Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tony Brandenburg: The Great PUSD Shell Game - When You Can Snatch the Pebble From My Hand, You Are Ready

Arrests at Focus Point Academy in 2013 - Pay attention to this. It's important for showing an inconsistency in released information. There were at least three arrests at Focus Point Academy in 2013.

Focus Point Academy is a special education school, of sorts, that is in the Pasadena Unified School District. Actually, they call it a therapeutic program. It is a place where they send kids that they can't control in the same kind of class at a neighborhood school for some reason. So it operates like a public school, but it's not filled with typical kids like every other PUSD school. In other words, it is not a heterogenous grouping. It is only children who have emotional challenges. It is not under the watchful eye of any outside group, really, and runs much like any other segregated non-public institution. Except that this one is run by a public school district and SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area).

According to the Altadenablog, which runs the Altadena Sheriff's Blotter (click here):

April 11: a 13 year old student was arrested at "Focus Point" School for battery on a school official after he punched, bit, and kicked a staff member.
April 15A 15 year old student at Focus Point School was arrested for battery on a school official after he punched a staff member three times.
May 29Deputies detained/arrested a male student (13 years old) for battery at Focus Point Academy, after he punched a teacher in the head, chest, and shoulder several times.

As I have said please note that there were at least three arrests of minor students noted in 2013 by the Altadena Sheriff's Department.

Of course, you won't find that information in any FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) data received from Focus Point. That's because Focus Point failed to report these arrests to the state, or as far as we can tell.

What's Our Beef With Focus Point?
Focus Point Academy was one of the schools that Elizabeth "Bucking" Blanco - who was then the Coordinator of PUSD Special Education, and currently Assistant Superintendent in San Francisco Unified Special Education - the school she tried to exile my then seven year old autistic son to (click here). She pulled it quickly off the table when she realized that we were the family that would have exposed it for what it is. Then she tried to railroad him into 5 Acres. We went back and forth until December. Then the good old shell game began, and zip! Off she went to someplace new. Bye, bye, Liz.

The topic of Focus Point has come up often over the years. None of it positive. People whispering about a room where kids were being timed out. Locked inside and denied access to their education. Other kids running off campus unsupervised.

Information from a visitor who cried to us as she explained that a young African-American boy begged her "to take him away from this school."

Conversations with substitute teachers that also mentioned the room, and who said they would never return to the school. That it was a horrible place.

Then this little gem appeared in December, 2013. It comes to us from a Pasadena collective of substitute teachers (click here):



The student kicked a door while the teacher was standing in the doorway. The kick caused the door to hit the teacher in the head. the teacher received a concussion and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital.

When the teacher returned to work the administration actually blamed the teacher for not being “creative” enought to communicate with the violent student.

There is NO excuse for attacking a teacher. Instead of supporting the teacher and working to stop the needless violence at focus point, apparently it is easier to blame the victim. what a heartbreaking place to work.

please, let us all pray that God will bless and protect the teachers working at focus point academy.

(Personally, I love the typos. Thank you for teaching our kids.)

I can't help but remember a particular school in which an administrator, in a conversation with me,  referred to a parent as a "crack whore." Did you catch that?

But mostly, I will also remember this location as the place in the PUSD where a certain employee was moved. The one who kicked my 7 year old child, which was  reported by him to Gayle Bluemel and Jacquelyn Marvel. These selected reporters ignored him, and eventually Marvel was promoted to the top of the PUSD district behavior intervention heap, while the kicker was moved to Focus Point. God help these kids.

Career stains like those tend to stay with you.

Sometimes It's Better to Shut the Hell Up
Back as far as 2012 Mary Brandenburg, Monica Watts and myself began to inquire into - and request information about - Focus Point. We continue to ask questions and voice concerns.

In the spring of 2013, Jim Albanese, the Principal at Focus Point, made the following statement in Go Public, the PUSD "booster" film. Jim stated that they suspend children from their school in order to give teachers a break (click here):

Wow. Essentially this statement is an admission of a planning failure, and a … what ...? Suspension due to the administrator needing a ... a break?

We are hearing this from the administrator of a specialized school, one whose main purpose is to help children who are having significant behavioral issues. These issues are so prevalent that the children cannot attend special day classes at the typical school campuses. This administrator basically stated that they have no plan in place for children prior to when the children walk through the door. Amazing. And we are supposed to be surprised that there are situations that arise from this?

So Mary began making formal requests for information in April of the year after a series of exchanges where upper crust PUSD administration defended Albanese's gaff.

