Be True to Your School

The principals in the case of the autistic child at Canyon View Elementary came out to press this week with their respective sides of the story.

For those not tracking this story, the parents of a severely autistic 7-year old boy was about to file a lawsuit against the district because they felt the need to give gifts to the special education staff at Canyon View in order to maintain a desired level of care for their son. They claim that they felt they had to give the staff gifts and that the value of the gifts continued to rise to include meals in expensive restaurants, shopping sprees, and even a cherished family heirloom.

Their son does not speak and is not toilet-trained. And that has to be tough for any parent to deal with. The child was turned down by more than a dozen other special education facilities before entering Canyon View. The parents withdrew him from Canyon View and were educating the child at home when they decided to sue the district over gifts they gave. IUSD has settled with the parents, who have since dropped the claim on the gifts. The child is now getting a deluxe special ed package from the district that includes education and occupational therapy. The district likely viewed the settlement as a more cost-efficient option than a trial and jury verdict.

And the Register’s editorial pages and Orange Punch blog have been asking all along why IUSD staffers at Canyon View haven’t been disciplined or fired.

This is a personal issue for me. Canyon View is my neighborhood school and it’s where my son went and where my daughter goes. My daughter starts every school day with a choice of a hug, a handshake or a high five from her teacher and the only option she ever picks is the hug. I know half of the teaching staff their by their first names.

My Republican friends might be surprised to learn that I had arranged for then Congressman Chris Cox to dedicate this school in December 2000.

And I have seen the special ed staff work closely with the autistic students there. I can assure you these are special teachers with a gift of patience, understanding and love who treat every child with a high degree of caring. I’d go as far to say that these staffers love these children like family. They offer boundless encouragement when a student struggles and high praise when they achieve.

To suggest that these teachers required high value items from a parent in exchange for good care defies logic and common sense.

When my neighbors ask why the teachers or school won’t talk about the issue, I tell them it’s the district’s obligation, from a PR perspective, to manage the flow of information. And even then, often times you cannot discuss legal proceedings. The school respects each student’s right to privacy. I certainly don’t want them revealing my daughter’s right to privacy, the parents of the student in question withdrew that right with the legal action against the school.

I can see these teachers accepting a gift, even an expensive one, as to not offend the giver. But to suggest that gifts were somehow tied to better care is false. The only thing teachers have ever asked of me has been the occasional smattering of school supplies (done en masse on a bulletin board). And Canyon View is located in the toney Northwood Pointe section of Irvine. Gifts given here might be viewed very differently in a more blue collar neighborhood of Orange County..

The Register editorial suggests that school choice would be the cure-all for this sort of situation while conveniently leaving out that the child in question was turned down by several other schools. I guess school choice cuts both ways. It’s too bad the Register’s editorial team took sides so quickly here.

The IUSD school board is now evaluating a gift giving guideline. Sorry, I won’t follow it. If I want to give my daughter’s teacher a huge gift at Christmas, I will. There’s no quid pro quo behind it. I’m lucky to send my kids to such a great school.

Parents of kids with special needs have an informal network to help each other navigate the thorny world of special education, what questions to ask, what forms to complete, and what’s normal procedure? All the parents of this 7 year old had to do was ask their peers about how the system works. I believe they failed to do that.

What really happened here? The parents of this autistic child took the district for a ride. They got their son a great custom-built special education package. I applaud the district and the school for NOT doing anything to these special education teachers who have a hard enough job without the community getting an incomplete and unfair picture. But with the high cost of special education, the parents of the 7 year old boy should be asking what other child, like theirs, might not be getting a fair level of service because of their settlement.

This is a case of what do you believe; your own eyes or what the parents’ lawyers tells you.

  1 comment for “Be True to Your School

  1. February 16, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    You’re right that the dedication of special ed teachers is phenomenal, a true vocation. I suspect that there is also some truth in your suggestion that these parents were ‘out of the loop’ as far as their need to connect with other parents, support groups and therapists to give and share the information that these informal networks provide.
    Best wishes

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