Dr. David M. Steiner
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Dear Dr. Steiner:
I am writing today to share with you the experience we recently had at the IEP meeting held for our profoundly autistic (non-verbal/still in diapers/functioning at a one-to-two-year-old level) ten-year-old son.
Back in December 2010, the Mount Vernon City School District (MVCSD) held a “dinner” for all parents of special education students currently in out-of-district placements. The main thrust of this meeting was that out-of-district placements were meant to be temporary and that there would be a movement to shift children back to the district. They are doing this under the guise of stressing LRE (least restrictive environment) and that, if these children have less supports, they will “pull themselves up” by their bootstraps. It was clear to most that the district is motivated, in this regard, not by the best interests of the children in question but by financial imperatives.
Our son, Aidan, has been a student at the Hawthorne Country Day School in Hawthorne, NY since the age of five. We visited the two “programs” they had for autistic children within the district but it was our feeling, and the opinion of his teachers at the Fred S. Keller School (Yonkers, NY) that Aidan was far too low-functioning to progress in such settings. Therefore, he was, at age five, admitted to the Hawthorne Country Day School.
Our son’s IEP meeting was held yesterday. While we arrived early, we were kept waiting over seventy minutes, with nary an apology or an explanation for the delay from Ms. Kim Smith. This is typical of MVCSD personnel….you are kept waiting months for evaluations to be done, they do not answer the telephone when you call, you leave messages and they do not possess the basic courtesy to return telephone calls, respond to emails, or respond to letters. I do not know whether this is due to poor upbringing or not, but I find it patently unacceptable.
It has, in the past, taken, on average, six or seven emails, followed by four or five faxes, followed by two or three letters, followed by multiple telephone calls to get one thing accomplished. We have put up with this obnoxious bureaucracy and the lack of courtesy exhibited by MVCSD personnel patiently for the five years our son’s services have been under the aegis of the Mount Vernon CSD Special Education Department.
Almost immediately, Ms. Smith started in on how we should consider a placement within the district, that our son’s current placement was meant to be temporary, and that there were two programs (at Traphagen Elementary School and at the Lincoln Annex) that would be appropriate for our son. I explained that I had visited these programs and that they were not appropriate placements for our son. My husband enquired as regards whether or not there was any information available, either in printed form or on the MVCSD website, on these programs, and she said, in a quite abrupt and rude manner, that, no, there was not, and that we would have to visit them in order to find out about them. Ms. Smith also persisted in calling our son a “fifth-grader” even though he has always been in an ungraded classroom. In addition, it was made apparent that his need for an extended-year program would be questioned.
Her manner towards us was extremely rude and belligerent. When we protested, in a reasonable and measured manner, that these were not appropriate placements for our son, since he is non-verbal, still in diapers, and bites (himself and others) she kept referring, as she said, to the “law” that it was the “law” that he be in what she considered to be the LRE (least restrictive environment), namely, an in-district program which would be more cost-effective for the district.
Placement in a mainstream elementary school, even in a classroom designated for special education students, would be a disaster for our son. He is a bolter, has no sense of danger, and needs constant one-to-one supervision. He is not toilet trained and cannot independently execute any “self-care” such as washing or dressing and undressing himself. This has been borne out in our day to day experience of him these past ten years and has been documented thoroughly in countless evaluations and reports, including those of his paediatric neurologist, Dr. Yitzchak Frank (our son takes Abilify in order to reduce the number and extremity of his violent outbursts), at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
I have already contacted the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to express my extreme displeasure at what seems to be going on here in the City of Mount Vernon School District. While I understand that they have budgetary concerns, I would suggest that they do not try to balance their budget on the backs of special needs students such as my son.
As far as “the law” goes, we are more than prepared to secure the services of any number of lawyers and advocacy organizations to fight the City of Mount Vernon School District on this issue. Ms. Smith may parrot “the law, the law” and stab her finger, in a belligerent manner, at a photocopy as often as she wishes, but the most appropriate placement for the child is paramount. It may mean that, in the end, the superintendent’s pension is not quite as large, but I think most parents of special needs children would not find that highly problematic.
cc: Robert Astorino, Westchester County Executive
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Rep. Eliot Engel
Sen. Kristin Gillibrand
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein
Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow
U.S. Secretary for Education, Arne Duncan
MaryAnn McCarra-Fitzpatrick and her family reside in the City of Mount Vernon, NY.