(Mod: I am reposting an article written recently by Tony Brandenburg and posted on his website. In order to better understand exactly what the issues are here I suggest that you first check out an excellent article describing the Brandenburg family's situation published by the L.A. Weekly [click here]. It supplies some great background information and perspective regarding what Tony writes about here. I find it interesting that the same people who worked to prevent Sierra Madre from having equal Board of Education representation until 2015 through Measure A, and pulled the recent infamous Measure TT school construction funding bait and switch, are also those who have done so much to deny the Brandenburgs and their autistic child basic educational rights. I have come to believe this is no coincidence and will continue to follow this story.)
In October, 2010, my family came under the attack of our neighbors at Sierra Madre Elementary School, and in the 23 months that have followed, we uncovered more and more evidence of the behavior of our community against our child, who has autism, and ourselves.
These attacks were cloaked in secrecy, were planned, and vicious. That is typical of bullying behavior; bullies learn to become more stealth in order to get away with their behavior, while others may have determined that there is some validity to what we say and have pulled back. But not a single apology.
So what happened, and why is this still a topic of discussion? There are a number of reasons. To begin with, we have been critical of the way Sierra Madre Elementary School handles its behavioral interventions. For more than ten years this school has funded a room called, “The Guidance Room.” It is a room that is utilized for students whose behavior does not meet the expectations of the teacher. There are a number of problems with this, however.
Funds were gathered for a time out cage, rather than a school library, for two years. To imply that this room is to “guide” student behavior, one must assume that there is someone in the role of “guide” who is examining the behavior that is negative, or undesired, and replacing it with a desired, positive alternative. That person, we should assume, is a psychologist or a teacher utilizing some form of behavior intervention technique that is consistent with state, federal, and teacher union guidelines. However, it is a classified teacher’s assistant who is the “guide.” Does that seem educationally sound?
If a student is being removed from instruction, to be placed into a counseling room with no counselor, and removed from the instruction of a highly qualified teacher into a room where there is no credentialed teacher - exactly where is the credentialed, responsible adult? There isn’t one. Does that seem educationally sound?
Where is the tracking sheet that is reported to the State of California to record in school suspensions? According to what SMES has stated in their SARC report to the state, there are little to no suspensions. If the student has a 504 plan or an IEP, removing them from instruction violates the student’s right to an education. Does that seem educationally sound?
This year 25% of the donations made through the SME Annual Fund were used to fund behavior aides. Part of that money funds this room. At a school that raises in excess of $125,000 through donations, we pose this question: Are you aware that your donations fund the punishment of children, that it is not tracked, that parents may or not be aware it is occurring, and that it most likely violates student access to an education? Does that seem educationally sound?
There is no code of conduct that distinctly identifies the behavior that results in a child’s placement into this room. In other words, it is subjective, and can vary from classroom to classroom. Does that seem educationally sound?
So. If the room isn’t guiding children, isn’t teaching replacement behavior, is being funded by donations, and doesn’t follow sound educational practices ..... why is it being employed? We assert it is simply because it was past practice, and that the people who make the decisions on budgeting those donations - School Site Council (SSC) - has been essentially the same team for the last few years, and until recently, was essentially made up of many of the same people who were in the hierarchy of the SMS PTA.
So what? Well, for a disenfranchised family (that would be a family who are outside of the decision making core or junta - whether by design, by choice, or by exclusionary practices) this means trying to negotiate with a group that is indifferent, apathetic, or hostile to the disenfranchised family’s needs. If there is a hostile force on the junta, the family has no voice, is seen as “trouble-makers,” “self-serving,” and accused of having a separate agenda - how can they ever be included in the decision making process?
Bylaws for the SSC do not allow for a teacher who has a child in the school, to serve as the Parent Representative on the SSC. However, bylaws do allow for the parent to serve as the Teacher Representative. At Sierra Madre School this is easily addressed. A husband and wife, from Pasadena, serve as Parent and Teacher Representatives in Sierra Madre, for their child- who is technically a guest on a waiver. This couple make up the most influential wing of the SSC. It simply takes the time to scroll through the SSC minutes to get a strong impression on where they stand on student behavior.
Is this a conflict of interest?
A guidance room that doesn’t guide; school rules that are not clearly, nor operationally defined; a leadership team that is self-serving and do not reside in Sierra Madre; donations used for removing students from instruction; record keeping that does not accurately reflect suspension. But wait, there’s more.
There is the inclusion issue.
Beginning in 2001 our (three) children attended Sierra Madre Elementary School, a school that boastfully claimed it was an inclusive school. Over the years, our children were sent for “guidance” and forced garbage pick up until we served the school with a cease and desist. This was interpreted by the school as arrogance on our part- as our refusal to play by the rules- that is, by rules that had never been explained, nor defined.
We asked for the rules to be clarified. The former principal could not even tell us which school rules our youngest child had broken; let alone what the rules were. That certainly didn’t stop her from implementing a program change that landed the school in a legal battle that still hasn’t been resolved. Perhaps some rules are changeable, such as those regarding testimoney to a Federal agency. Perhaps sacrificing a child and then covering for herself and her core parent cronies with her version of the "truth" was governed by a higher law? Bending the rules didn’t prevent her from being named principal emeritus, nor from having the Sierra Madre Elementary Auditorium named in her honor. Take a guess who brought the proposal to the Board of Ed?
Apparently, school rules weren’t the only thing that she hadn’t exactly clarified. She apparently wasn’t too clear on what the educational programs that were being implemented at her school actually were. Imagine our surprise when we learned that there is no definition of “Inclusion” in PUSD.
Our children, and hundreds of others over the years, and throughout the district- were being placed into classrooms identified as inclusion classrooms. There is one little problem, however. A hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in salary problem. One wasn’t resolved, nor addressed, by the exiting “Social Justice” and recently hired San Francisco Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Special Education, Elizabeth Blanco. How nice to be hailed by so many for doing so little. That’s right, there is still no definition of inclusion in PUSD.
Meanwhile, a group of professionals, most of whom have already demonstrated their incompetence, are now busy determining what inclusion is. Good grief.
So. The inclusion classroom my child was dumped into? Not defined. The “Blended Inclusion” programs at SMS? Not defined. The inclusion programs at other schools? Not defined. The “Inclusion Specialists” paid by the district? Not defined. The exiting Director of Special Education? Paid, and gone.
See ya, suckers.
There will be people who try to play down our influence in shaking things up in PUSD over the last 23 months. That’s fine. A former superintendent, a former principal, a former director, and an ongoing battle for a board member. Draw your own conclusions.
Just remember, when the smoke clears, that the cost was paid - pound for pound - on the reputation of a family who demanded a fenced, secured campus, and who refused to allow an educational system of confused, mis-informed, neuro-typical Sierra Madre bigots to arbitrarily punish children - your children - without exacting and requiring clear, operationally defined behavioral boundaries, rules, and consequences.
Shame on us.