In May, 2014, Guillermo Arce wrote to the PUSD board and then Superintendent Gundry requesting the possibility of a charter school, and the establishment of a placement -

"… to ensure that our special education students can receive a FAPE that is NOT the current PUSD's definition of FAPE and not the Focus Point Academy fiasco that you have created when you have the principal on record saying that you suspend students at this place to give a teachers a break."

The PUSD Duck and Cover
Now. It is no secret that PUSD staff evade email, fail to respond in a timely manner, and only respond when prompted from above. Eric Sahakian, Attendance and Child Welfare big dome, has proven to be quite adept at it. He failed to respond until Mary contacted PUSD Board Member Mikala Rahn to help get an answer. Here is how that went:

May 1, 2014 to Eric Sahakian:
Hello, I've been trying to obtain the suspension data from Focus Point. There is no SARC report available, and I recently learned this is a program, not a school … thus no SARC. Still, the numbers of suspensions, both in school, and out of school should be tracked. Where can that information be obtained? Thanks, Mary B.

One Month later Eric Sahakian responded by using the infamous "Pass the Buck" method of diversion and further delay:

From: Eric Sahakian Wed, Jun 4, 2014:
Hello Ms. Bradenburg,
Thank you for the question. Please feel free to contact Dr. McDonald for the information requested.

Note that this was an entire month later. His diversion, had he waited any longer, would have been to contact Dr. Brian McDonald the new Superintendent, and not to Dr. Brian McDonald the Brandenburg Interference Guy.

And this was two whole months after we initially requested the information.

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor
Remember, our interest in the PUSD underworld was the direct result of a group of vigilante parents, and their co-conspirators at Sierra Madre Elementary School, that tried to bully our child out of his school, who filed false police reports against our child, who staked out our home, who called the police on our child, and who tried to bully us out of our community. It was a result of their online taunting that we became actively involved in working for change, and that it was our fault the incidents of the past happened to our family because we didn't take an active interest and didn't educate the community.

Don't get angry and hiss at us. We were dragged into this.

Thank those folks every day. Thank them for talking to each other about us, sending letters and emails to one another, and thank them for all they continue to do for the world in general.

We were just another family minding our own business up until then. OK? And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Restraints and Seclusion
Mary has gone back and forth with a couple people about these definitions. Sadly, by the time she gets any realistic and truthful answers from the usual PUSD suspects, the responses will have been filtered by various lawyers and administrators. That is because the practice of indiscriminate restraints and seclusion really has occurred in PUSD. It can be tracked directly to 2010 and earlier, when we first notified them about this occurring to our child. And despite all of the noise that we made about this, staff continued to do it anyway.

Let's make something clear. We could have sued this district every which way to Friday, but chose instead to try to institute change. We are still waiting, but our patience with double talking administrators and the attorneys that cover up the crumbs is deteriorating. It is hard to be positive, and institute positive change, when the other side lies and cheats and repeatedly breaks their promises.

Back in July 2014 PUSD was hit with a humdinger of a complaint (click here) regarding Civil Rights violations dealing with restraint and seclusion. Here is what the Pasadena Star News reported:

Caroline Katz believes she would have never known that her daughter Sydney, a special needs student, had been held to the ground by a teacher and dragged across a classroom floor at Marshall Middle School if it weren’t for a concerned aide.

“The aide said, ‘I wish I could tell you what happened, but I can’t,’” Katz recalled. “And she said it more than once.”

The October 2012 incident became the basis of a complaint to the federal Office of Civil Rights and forced Pasadena Unified School District to examine its use of restraints and physical intervention.

The aide, a hired consultant, told Caroline Katz to request the report that the aide would file with her company. At the time, school officials only reported to Katz that Sydney, who is autistic and blind, suffered a “meltdown” and needed to leave school early.

But the aide’s persistence, accompanied by marks that appeared on 11-year-old Sydney’s back in the shower that night, made Caroline think there was something more to the story.

Caroline Katz said she later learned that during the alleged meltdown, Sydney’s teacher held the pre-teen to the ground and dragged the girl across a classroom floor.

“Nobody told me she was restrained in any kind of way,” said Katz. “(The restraint) never made a school district report. Not one report contains anything about use of force.”

Sound familiar? Well, yeah, we've written about it (click here and here) a few times. We also notified the district once we heard about it (click here). But I digress. Back to the outcome in July:

Before OCR investigated the complaint, the district agreed to settle without admitting fault, according to documents obtained by this news organization.

In February, the district agreed to implement training regarding discrimination and harassment and non-violent crisis intervention. The district is also required to report to OCR how often the district uses restraints/physical intervention, including the date, a reason for the use and the school site.

In other words, the district didn't have this in place before.

