EDUCATING OUR MOST VULNERABLE STUDENTS
A School District’s Gag Rule
To prevent parents from sharing what services are available for children with special education needs, the LAUSD requires confidentiality.
- Scott Schmerelson on confidentiality clauses
Following a hiatus of over a year, the LAUSD’s Special Education Committee met on March 25th. After a very full agenda that included presentations by the Division of Special Education, a principal, a school psychologist, and the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), members of the public were given the opportunity to speak. Parents and activists weary from negotiating the bureaucracy during the COVID pandemic and long deprived of a platform to voice their concerns filled all of the available speaking spots. I used my time to share my recent experiences during the process to update my daughter’s Individualized Education Program (IEP):
I am a father of two daughters with special education needs. They both attend career transition centers in the Valley.
First of all, I would like to say how great it is that this committee is finally resurrected. I think that the last few callers show why it should have been active during the shutdown. If parent input could have been heard, perhaps some of the problems outlined by previous callers could have been avoided.
The return to school campuses is supposed to be a choice. For families who do not feel safe about having their children physically return to school, the district needs to ensure that distance learning is delivered in the best possible way. Throughout this pandemic, other districts have allowed Non-Public Agency (NPA) Behavior Intervention Implementation Specialists (BII) into students’ homes, but the LAUSD absolutely refuses to do this. The district’s staff keeps on saying that they are working on it but I have not heard any indication from anybody who has had an IEP that the district is saying anything but “no.”
I have raised this issue at my own child’s IEP but hit this same roadblock and had to engage with a lawyer and proceed past the IEP team. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the results were because in order to settle the case I had to agree to a confidentiality clause.
Earlier in this meeting, you talked about the Community Advisory Committee (CAC). As a member of the CAC, I asked for a waiver so that this confidentiality would not apply to my work with that committee. This was rejected by the district staff.
I understand that confidentiality clauses are typical with legal settlements, but cases involving our children’s education should be different. The focus of everything that we do in this district should be the students.
By not allowing parents to share information about settlements, other children will be deprived of receiving appropriate services. The special education community depends on the free flow of information between parents so that experiences can be shared for the benefit of students. These clauses interfere with the ability of parents to learn from each other.
Parents and the district should be partners in providing an education to our most vulnerable students. Please stop treating parents like adversaries. Ending confidentiality agreements is a good place to start.
The use of confidentiality statements is a long-time problem at the LAUSD. I exposed the issue during my first campaign for a seat on the school board in 2015. During my 2017 run against Monica Garcia, I included a mandate “that the LAUSD will discontinue the use of confidentiality agreements in resolving special education due process cases” in the resolutions that I would introduce if elected to the board. The “Improving Special Education Within the LAUSD” resolution also stipulated that “previously signed agreements will not be enforced.”
In the questionnaire that I sent to candidates in last year’s school board elections board members Schmerelson and Tanya Ortiz Franklin were asked the following:
Question 3: Under current policy, parents of children with special education needs must sign confidentiality agreements when negotiating settlements with the district. This prohibits parents from sharing information with other parents about services that are available to help students meet their full potential. Do you commit to eliminating this policy?
While Franklin committed “to ensuring the IEP process is collaborative and student-centered and that IEP teams are empowered to make the best decisions for student placement, services, and goals”, she maintained that these confidentiality agreements had the “purpose of protecting student information”. Schmerelson admitted that he needed to learn “more about the history and scope of this policy, when and how it is applied, and the legal authority that would control such confidentiality agreements.” He did, however, “commit to working closely with LAUSD OGC (Office of the General Counsel) to understand and to modify any part of this policy (or practice) that is shown to be unfair to our most vulnerable students.”
The statement that is read at the beginning of each IEP meeting states that “the District considers the family equal partners in the educational decision-making process.” In order for this to be true, parents must have access to all available information and the district must not place a gag on any person who can provide this to them. In order for Franklin to stand by her commitment “to [ensure that] the IEP process is collaborative” and Schmerelson to eliminate policies that are “shown to be unfair to our most vulnerable students” they must work to eliminate the confidentiality requirements that are currently required.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.