Friday, January 31, 2014

No Help In Sight For "Lost Group" On Wait List For MaineCare Services | Bangor, Maine News, Sports, and Weather - WABI TV5

No Help In Sight For "Lost Group" On Wait List For MaineCare Services | Bangor, Maine News, Sports, and Weather - WABI TV5

Whether it’s selling their homes, quitting their jobs or putting a loved one in a nursing home, more and more Maine parents of developmentally disabled children are being forced to make difficult decisions in order to provide their kids with the care they need.
Terri Earley has two children who suffer from autism. Both are representative of each side of the spectrum. Those that are given every opportunity to succeed and those that are part of what Earley calls “The Lost Group.” Her 22-year-old daughter, Carmen, is doing well with the services the state has to offer. She’s even closing in on a job through a program that connects those with disabilities with work. But Earley says her son, Bradley LaPointe, is not so fortunate. Bradley can barely communicate and struggles to understand his surroundings. He suffers from violent seizures that come on with no warning. Earley and her husband work full-time and once Bradley graduates from high school this year there will be a large gap of time where someone will need to look after him. This leaves the family with only a few options, none of them being particularly attractive.
“I could quit my job or my husband could quit his job so that we’re home. Or we could accept the nursing side of it, because he has a legal right to nursing care. So we could put him in a nursing home, basically. Those are really our only options,” Earley said.
There are two federal waiver programs that could help Bradley: Section 21, which provides day programs and in-home care that would be ideal for a person in Bradley’s situation; or Section 29, which provides less comprehensive care that most likely would not be enough for someone in Bradley’s condition. He has been on the wait list for both Section 21 and 29 since 2012. Those on the wait list for Section 21 services, which is what he desperately needs, are selected based on priority. Meaning, due to a shortage of funds, it’s unlikely that Bradley will ever get those services since he’s so low on the priority list.
“My perspective is that if we were to choose a nursing home, that the cost of that is astronomical so it would seem that it would be a more economically viable option to provide the supervision. I mean, he just needs supervision is really what we’re looking for,” said Earley.
Jim Martin, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Aging and Disability Services says they have people like Bradley who have been on the Section 21 wait list for years. Martin says it would cost about $90 million to get everyone currently on that list the services they desperately need. That’s state and federal money combined. But to do it he says he needs the help of the Maine Legislature.
Mainers like Bradley have now been thrust into the center of the battle over expanding MaineCare. If MaineCare expansion were approved by lawmakers, it would provide health insurance to at least 70,000 uninsured Mainers under the Affordable Care Act using 100% federal money for the first three years. After that, the state would pay 10% of the costs. But that expansion of MaineCare would do nothing to help people like Bradley. Republican lawmakers have argued that it would be unfair and morally wrong to pass over the elderly and disabled people of the state who are languishing on these wait lists to take care of those people who they describe as “able bodied.” Some Republican lawmakers have said they would be much more open to the idea of expanding MaineCare if the wait list was taken care of first.
Martin says the Department of Health and Human Services is currently working to implement a “standardized assessment process” for the two waiver programs. This will allow DHHS to administer exactly the services patients require and more efficiently use their limited resources. That way, in cases like Bradley LaPointe, if it would be more cost effective and better for the family to provide less expensive home care, as opposed to paying for a full-time nursing home, that would be an option for the department.
“What we know today is that the support needs don’t necessarily match up with the actual services that are being received,” Martin said. “In some cases, members are receiving more services than what they need. And in some cases less. So the state is moving forward with trying to align those two objectives.”
Martin says they hope to have the new initiative up and running by October of next year. Terri Earley says she plans to meet with DHHS officials to see what can be done to help her family out of their current conundrum.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Senator questions timing of Herschend's donation to auditor | Springfield News-Leader |

Senator questions timing of Herschend's donation to auditor | Springfield News-Leader |