Oh by the way, at over $100, 000 a year here's what the PUSD spokesperson & communications guy had to say:

PUSD spokesman Adam Wolfson did not comment on the case.

Pinocchio Syndrome, Pasadenicus Part One
This information, which was given to the OCR about the seclusion of disabled students in 2011 is a LIE and that the acting heads of special education knew that it was not true.

I know this happened because I witnessed it. I witnessed it in 2010 as well. And that data also said no seclusion, and that also went to the OCR.

A Disproportionality of Note  
National Civil Rights Data shows that African-American students represent 21 percent of students with disabilities, but are 44 percent of the students who are subject to mechanical restraint.

Late in 2012 the Special Education Task Force - for which both Mary and I worked countless volunteer hours to help prepare - made a presentation to the PUSD Board of Education regarding the disproportionality of school suspensions between general and special education, and the disproportion between children of color and "white" students.

The following are slides from the presentation made to the Board of Education.

The board had also received this information from the state and a great deal of money to remedy the situation was provided (click here). Along with the information about the students from Focus Point being suspended, please make note of the information above. Something isn't computing.

On James Albanese & Dr. Michael Jason & Super Important Reports
Now. Let's talk about the students identified as ED, or having an Emotional Disability. These are the students often at local non-public agencies/schools - 5 Acres, Tobinworld, and Hillsides - as well as at a public school "program" in the PUSD housed in Altadena - at  Focus Point Academy.

Refresher. James Albanese is the Principal at Focus Point Academy. Dr. Michael Jason is the Director of Special Education/SELPA. Just for spit and giggles, the PUSD is represented by the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud, and Romo (click here).

OK. Let's take a look at the report that involved PUSD Executive Leadership. Now, keep in mind that Focus Point, which evades many types of reports because it is not technically a school, whatever that means, is involved in this disproportionality issue. Also keep in mind that the status of Focus Point as a non-school means that its ethnic make up is not available. Also keep in mind that many of these kids are in foster care, as far as anyone can tell (refer back to Albanese's spiel via Go Public.)

To start, analysis of current and past disproportionality data show that overrepresentation in the area of emotional disturbance for African American students has decreased slightly while that of Hispanic students increased. Specifically, Pasadena USD was identified on the basis of district data from the 2010-2011 academic year that reflected high rates of African American students identified in the area of ED. Data from the current year suggest some improvement. For example, the rate of identification ED for African American students went down 6 percentage points. However, during this same period, identification rates for Hispanic students as ED rose by 8 percentage points (click here).

Now. Read the report, and pay attention to Focus Point. This school, oh wait - it's a therapeutic program - with an enrollment of 63 students had a whopping 286 suspensions in 2012/2013. The closest school to those numbers is Blair, which has an enrollment of 1092 - or about 17 times more students, and which had 199 suspensions.

Ask yourself, if there are that many suspensions, was the Focus Point Academy intervention plan actually working? Not likely. There was, no doubt, an intervention, and that would most likely be called RtI (response to Intervention). But was this the appropriate model for this population of students?

I suppose it doesn't matter because either way, that was the one implemented.

Was this choice due to the failure to actually have a plan in place? Refer again, to the Go Public clip in which Albanese clearly states that students are suspended when they don't know what to do with them. That is a pretty damning statement, regardless of how likable the man is. That was a snippet on record, and uploaded to the community.

All I can gather is that there are a bunch of kids in the twilight zone, and that their ethnicity is being kept a secret from any data collection and any agencies that watchdog appropriate education practice.

Pinocchio Syndrome, Pasadenicus Part Deux
So what exactly is the truth, Mechanical Restraints, or not, PUSD? Another example of an inconsistency. Or another lie, if you prefer the more common vernacular. In 2009 PUSD reported that NO Mechanical Restraints were used (click here).

But that isn't exactly true, because PUSD were in hot water according to that same Pasadena Star News article. Check it out. PUSD was using mechanical restraints in 2009.

In July 2012, OCR found the district discriminated against a 14-year-old Pasadena High School student by requiring the student to wear a wide-cloth belt around his waist when he was in the classroom and be walked by an aide on a tether during transitions between classes. The restriction was in place for more than two years…..

The belt was first put into use in September 2009, when the student, who is non-verbal and autistic, was in middle school and had run away from the campus and crossed a busy street. The student’s mother initially consented to the use of the belt.

My child was physically restrained in 2009. I have the documentation. But the OCR was never notified, and the school was given a Blue Ribbon, as well as an award by the PTA. Not that they really gave a damn. They turned a blind eye because it is more important to put up a smokescreen than to tell the truth.

