answer emails and phone inquiries as to why, and her bosses, when asked, refused to press her on the issue).

When I pointed out that a video we had prepared clearly showed Vance excelling at reading and spelling tasks when those tasks were computer-based as opposed to teacher-delivered, Holloway said that she did not trust that the video I was showing to be legitimate.

That's right, she accused me of doctoring the video.

Their are Jennifer Holloways all over the PEC. And if their incompetence and arrogance aren't enough for you to want them all gone, here is the logic you can use to rationalize, in your head, the idea that your goal should be apply pressure until all of them or most of them are fired:

1. The PEC is underfunded and in perpetual crisis mode when it comes to money.

2. Since funding is such an issue, certainly there is no room for useless bureaucrats drawing fat salaries; such waste is, as I often say, a form of theft against special-needs families.

3. If these paper-pushers weren't useless, they would be looking to help families rather than be the "just say no" agency.

To the PEC, an educated parent is their worst nightmare. To be an educated parent, you have to know the law as it applies to your special-needs child. You also need to know what kinds of torture the PEC has been applying to your fellow APS parents. The latter is what this blog is all about. We'll keep publishing stories until the weight of them crushes the flimsy scaffolding that supports these overpaid underworked zombies and watch with great pleasure the purge that will inevitably follow. Because any program this bad can't be reformed piecemeal; it must be demolished and rebuilt.