JEFFERSON CITY — A state senator says she is concerned that State Board of Education Chairman Peter Herschend gave $25,000 to Auditor Thomas Schweich’s campaign committee days after Schweich recused himself from an audit of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Deputy Auditor Harry Otto, instead of Schweich, is conducting an audit of how the department contracted with an Indianapolis-based company to create a plan to improve Kansas City public schools. The company, Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship, offered a higher bid than other firms that competed for the contract. It ultimately won a $385,000 contract.
State education commissioner Chris Nicastro, who reports to the Board of Education led by Herschend, has spearheaded the project. Herschend — the Branson entrepreneur whose family owns Silver Dollar City — has been a strong supporter of Nicastro and has previously told the News-Leader she is the “best agent for positive change” he has encountered in his time in Missouri education.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, questioned the timing of Herschend’s Jan. 24 donation, noting the lack of people running for auditor.
“If donations are made all the time, the question is why would Peter Herschend make a $25,000 contribution on Jan. 24 as president? Why now?” Chappelle-Nadal said on the Senate floor this morning.
Herschend did not respond to calls this morning.
Herschend’s $25,000 donation to Schweich appears to be the largest donation he has made to the auditor, but it is not the first. Since 2009, Herschend has given to Schweich at least eight times, according to records from the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The donations range from $250 in February 2010 to January’s $24,000 check. In total, it appears Herschend has given at least $65,000 to Schweich since 2009.
Chappelle-Nadal said so far Schweich has recused himself from four audits. She said his first three recusals were of audits of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican and a large donor to Schweich’s campaign.
Schweich told The Kansas City Star on Tuesday that state law would have allowed him to lead the audit of DESE but that he recused himself out of “an abundance of caution.”
Chappelle-Nadal said she is continuing to look into the situation.
“We have to be assured that a board is not committing injury to the democratic process,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “We have to be assured those things are not happening.”

Angry parents say the Lee’s Summit School District leaves its autistic students behind | Feature | The Pitch

Angry parents say the Lee’s Summit School District leaves its autistic students behind | Feature | The Pitch

Missouri school officials consider the Lee's Summit district to be among the state's best for autism education.
At the fore of its program is Jerry Keimig, the district's 55-year-old director of special education. He's had the job for eight years. Before that, he spent six years employed at a Kansas psychiatric hospital and nine as director of special services for the Grandview School District.
The number of autistic children in Keimig's district is small but growing.
Stacy Martin, who was appointed the district's first autism education specialist in the early 1990s, says that when she started at Lee's Summit 32 years ago as a special-education teacher, only a few students qualified as autistic.
Today, out of the 17,000 students who attend Lee's Summit's 17 elementary schools, three middle schools and five high schools, 98 kids meet the educational definition of autism ("A developmental disability which may occur concurrently with other disabilities ... behaviorally defined to include disturbances in four areas: developmental rates or sequences; responses to sensory stimuli; speech, language cognitive capacities, nonverbal communication; and capacities to relate to people, events, objects, and which adversely affect educational performance," according to the Missouri Autism Resource Guide by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Mental Health). More than 250 other students fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, with a variety of psychological conditions characterized by abnormal social interaction or communication.
The district doesn't have specific classes for children with autism because the symptoms differ from one student to the next. General special-education classes range from groups of 10 students to a one-on-one, teacher-student setting, though many special-needs students are in regular classrooms.
"As a subpopulation, autism is growing pretty fast. I hear all the time from parents who move here because of our special-education programs," Keimig tells The Pitch. "I think you'd certainly find people who believe it's not all it's cracked up to be, but lots of people here are very, very pleased."
Keimig has a laugh that comes suddenly and loudly, like a burst of machine-gun fire. His detractors tend to compare him to a used-car salesman.
His supporters want him to teach all Missouri administrators how to deal with their autistic students.
As proof of his program's success, Keimig cites two examples: special-ed students' high test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test, administered by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the district's program for training teachers on how to educate special-needs students.
The district's special-needs students performed well on reading comprehension exams in the last round of MAP tests in August 2007. Overall, however, their scores fell far short of the "Adequate Yearly Progress" goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act. (The same was true for students for whom English was a second language.) As a result, the entire district was given a failing grade.
District Superintendent David McGehee made sure that parents knew which students were at fault. "The scores of students in these two subgroups are the sole reason our district was designated in this category," he wrote in an August 17, 2007, letter to district parents.
Keimig touts Lee's Summit's teacher training program: two four-day sessions a year to refresh teachers on recognizing autistic behaviors and dealing with autistic students. But these sessions aren't mandatory, and there are no special incentives for teachers to attend. Of the district's 1,264 teachers, fewer than 80 attended the most recent sessions; half of those who did, Stacy Martin says, came from schools outside the Lee's Summit district.
But, Martin adds, teachers from neighboring states and school districts often pay $1,400 per person to attend the Lee's Summit training sessions. And Lee's Summit is so well-respected within the Missouri education system that Heidi Atkins Lieberman, commissioner of special education for the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has invited Keimig to speak at a conference of state administrators in August. He's scheduled to present a special session for superintendents on effective teaching methods for autistic students.
The Missouri Department of Education does not keep records detailing the progress of autistic students. Instead, it tracks the performance of special-education students as a whole.
In choosing Keimig to lead the special session in August, Lieberman says, she relied on informed friends. "I asked people who were very knowledgeable about autism education, and they all said Jerry would be great," Lieberman says. "I don't think I'm really at liberty to identify anyone I talked to."
The announcement of Keimig's special session infuriated some members of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, a collection of parents that includes Joyce Lindsey.
"If he's going to be there, we are picketing that conference," Lindsey says. "There's no way that he should be in that position."

