Public Watchdog.org

SPED Major Factor In Picking New Sup’t., Choosing D-64 Board Candidates

02.13.19

A recent “candidates’ forum” hosted by parents of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 students with “special needs” was held at the Shawarma Inn in South Park.

In attendance were 6 (Steve Blindauer, Sal Galati, Gareth Kennedy, Rebecca Little, Carol Sales and incumbent Tom Sotos) of the 8 (Lisa Page and Denise Pearl MIA) candidates for the D-64 School Board. Six of the 8 candidates also submitted written responses to questions posed in advance to them by the organizers of that forum. Sotos and Pearl did not do so.

When discussing the shortcomings of the District’s special education (“SPED”) program, the candidates and the assembled parents repeatedly cited “communication” and “trust.” But that’s the lowest-hanging fruit: Inadequate communication and a lack of trust have been among the bigger problems not just for D-64 SPED parents but for all D-64 parents throughout the 6-year reign of Board President Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and the 5-year reign of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, aided and abetted by D-64’s minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm.

But it was more than poor communication and a lack of trust that created a SPED program so dysfunctional under former SPED director Jane Boyd that an outside consultant (Lisa Harrod of LMT Consulting) had to be brought in last Spring to audit it. She and her team concluded that, in additions to neither SPED parents nor SPED teachers trusting the Heinz administration, SPED services had actually declined over the previous two years.

We wrote about that in our 06.22.2018 post.

Because students with special needs are the most vulnerable of D-64 students and are very dependent on the SPED program’s educational quality, a dysfunctional SPED program would appear to be more problematic than, say, a dysfunctional Channels of Challenge program. Yet for the better part of the last three years many/most(?) SPED parents were virtually invisible at School Board meetings.

That changed in N0vember 2017, when SPED parents showed up to object to the District’s misguided plan for moving 5th grade SPED students into middle school a year early. Many SPED parents also objected to the District’s plan to install part-time School Resource Officers (“SROs”) in the District’s middle schools.

Although a few of the candidates at the forum identified the hiring of a new superintendent as one of the challenges the D-64 Board is facing, none of them listed any specific SPED-oriented qualifications, abilities and philosophies a new superintendent should possess – at least judging from the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 school board candidates call for improved communications with parents, community,” Jan. 28) and from the candidates’ written responses.

Why not? Haven’t they learned from the Heinz/Boyd debacle how important it is to have a superintendent who is fully-engaged in the process of providing SPED services?

Let’s face it: SPED costs a lot more per student than the District’s regular curriculum. And teaching special needs kids can be very challenging. Because of the confidentiality related to information about all students, SPED parents also tend to feel isolated. And, frankly, many (most?) teachers and administrators do not care about their special needs students nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.

But don’t take our word for that last point: Check out the minutes of the D-64 Board meetings from 2016 and 2017 and we’re pretty sure you’ll find no mention of any of the problems with the SPED program that the consultant identified last Spring. We’re also pretty sure you’ll find no mention of SPED teachers appearing at Board meetings asking the Board for help with the problems that the consultant indicated were not being addressed by the various school principals, by Boyd, and by Heinz.

This isn’t anything new: Back in the 1990s the editor of this blog had a special needs child who received very uneven SPED while a student at Field. Every IEP meeting was a dog-and-pony show by several teachers and administrators replete with edu-speak, SPED-speak, charts and graphs clearly intended to pass off activity for achievement. And for too long they succeeded – until the lack of progress became so obvious they could no longer deny or spin it.

That led to the scheduling of a due process hearing.

After weeks of posturing and bluster from the District’s then-head of the SPED program, and less than 12 hours before the hearing was to begin, the District offered a settlement: A full summer (several thousand dollars’ worth) of in-home SPED services to make up for the lackluster services provided during the previous school year. So a fourth grader lost his summer vacation and the taxpayers were forced to pay extra for the District’s incompetence, intransigence and duplicity. Meanwhile, the SPED teachers and administrators responsible for that travesty got to enjoy their summer and continued to draw their public paychecks without one iota of accountability.

Not surprisingly, we’ve heard a number of sadly similar stories from current D-64 SPED parents. And we’ve heard that there is an inordinate number of due process hearings that have been held over the past year or that have been requested.

Although most D-64 candidates have expressed various SPED-related ideas they would like to bring to the D-64 Board if they are elected, those ideas are going nowhere unless they can be understood, critically evaluated and approved by the new superintendent. Which means that the new superintendent must be as committed to the SPED program as he/she is to the educational programs for every other student – and that he/she is aided by a competent and equally committed District SPED director instead of another Heinz and Boyd tandem.

That’s why it’s good to see that more SPED parents have finally become publicly engaged and vocal in fighting for their kids’ rights to the appropriate public education the IDEA requires. They need to remain engaged in the SPED program itself. And they need to demand that the D-64 Board select a new superintendent who truly understands the importance of SPED not only to the parents of special needs kids but to the taxpayers and the community as a whole.

