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Awkward Conversations with My Superintendent, Part Two

July 8, 2016

If you haven’t yet, be sure to read part one here.

I volunteered to call because, after two years as a union president, it wasn’t my first rodeo.  I knew who to speak to at the state; I knew also how to phrase the problem in a way that it would be easily understood. I also knew how to interpret the careful language any representative from the state would use as a response.  And frankly, I knew I had less to fear in terms of possible retribution. Would the district actually go after the popular twenty-year veteran with Parkinson’s?  Probably not.  It wouldn’t be ideal PR for the district.  Mind you, there were no guarantees of my safety, but I certainly felt safer than others.

The short version of the district’s plan was that they felt in order to comply with a certain aspect of special education law, the schedules of approximately twenty special education students were going to be rearranged.  Moreover, this was going to be done nine weeks into the school year.  Moving a student’s schedule to accommodate their needs is nothing new—indeed, special education students have something called an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  This program is developed to serve the best needs of the student.  The problem is that the school administration was not going to consider the students’ individual needs when making these schedule changes.  They were going to make the changes based on whoever’s schedule was easiest to move.  In short, they were going to make changes based upon the needs of the administrators, not the students.  The irony here is that the IEP is filled with really valuable data on a student’s need—data being willfully ignored.

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Throughout this process, teachers kept asking: can we call the state?  Can we see if there’s another way to comply?  If this is what we have to do, then fine—but can we check?  In response, the teachers’ requests were either ignored, or teachers were told the district didn’t want to call the state for fear of a punitive reaction.  We pointed out repeatedly that it’s not in the state’s interest to be punitive—this is a case of following federal law, and if a school district is sanctioned, the state can get in trouble as well.  They would likely be willing to  work with the district and find a solution.  We were told the district’s plan was the only option.

Since the district leadership wouldn’t call, I did.  I had a very productive discussion with a representative from the state department of education.  She then asked if it was permissible for her to contact our special education director.  I said yes, please do.  And as expected, I was told my name would have to be used.

Two days later, I received a cryptic phone call from the woman I spoke to at the state, saying she had a very “useful, positive” discussion with the special education director.  The next day—the last one before the schedules were going to be rearranged–all of the affected teachers were sent an email from the principal informing them that students would not be moved.

I was happy that my phone call worked, but I knew the other shoe was going to drop soon.  The following week, I got an email from the superintendent:

I would like to meet with you regarding your recent call to the state  It has not been my experience, anywhere that I have worked, that a person would call the state without first having sought clarification on an issue with district colleagues, including building and district admininistration (sic).  While the state is a resource for districts, it is also a monitoring and authority agency.  As this is an anomaly in my experience, I am trying to understand why you would find this necessary as a first step in problem solving.  It would be helpful if we are able to discuss this.

So I agreed to meet with him, but I certainly wasn’t going to do so alone.

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