In Missouri, if a parent decides that a school district isn't meeting its obligations, the parent has several options for complaining to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The most common method is filing a "due process" lawsuit against the school, which is then moderated by hearing officers assigned by DESE. That's costly for parents of special-ed students, who are already spending extra money on therapies and doctors. And the lawsuits are almost impossible to win, says one Kansas City lawyer who has a history of dealing with such suits.
"I don't even want to take them anymore because it's so hard to get anywhere," Kim Westhusing says. "The challenge is, you have to determine whether the child is receiving what the state refers to as 'free and appropriate education.' And the standard, as written, is 'Did the child receive some educational benefits?' OK, now what does that mean? What an educational benefit is depends on who you talk to. A student could go through a whole year of school, only learns to tie his shoes, and they could say that's an educational benefit. You almost have to show that their program has harmed a child."
Last year, Regina Yaros filed for due process because she wanted to keep her son Josh, 10, at Woodland Elementary School. Administrators wanted to move him to a Life Skills program at a different school.
Yaros argued that keeping him at Woodland was better for him because of his social interaction with children he'd known since kindergarten. She also believed that he already had capabilities exceeding what he would learn in Life Skills, which focuses on basic day-to-day activities such as getting dressed, going to see a movie and buying groceries.
"At his first IEP [Individualized Education Program] meeting, his teachers said they wanted to move him. But his IEP shows he's actually making progress. So we didn't understand why you'd put him in a class where he won't learn the things he's proven he can learn now," Yaros says.
"They explained that academically, he was too far behind the other students to stay. But that doesn't seem to be a reason to put him in a Life Skills class where all he'll learn is how to shop and dress. I can teach him that myself right now. Maybe later, if he doesn't progress, I can see it, but he's in elementary school, so why give up on him now?"
Yaros claims that during his IEP meetings, administrators told her that one of the reasons they wanted to move him was because, under state guidelines, they could waive his MAP scores if he was listed as a Life Skills student.
Yaros won her due-process suit based on her argument that Josh's current school was the "least restrictive environment for education" — under the U.S. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a "least restrictive environment" means that a disabled student should have the greatest possible opportunity to be educated with his or her nondisabled peers. As part of Yaros' settlement, Josh was to stay in his school for the academic year.
The year is over, and his IEP evaluations have continued to show him progressing. But, Yaros says, his teachers are again saying he should be in a Life Skills class.
Yaros estimates that the last due process, which her family is still paying for, cost $13,000, not including the costs of a behaviorist to review Josh's case at $90 an hour and a special-education advocate who charges $50 an hour. Both are required to be at Josh's IEP evaluation meetings.
"We won because his school is capable of providing an appropriate education for him," Yaros says. "Why put him somewhere that'll do less for him?"