Otherwise, the District will continue to spend money fixing problems of its own making while wasting boatloads of money on lawyers fighting parents in due process hearings that could be much better spent on providing quality SPED services.

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

Could not agree more. Worse yet the district seeming used quotas in granting IEPs in 2016, the board has been made aware of this but has swept it under the rug,

EDITOR’S NOTE: We hate anything being “swept…under the rug,” but when you say “the board has been made aware of this,” WHEN do you believe the Board was aware of this; and what evidence of that (e.g., mtg. minutes, board packets, video) can you point to?

You say “many (most?) teachers and administrators do not care about their special needs students nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.” How dare you!

I have 2 children in D64, 1 in SPED and they have never had a teacher who I believed was not thoroughly dedicated to not just my kids but all kids in the schools. Where are you getting your data?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re getting our “data” from the same place you’re getting yours: Anecdotally.

And if you want examples of how “thoroughly dedicated” administrators are to the kids of D-64, look at the “thoroughly dedicated” Heinz walking out the door for Palatine with one year still left on her healthy contract; and the “thoroughly dedicated” principals from Franklin and Washington going with her.

And wait until the Spring of 2020 when the “thoroughly dedicated” teachers (a) begin the closed-session negotiations (which they demanded) for a new contract by demanding more money unrelated to the measurable quality of either their individual performances or their collective performances; and (b) if the school board dares to resist those demands, threaten to go on strike.

As a SPED parent I have had the IEP experience you have described. Fortunately, I have also had better experiences as well. Thank you for supporting us.

I am one of the parents who went to the Nov. 2017 board meeting to complain about the policy to place my son in middle school one year early. I am also a parent who has been actively involved in the SPED issues in the District since Nov. 2017. First, I want to thank you for writing this blog in support of the SPED parents. Much of what you write I believe is accurate, and I do appreciate your attention to this matter.

I do take issue with your description of the teachers not caring. That has not been my experience, and from what I’ve learned from the dozens of parents I have communicated with and the many meetings I have attended, many SPED parents would not agree. I think that many of the teachers (SPED and GenEd), and the service providers (OT, speech, social work, etc.) do really care. Oftentimes, the parents and teachers/therapists are in agreement on what would best for the child. But, the teachers/therapists felt silenced during IEP meetings because administration officials had a “party line” they wanted followed for reasons that were not disclosed (to parents anyway). The teachers/therapists were genuinely concerned about their jobs, particularly the ones who did not have tenure. The Harrod audit found that parents and teachers had the same issues and concerns. And in the PT3 committee created to identify ways to improve the SPED program, parents and teachers had overwhelmingly identified the same problems with the program, and have identified the same/similar goals for the program. So, I do think that your claims about teachers are not accurate or fair.

But, you made many good and accurate points. In particular, I’m glad that you discussed the wasted taxpayer money spent on fixing problems of the District’s making, and the increase in due process filings and associated attorney fees. While unfortunately not everybody will be swayed by the argument that improving the SPED program is simply the right thing to do, everyone will be concerned about the wasted money, time and other resources spent on fighting parents who are advocating for their children. In addition to the wasted resources, the reality is that children with IEPs and their families have unique federal and state rights. Thus, there is a tremendous amount of legal exposure to the District. For that reason as well, the board and superintendent should be extremely vigilant to ensure compliance with the law, and the community should demand such vigilance.

In your blog, you said that you hoped that the SPED parents would continue to advocate for better programs, and would continue to demand accountability from the board and administration. You will be happy to learn that we intend to continue in our zealous advocacy for ALL of the district’s children, i.e., not only our children with special needs, but everyone. Although the past 15 months have had many difficult and stressful times for us, the positive news is that we have found each other, and we will continue to support each other for the betterment of all of our children.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Miki:

It appears we agree on most points re SPED. As to the one point of disagreement – what you call our “description of the teachers not caring” – what we actually wrote was: “[M]any (most?) teachers and administrators do not care about their special needs students nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.” [Emphasis added.]

In other words, those teachers and administrators talk the talk more than they walk the walk.

Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good people to remain silent….” Although some SPED teachers/therapists without tenure may have been “genuinely concerned about their jobs” if they spoke out in the best interest of their students, it is our understanding that most of those D-64 teachers/therapists DID have tenure – yet they remained silent while the wellbeing of the kids they purportedly cared about was sacrificed to what you call the “party line”: Instead of being whistleblowers, those teachers/therapists were enablers of the policies and practices of Laurie Heinz, Jane Boyd, et al. that both harmed those SPED students in their care while also misleading/intimidating the SPED parents who trusted them.

Churchill inspired an embattled nation with his “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Hopefully SPED parents and the School Board will take the spirit of those words to heart and unrelentingly demand that the teachers, therapists and administrators provide the SPED services which the IDEA requires, and which the children with special needs deserve.