From Mary: This last link was OCR data 2009 regarding physical restraints. We have behavioral "emergency" reports saying our son was repeatedly restrained … yet they have data showing zero (NO) incidents of physical restraint. I know my child was not the only PUSD student (click here). 

But the OCR won't touch most cases, and they don't touch things after a year. So districts can outright lie, then the statute of limitations is passed, and they get away with it, even when it is this clear. THEY ARE LYING.

Whatever, Man
So now, after our latest FOIA records request, we have a bunch of new numbers, and a bunch of new docs, and the word of administrators that there are no restraints, and  there's no seclusions taking place in the time out room, and that there are no students unsupervised during PE, and  there are plans firmly in place, and blah, blah …

Listen, the fact that someone felt compelled to make those statements means that someone accused the district of exactly that, and it became necessary to bring in legal damage control and statements to the contrary. I have seen the Board of Education do it over the last three years, and now I see it trickle down.

This is NOT about moving the goal post. This is about a culture of deception and cover-up. This is about a total lack of accountability.

Whatever, man. We aren't stupid.


  1. Tony's description of this "academy" reads like something out of Charles Dickens.

    1. I'm thinking more like Escape From Alcatraz.

    2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with Principal Albanese in the role of Nurse Ratched.

    3. there has been some denials- denial there is a padded room, denial it is called a timeout room, denial that kids are put in seclusion. we are somehow supposed to believe that a highly agitated person goes to a boring room without being brought there physically, and stays there willingly. i have an inside source, so i know what the lies are. and there are many. i am hoping this will bring out a few people to open up a dialogue. when kids are hidden away in institutions, the clannish nature of these places allows for many types of procedural violations. we want to see that stop.

    4. Does Altadena know what's going on at Focus Point?

    5. I guess PUSD thought it would be a better place to put a dungeon.

    6. Focus Point is far enough removed from civilization that what's been happening at the point, stays at the point. Until now.

    7. Who's the Focus Point dungeonmaster?

    8. Vlad the Impaler.

    9. The dungeonmaster would be whoever's running special ed I'd think.

    10. Dr. Michael Jason is the Focus Point Dungeonmaster!

    11. You people are ignorant in more ways then one. I went to Oak Knoll (Focus Point) when it was actually staffed by ex-gang members. I Took a brief hiatus from Oak Knoll and returned to a walk in the park, Or should I say, Walk down the street to the liquor store.
      Most of the kids in Oak Knoll were simply violent, They were the kind of kids that would make members of a utopian society cross the street before continuing down the road. The only Learning disabilities those kids had came from their love of giving and taking a beating.

  2. Tony doesn't like to see Noah naked either

    1. Noah's pictures came as a shock to us all.

    2. A manufactured shock. Unless Noah really more punk than tony..

    3. There is no doubt that Noah made them himself. Probably should have kept them in a private place, though.

    4. i thought the noah pictures were funny. i still do. i think he would have been the best hotdog chomping, statue licking, beer sipping, naked guy in a hammock councilman that this town ever saw. if he ever chooses to run again, and i hope he does, i will vote for him. again.

    5. Putting idiots on the Sierra Madre City Council is an old tradition here. Enjoy your yellow water, and say hello to the pederasts.

    6. being an anonymous crybaby is as well. enjoy your paranoia, and your ability to shoot daggers at people from the safety of the laptop in your bomb shelter.

      let me know what YOU are doing to make this world safer for kids, keyboard warrior.

    7. I didn't care so much about the pictures as what Noah's so called platform was. If the compromising photos helped in exposing the whole package, so much the better.

    8. As far as I can tell Noah kept his package hidden.

    9. With all that's going on in town now I long for the good old days when we had nothing more serious to complain about than a scantily clad handsome young-ish man.

    10. Maybe the Chippendales should run for Council.

    11. 1007 and 1032, i agree

  3. It seems like the entirety of the culture means solutions are going to be the wrong ones, doomed to failure. Even Tony here seems to have bought into the culture of oversight and bureacracy. We can't trust anyone, paperwork must be done in triplicate, and elaborate systems drilled into the mind of every teacher and administrator must be rigorously followed, backed up by threats of lawsuits and analysis by PhDs. Here we spend huge amounts of time going through a guantlet of specialists to get labels which gets legal rights which then get to be used as threats, which then are bureacratically implemented by teachers who fill out forms showing they've met standards.

    It's the same tools that were used to beat out racism in schools here in Pasadena, and we all see how well the solution worked out in the end.

