Having a disability isn't a crime. Manifestations of a disability are also not a crime.
I have never been especially fond of the idea of Focus Point Academy. Never. I have always considered it a sub-par half baked idea with a good heart and a lousy disposition.
I want to believe the good heart piece was that people in the PUSD want to see children with behavioral challenges have success. The reality, however, is my personal opinion that this is simply a squirrel cage. A squirrel cage- for those of you who care- is a trap designed to catch small animals, generally squirrels and gophers. A squirrel cage is also a meaningless and repetitive task. You choose the definition you like, as they are both appropriate.
My Generally Biased Pre-History
Forgive me. I must always preface my disdain for many of the PUSD special education services right up front, and I will hold many Sierra Madre pre-school and primary educational staff responsible for the damage caused to my child and family due to their arrogance and lack of empathy. That said, if you want to skip this background information scroll down.
A few years ago my youngest child became the target of a community roasting and lynch mob. I was called a sociopath, my 7 year old child was called much worse, and my wife MJ was subjected to four years of dirty looks, whispering, and general shaming.
Welcome back to high school.
Anyhow, when the smoke cleared there was a new Special Education Coordinator, a Board Member was called to the carpet, and a general shake-up was had by more than just us. It would have been comedic if it wasn't so ugly. We tried our best to have fun with it. The end result was that we determined our children were better of somewhere else outside of the public school sector. And, yes, we ultimately found that they are.
Focus Point was placed on the table for my child when he was 7, then quickly removed when the then Special Education Coordinator (and I assume the advocate for this program originally) Elizabeth Blanco decided it was 'not appropriate' for our child. More likely, she knew that MJ and I would be so noisy that the 'school' would never fly under the radar.
My advice to teachers and staff: If you are an educator, listen. You are a service provider. Get off your mustang, Napoleon, and work with your families. All of them. They know their kids better than you, so stop telling parents what they need to do, and start telling them how you can support their children. Don't fall prey to gossip and lies, and, most importantly, try looking at things from a parent's perspective.
My advice to parents: If you are a parent, and you believe your child needs supports, start setting up and documenting your meetings. If you feel your child needs more intensive support, make a formal request for testing, and keep a dated copy of it. Talk to your child, and talk to professionals who provide services to kids. Don't wait for the school to do it. They are slammed, and they may or may not actually follow through.
My advice to the community: If you realize there is something going on at your child's school or classroom, a little empathy and genuine concern for the other family and child can go a long way. Get over yourself and offer a hand.
Focus Point Basics
You aren't going to find much about Focus Point Academy on the PUSD web site. If you go to the archived website, you might find this:
Focus Point offers a small, highly structured special educational program that incorporates daily supportive counseling and specially designed academic instruction for students diagnosed with emotional disturbances and specific learning disabilities in grades 1 – 12.
However, if you go to the current PUSD website, you will not only fail to find much about Special Education, you will also find little about Focus Point, and not much about it in general (click here). You'll need to dig to find stuff. As for special education, it's probably called something else now.
The biggest complication I have found with the Focus Point paper trail is that because it is technically defined as a therapeutic center, it is not technically a school in the traditional sense. That's where everything in this equation gets screwy. The variable is out of whack. Either it is a school, or it's not a school.
By their definition, they provide specially designed instruction. This is the Ed Code definition (click here) which is a complicated quagmire that essentially lists how instruction can be delivered and where. The goal for all children is the typical, general education program. This is additionally clarified by the California Department of Education (CDE) (click here and here) which does little, really, to clarify and clear up the how and where part.
That is the ideal: the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). From there it can get fuzzy, because, according to some people, the LRE might actually be somewhere "better" designed to meet their needs.
It's All About Me
My personal belief is that any service model can be delivered on a typical school campus just as easily as on a sheltered/segregated/separate school. School districts tend to lean toward separate placements.
This is where the breakdown begins. Districts tend to say "It's temporary," but what often happens is, as I was told by an employee at the non-public placement Five Acres a few years back, "They can earn the right to go back to school."
I've got some news here folks: no one in this country has to earn the right to a free public education.
More to come.