I have had my fair share of uncooperative teachers over the years. However, on teacher has always stood out from the others. When Damien was in the sixth grade, his math teacher was unreasonable and often punished him by using detention for various manifestations of his disabilities. I had written the following letter to the administrators of the school. The teachers' and administrators' names have been removed in order to protect their identities.
December 28, 2007
Damien's most recent ARD went well. We got everything that I asked for in his IEP, and the teacher that has been picking on him is no longer teaching him. When Damien gets back to school, he will have another math teacher. Here is why we got everything:
I am very concerned about a problem that my son is having in school. My son is a sixth grader in your school, named Damien Brown. On Thursday, my son received a referral for an incident that happened in his math class. Apparently, the teacher said that Damien was sleeping in class. I came in and talked to Mrs. Xxxxx about the problem. Afterward, I agreed on discipline before I had a chance to speak with Damien. Unfortunately, I know that I have made a mistake.
Mrs. Xxxxxx had told Mrs. Xxxxx that Damien had fallen to sleep in her class. She went on to state that she and the other students tried to rouse him, but he would not wake. After he regained consciousness, Damien was sent to the office for disciplinary action. I am confounded as to why this is considered a discipline problem, and here are my reasons:
Damien said that he did not fall to sleep. He said that all of the sudden everything went black; and when he came to, the teacher was yelling at him.
If the teacher could not rouse any other student than Damien, that student would have been sent to the nurse's office, because medical attention may be warranted.
Damien has epilepsy. His seizures are absence (petit mal) seizures. (Medical Definition – seizures characterized by a short lapse in consciousness. According to Introduction to Special Education: 6th ed., "…a teacher might wrongly assume that the child is merely daydreaming, or not paying attention"). According to Damien's neurologist, Dr. Xxxx Xxxxx in Lubbock, any child that experiences a seizure episode my be groggy and may loose consciousness afterward. Again, had it been any other student, then they would have been sent to the nurse.
Damien has begun a new medication that has fatigue as a side effect. This would also be considered a need to send the child to the nurse instead of the office for disciplinary action.
The teacher told Mrs. Xxxxx that she has spoke with me about Damien sleeping in her class on numerous occasions. However, the last time any problem with Damien sleeping in class was mentioned was on November 8, 2007, and I have attached that email conversation. Furthermore, I have not heard anything about Damien sleeping in the classroom for the last two weeks as Mrs. Xxxxxx has suggested. The only two emails that I have received from her since then were to tell me when tutorials were cancelled. Therefore, I thought that everything was going great.
One thing I heard from both Mrs. Xxxxxx and Mrs. Xxxxx deeply concerns me. They both had the nerve to tell me that allowing my child to get away with something that he CANNOT control is "not fair to the other students." The first thing that my Teaching Special Education professor taught us in class this semester is that making accommodations and modifications for students that fall under the IDEA and Section 504 umbrellas is that the laws are made out of fairness. It is fair to allow accommodations and modifications for a child that already has to work twice as hard as everyone else. Special education is not about the other students; it is about making sure that every student gets what they need. Is it fair to punish Damien for something that he cannot control? It is unfair and illegal to punish a child for their disability or a manifestation of their disability, whether it is mental or physical.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to punish a student for a disability. In regards to discipline, Section 504 OCR 1991 clearly states, if there is a manifestation (meaning there is a connection), the child cannot be disciplined. This keeps the child from being punished because of his disability. If there is no manifestation (meaning there is no connection between behavior and disability), then the child can be treated like any other student.
Furthermore, Section 615 (k) (1) (E) of IDEA and 300.530(e) backs up this claim. According to the Federal Register Vol. 71, No. 156 dated Monday, August 14, 2006, "the Act recognizes that a child with a disability may display disruptive behaviors characteristic of the child's disability and the child should not be punished for behaviors that are a result of the child's disability."
When Damien was attending Lee Elementary, he was allowed to sleep off the effects of a seizure in the nurse's office. I feel something like this should be put into place for Damien now. Therefore, I am calling for a manifestation determination committee to determine whether or not Damien's behavior in the classroom, "sleeping," or "passing out" is a manifestation of his disability. I contend that the cause of his behavior is either due to his physical disability, epilepsy, or it is due to his mental disability, autism. It is my intention to prove that Damien's medications for the comorbid disabilities and disorders of autism are the result of his behavior.
I feel like Mrs. Xxxxxx went behind my back and played me off as an uncooperative, unconcerned mother, which has never been the case. I have been very cooperative and taken action on every problem that has risen in her classroom. It is because of how much I care for Damien's future that I am just now attending college. I gave up my dreams so I could get him the therapies that have taken him this far. I do not understand why she is the only teacher that has complained to me about Damien's behavior.
