[Hello, Friends. This morning I sent the following email to just about everyone. Attached was the State Department of Education complaint we filed last week. I am not sharing the actual complaint document here as it contains personal details, but the general content of the complaint is described in the below letter.]
Good morning, Governor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Rachel Kenyon, mother of RM (6). RM is a special education student in the town of Manchester and attends the *** School.
Once again, our family has been subjected to unethical practices carried out by the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Staff of Manchester Public Schools.
Attached you will find the complaint filed last week with the State Department of Education, Special Education Bureau. There were an additional 200 pages of documentation that we provided to support the complaint. Those documents are available upon request to all parties in this communication. This complaint was filed after a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting on March 4th, 2013, during which the Outplacement Coordinator of Manchester Public Schools (MPS), refused to listen to and accept a recommendation by RM’s neurologist and advised me instead to file for mediation or due process, or file a state complaint.
I spend much of my time advocating for special needs families when I am not advocating for my own children. Sadly, time and again the families that seek out my assistance are also victims of the continued practice of MPS to say “no” to appropriate services for special education students, forcing parents into a corner. Special needs families are struggling day to day. We are the most vulnerable population within our communities while also the most underserved. Most of our families do not have the resources to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees to push for the legal access to education their children are afforded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rather, our families are being bullied to the brink of exhaustion within a system that is so inherently flawed that the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) staff think nothing of laughing at parents and telling them to go ahead and file for mediation or due process.
Our family has endured several such PPT meetings where we were laughed at and ignored by PPS, and talked over by Board legal counsel. We have been to mediation. We have spent thousands on attorneys’ fees while my husband was serving in Afghanistan. Years later now, I have educated myself regarding the rights and laws designed to protect my child’s best interest, yet I have never experienced a single member of the PPS staff exhibit an ounce of compassion or reason when discussing my child’s education. Instead, PPS staff have refused to even listen to physician recommendations and also refused the simple courtesy of including a school physician consultant in PPT invitation. Even more disturbing, is that the Outplacement Coordinator for MPS was once RM’s in-district speech pathologist. There was a time when Ms. Outplacement Coordinator claimed to love my child and enjoyed eating lunch with her each day. Subsequently, it was Ms. Outplacement Coordinator who rejected RM’s neurologist’s diagnosis of autism in 2010 while my husband was in Afghanistan. MPS then conducted an in-district evaluation while our family hired an attorney and pursued an appropriate Independent Educational Evaluation, mediation, and eventually outplacement.
My daughter may have disabilities, and she may need accommodations to access the educational curriculum, but she is worthy of the same high expectations that we place upon our “typical” children. IDEA specifically states that right. Please tell me that you agree we should have high expectations of our educators and PPS staff as well. Please share with us that you agree and understand that the accommodations and high expectations we have of our special children today will prepare them for a successful and independent future rather than a lifetime of dependence on social programs and dollars, incarceration, mental illness, or worse.
As a lifelong resident of Manchester, it is sad and so embarrassing to know that Manchester Public Schools has a deplorable reputation regarding special education. The special needs community sees no improvement on the horizon. How can we come together to change that? Because requiring my Congressman’s office to attend and observe a PPT seems dangerously heading in the opposite direction of any hope that we can make our district great again.
While I continue to learn more about MPS and district practices, I also invite all of you to get to know my daughter and our experiences with Manchester Public Schools. I invite you to witness the deep chasm between the best interests of our unique and amazing children and MPS practices.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank MPS for pushing me so hard to fight for my daughter’s educational rights. Not only has it allowed me to pay it forward and teach other parents how to advocate for their children, but it has given me a national platform to pass federal legislation and bring these battles to light. I have made multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to Manchester Public Schools. Please look for my upcoming articles with TIME, Huffington Post, Autism Speaks, American Military Families Autism Support, Babble.com, The Courant, The Journal Inquirer, Manchester Patch, and CTFEAT, as well as my own publication Welcome to StimCity.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with all of you to bring awareness and equality to the special education of our most unique and amazing children. Most especially, I look forward to seeing Manchester Public Schools work to improve their service to the special needs population and lift up our families rather than add to our burdens. I look forward to one day sitting across the table from MPS staff and having a sound, meaningful relationship which includes respectful dialogue concerning the best interests of my daughter.