Thank you for supporting the SPED program, its students and its parents. You are being criticized for it by a group of women who disagree with your political views unrelated to SPED. They don’t speak for anybody but themselves and their own sexist views (and I’m a woman).

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll take your word for it that you’re a woman, and that the unidentified women whom you say are “sexist” truly are. But we don’t mind criticism because if you dish it out you had better be able to take it.

Good post, ‘Dog. I especially like the idea of paying for education instead of litigation because teachers and administrators failed to do their jobs and then refused to admit their failures.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks.

There will always be the occasional parent – what’s known in the SPED world as “THAT” parent – whose demands are patently unreasonable, and who will force the District into due process hearings and/or lawsuits because they can. But from everything we’ve read and heard about the past few years at D-64, the problems seem to be caused by the policies and practices of Heinz and Boyd, rubber-stamped by either a witting, unwitting or deceived School Board.

Do you expect teachers to risk their careers by standing up to administrators about problems with the SPED program?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, which is why we wrote that they “do not care about their special needs students nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.” We don’t expect most teachers to do anything more than the minimum it takes to keep their jobs and retire in their 50s with their Cadillac pensions that dwarf social security benefits and most 401(k) plans.

We just dislike it when they pretend they’re a bunch of Mother Teresas who are only in it for the kids…like, say, Laurie Heinz and the principals who are packing up and leaving for Palatine at school year’s end.

Ginger Lee Pennington, Kathy Meade and others have called you out for writing about the SPED forum without being there and for criticizing all the dedicated SPED and gen ed teachers, many of whom left in the last five years because of the District’s administration. Those sound like valid criticisms to me. Were you there? And why do you criticize the teachers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Poor Ginger, Kathy, et al., regularly creating red herring issues that
they can attack because they can’t deal with real substantive issues.

This editor never claimed to have attended the SPED forum, which is why he expressly referenced the H-A article and the candidates’ responses to the SPED questionnaire questions in the post. He did get detailed information about what the candidates said from two individuals who were there, however, none of which contradicted the contents of this post.

As for why we criticize all those “dedicated” SPED teachers, we don’t recall any of them – including all of the ones who had tenure and couldn’t be summarily fired by any vindictive administrators – showing up at Board meetings two years ago and asking for the Board’s assistance in dealing with incompetent and/or anti-SPED administrators. And where’s the “dedication” from all those who chose to leave during the last five years instead of fight for their students and the SPED program?

Typical Republican response to a bad school situation is to blame the teachers. You are so predictable and so offensive. The SPED program would be nothign without those dedicated teachers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor is NOT a Republican: He dislikes the Republican Party only an iota less than he dislikes the Democratic Party, in a 1/1a kind of way.

Here’s a newsflash for you: NO school would be anything without teachers. But are you talking about those so-called “dedicated” SPED teachers and therapists, many/most with tenure, who cowered and kept silent while the Heinz/Boyd tragedy team was screwing with the SPED program and all those vulnerable SPED students? Or are you talking about those so-called “dedicated” SPED teachers and therapists, many/most with tenure, who abandoned ship rather than fight for their SPED students?

Your reasoning on this topic makes sense to me. I wonder if there is any data that can be used to compare/contrast D64’s SPED program to that of other area school districts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’d bet dollars to donuts that you’d be hard-pressed to find data that could be used to compare any individual school or district to another. That’s because we suspect most public school teachers and administrators in Illinois don’t want anything to do with the pressure of being compared to any other schools or districts; and because the highly-political Illinois State Board of Education isn’t going to compel or even facilitate those comparisons.

So as we’ve written about in our posts of 10.31.2008, 06.08.2009, 11.06.2009, 10.29.2010, 09.01.2011, 10.31.2011, 11.04.2013, 09.18.2014, 12.14.2014 and 09.19.2016, you’re stuck with whatever little information you can get from the likes of the Chicago Sun-Times, Schooldigger.com and Chicago Magazine.

I believe that you should of separated administrators from teachers in your complaint about the program. The teachers for SPED are EXCEPTIONAL and at times MORE CARING then your regular teacher. My sister was a SPED teacher in Des Plains many years ago and OFTEN butted heads with the administrators to the point where frustration sets in and she took a leave of absence. It is the administrators that control the program and dictate what needs to be done. Just because Teachers do not go to the board meetings to “cry or complain” about the system does not mean they are none caring or a part of the problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George:

We didn’t say that D-64’s SPED teachers didn’t care: We said they didn’t care “nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.” And we’d say that probably extends to “your regular teacher” as well.

The teacher-student relationship is where the rubber meets the road. That’s why it’s up to the teacher to go to the mat for the student – whether by keeping parents fully and honestly informed about the student’s performance and the program generally, or by advocating for the student to administrators, or ultimately by going to the Board. Had SPED teachers stepped up at each of those levels, we doubt the decline in the SPED program reported last May by Lisa Harrod of LMT Consulting could have continued for the two year period Harrod described.



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>