I am frustrated, because Mrs. Xxxxxx constantly complained about Damien's behavior before we put him on the medication that he is on now. The first time I met with her, she asked if we ever had Damien on medication for ADHD, which I know now to be an illegal question for her to ask. Federal law states that a teacher is to never discuss or suggest medication for a child, because they are not a medical professional. Damien does not have ADHD and according to the American Autism Society, "autism is often misdiagnosed as ADHD." This is due to the similar characteristics. However, Ritilan, Concerta, and Adderall have the opposite effect on most children with autism. This held true for Damien. Furthermore, the last time Mrs. Xxxxxx said anything about his behavior, she told me that Damien was doing great. She said, "Also, he is staying very focused during class and tutorials, he is being quite the busy bee on his makeup assignments and the daily assignments in class." This is right after he began taking Zoloft. Now, that I have put Damien on medications, she is still complaining about his behaviors. These behaviors are the result of the medications, which, in turn, are a result of her previous complaints.
Furthermore, on several occasions I have made suggestions to her in order to assist him, and she told me that she did not have time, or that it would not be fair to the other students. As a resource teacher, it is her responsibility to make the accommodations and modifications for her students in the least restrictive environment. However, her methods with my son have made his learning environment so restrictive that he was constantly depressed and crying. I am beginning to feel as if her behavior toward Damien is more of a personal attack, and she is targeting him, because she does not know how to deal with him. Therefore, I request that Mrs. Xxxxxx take a class on Autism, and I know, by law, my request must be adhered to. And, I would also like a functional behavioral assessment done on Damien so that we may be able to teach him alternative behaviors for the negative ones that he exhibits in her class. If we can determine the function of Damien's negative behaviors, we can teach him alternative behaviors.
In Mrs. Xxxxxx's defense, I do know how difficult and frustrating it is to work with Damien. I have been going through this for a little more than twelve years. From the day this child was born, caring for him has always taken extra effort. I know that she may have good intentions for her methodology, but the expense is far too great. On November 5th, I found a method to help Damien; I tried to share it with her, as well as his other teachers, in order to make their jobs easier. I suggested having a step-by-step checklist for him. Mrs. Xxxxxx had said that she did not have time to do a checklist, but the other teachers were receptive and compliant. Mrs. Xxxxxx must have misunderstood; it was not for her to remind him what to do every day. It was for him to make sure he put his name on his papers, and make sure he turns them in. Also, it was so that he would remember to get his assignment sheet signed. Organizational skills are a major problem for children with autism. Therefore, I made the checklists, I paid for the materials, and I bought the color-coded folders for his classes. There was nothing on her end that needed to be done except to tell me if we left out a step for her class, but she said she did not have time. After Damien began to use them, he went from failing her class, to now making a B. Furthermore, I keep hearing from her that Damien needs to be responsible, and he will not get reminders from her. If she does it for him, she will have to do it for everyone. I feel as if the two of us keep butting heads and cannot reach a consensus.
Unfortunately, Damien's psychologist, Dr. Xxxx Xxxxxxx, said that Damien might never develop organizational skills. She said that when he is an adult, he will most likely be able to live on his own, but with support. What Dr. Xxxxxxx meant is that Damien will always have to have someone to remind him to do the routine things that to the rest of us is rote. I, however, am more optimistic and hope that he will be responsible for himself when he grows up. But for now, everyone needs to take into consideration that this is a child that has to be reminded to wash his face, every day. He has to be told to shower every day, to brush his teeth every day, to put on deodorant every day, and to flush the toilet every time he goes. Damien is a child with autism, and there are many more like him. Autism is a hidden disability, which makes it difficult to remember that he is different. It also makes it easier for us to expect much more from Damien than what we get.
If we must make more changes to Damien's IEP, I request that you attend. I will also have a case manager, and may be able to get an advocate from the TEA to attend on our side. I did not want to have to resort to calling an advocate in; but I do not feel that Damien is getting his education in the least restrictive environment, which No Child Left Behind requires. I have found some teaching methods for children with autism and have tested them at home. These work for Damien, and he is thriving at home. I would like to have these worked into Damien's IEP, so that he is a successful student.
If we cannot get what Damien needs from Abilene Independent School District, then I request that the District transfer him to a school in which he can get what he needs, which I also know is my legal right. This is not about you, it is not about Mrs. Xxxxxx, and it is not about me. The problem is about Damien and his future. It is about making sure that he gets to fulfill his dream of going to college and being a marine biologist. It is about making sure that he is able to thrive in the least restrictive environment. I only want what is best for my son, which should be your goal as well. I humbly ask for your assistance in giving Damien the same opportunities, which children without learning disabilities receive.
Pamela N. Brown
The letter worked. I do find it sad, however, that the school was not willing to work with me until they discovered that I not only know special education law, but I also understand and have been formally trained in it. What came of the letter was that the summer after Damien's sixth grade year, the teacher was put in two classes paid for by AISD. One was a basic special education law class, and the other was a class specifically on autism.
The following fall, Damien had the same teacher for math. However, she was more attentive to Damien's needs, and they both started fresh as if they never had met before. She ended up being Damien's favorite teacher of the year, and she stated that he had been a model student as well. I almost felt guilty for pushing the issue, but I am happy that I helped a special education teacher be a better teacher. I also helped a young boy to gain the education he needs to be a successful future adult.