    Meanwhile the richie-rich's have their clubs which spend copious amounts of money bringing rich people's idea of what kids need into the worst schools: Theater! Theater will fix the problems of poverty! A kid from a violent home, who can't study, goes to bed chronically late, needs remedial math and therapy will become better through one random extra-curricular about theater! Or manners!

    All the stats listed up there about minorities being targeted over white people: hey, we know what the problem is. The problem is that people without money don't get the real solutions (the non-bureacratic solutions) that money gives you. It gets you a stable home, a consistent bed-time, a tutor after-school, after-school activities tailored to your interests, and a whole host of enrichments and interventions targeted at the specifics of the individual.

    Just this week at our own school, we get more of these solutions: volunteers must go through a guantlet of paperwork and checks. The result of course is less volunteers, But hey, the improvement will be more oversight and paperwork explaining exactly what went wrong when a system set up to view your child as paperwork and legal liability goes wrong once again.

    If you look outside this box of formula, at how other places in the world do it, the answer seems so simple and completely impossible to implement. You focus first on hiring and training people who are empathetic, extremely competent. You hire people focused on helping a child work towards becoming the best person they can be (and if they need to focus on how to cope with their environment as a result of their disability instead of math, they focus on that goal first). Then once everyone is sure you have the right people hired, you trust them. As a result of that trust, you don't implement oversights. And as a result of that intrinsic respect, if your kid isn't a good match for a specific personality of teacher, the teacher themselves recommends a teacher who has the right skills and personality for the child. Because it's about doing the right thing, not about being a cog in a machine.

    This system exists in the world. I doubt I will ever see it in the United States. Something about the end of the 70s changed us to bureacratic solutions. Maybe it's simple cynicism that won. We don't believe in each other anymore. We don't trust that the people who will have to fix the problem can fix the problem, so if we establish cold hard criteria, these stupid people will become the criteria and finally succeed. Or maybe it's more evil, maybe we've moved further into the darkness that was there before the 70s: that there are certain people who are lesser, and those people should be abandoned and treated with contempt because they are dead weight, incapable of improvement (whether teacher or student or adminstrator). Either way, laws and bureacracy won't fix it.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Your trust in people 10:24 is nice, but not realistic. When parents send their children off to school they trust they won't be abused or mistreated- or locked into a secret caging room. When you do online banking, you trust that your password and the site encryption will keep your account secure. Heck, when you live in Sierra Madre, you trust that your neighbor down the street isn't going to molest and take pics of your young children. What good does that trust do if people can't be held accountable through checks and balances?

    3. Sierra Madre has been going through a bad patch lately. I just hope things don't get much worse. Good luck Tony and Mary. Fighting government agencies is something too many people have to do now. Whatever happened to government, by the people and for the people?

    4. Whatever happened to government, by the people and for the people? You ask. The most important part of that was left out. "of the people" Government is only as good as it's active participants. Take action hope is not enough........

    5. Most definitely 10:59. We the people are learning fast and furiously how bad things will get if others don't wake up and start shaking things up.

    6. Watching the events unfold in Missouri and the arsenal the police had at their fingertips should snap some people out of lala land.

    7. I thank you 10:04. I contacted agree that I have bought in on the beuracracy, but I will definitely use it to show the absurdity of the system. There should be no need at all for this sort of insane amount of paperwork to prove compliance because, yes, people should do the right thing.

      But they don't. And agencies designed to protect and make sure equity is provided are so overwhelmed and incapable of seeing through th institutional change are simply seen as pariahs and are feared rather than honored.
      Hence the belief by districts and staff that it is necessary to hide things and lie about it. To protect their funding.

      It's a sad thing. So unnecessary.

      Recognize the institutional racism, challenge it, and change it. What we get instead is practice of number and data manipulation designed to temporarily fix or hide the status quo in the name of funding.

      I'm an agent of change, whether you recognize that or not is moot. But that paperwork has to exist until people do the right thing, and as long as it's there, people like me are going to make sure it's an accurate representation of what it alleges takes place.

    8. PUSD is full of liars and schemers. They should clean house and start over.

    9. PUSD is a metaphor for local government in general. It as an access point to taxpayer money for con artists.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Maybe they could put the kids to work assembling smart phones.

  6. If the information in this article is true, then I've got a major issue with what's going on at Focus Point Academy. There's a majority of black males at this place, and they're being segregated from the rest of the community, and punished further by being put into solitary confinement. Where's the black community leaders? Why isn't there a huge outcry?

  7. Focus Point Academy replaced Oak Knoll Day Treatment Center. The final year before the change, we were given a horrible new principal. She turned the place into a hostile work environment. Her ass was finally fired, and all the long term teachers and aides were scattered across the district. From there, I have heard horror stories, and regret that the place is still open.