If you have an advanced kid, this is the best place in the world to be," Sherri Tucker says of the Lee's Summit School District. "But if your kid isn't going to help win at football or get a high ACT score, if they're just special-ed kids, the feeling is, they don't deserve anything."
Tucker, whose 15-year-old son, Jake, attends Lee's Summit High School, narrowly lost a campaign for a seat on the Lee's Summit School Board in April.
Two years ago, Tucker founded the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group with another mother, Deb Shaumeyer. Both had moved to Lee's Summit for its reputedly impressive special-education services, and both had filed complaints over the district's handling of their autistic children.
Shaumeyer filed for due process, claiming that the district had refused to provide her son with required services. She eventually dropped her case, partly because the mounting legal fees had forced her to refinance her home but also because of her sense that she could not get a fair hearing.
DESE regulations for due process specify that a case be chaired by three hearing officers — one chosen by the school, one by the parent and one assigned by DESE. The regulations mandate that the hearing officers be chosen from a list of approximately 70 officers designated by DESE. Almost everyone on that list is a school administrator, a teacher or a lawyer retained by a Missouri school district.
Only two have backgrounds as advocates for special-needs children.
"When my hearing chair is a school district attorney, the school's representative is a school administrator, and the one I get is a parent advocate — and on the whole list, only two are parent advocates — what chance do I have?" Shaumeyer says. "The odds were stacked against me, and I was out of money, so we ended up settling."
According to Wanda Allen, a secretary with the DESE's Division of Special Education, the people listed as hearing officers are qualified people who apply to DESE for the position every 18 months. But it's been years since anyone new was considered for the positions. "Last year, we just updated the list of people we already had," Allen says.
The Division of Special Education does not track statistics comparing how many due-process complaints are filed against a particular school or district or the results of those complaints.
Keimig's name is on the list of hearing officers. He believes that DESE has set up a fair system. "The thing I like about the formalized complaint process is that you have people looking at it who are not tied up in the emotional aspect, because obviously the parents feel strongly about it, as they should," he says.
Rather than filing a due-process suit, Tucker complained to DESE's Office of Civil Rights in 2005, when she believed that Jake's teachers were not following his IEP as mandated by state law for special-needs children. The civil rights office determined that the district had violated the law but imposed no penalties after determining that damage to his education had been minimal.
Tucker's Autism Support Group now includes approximately 40 members who meet once a month to discuss their children's progress and the effectiveness of the district's special-education programs.
She decided to run for the school board, she says, because the growing number of parents with autistic children needed some representation.
At the first debate, on March 28, Tucker was the only candidate who wasn't an incumbent. She arrived at the Lee's Summit Performing Arts Building unsure of what to expect, then spent the night scrambling to collect her thoughts as the candidates were questioned.
After incumbent Jack Wiley suggested that he understood her feelings about her son because his wife taught special ed and they'd baby-sat autistic children, Tucker replied in her closing, "Saying that is like me going to a male gynecologist and him trying to tell me he understands what labor pains are. Unless he's ever had them, he doesn't know."
For the next night's forum at Lee's Summit West High School, Tucker was prepared. With the members of her support group in the audience, Tucker argued with the three incumbents. During closing statements, Jon Plaas, a board member seeking his third term, labeled the district's disabled children as a special-interest group.
"I have a great deal of empathy for Ms. Tucker and her situation," Plaas said, according to the Lee's Summit Journal. "If we set aside a board seat for this special-interest group with 300 students, then we have another six special-interest groups (that want a board seat), pretty soon we have seven seats set aside and 2,100 kids covered. What about the other 15,000 students? And, by the way, what about the other stakeholders — the parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators?"
In her closing, Tucker shot back: "I don't want you to give me a board seat, Mr. Plaas. I just want the people to vote me into it."
Tucker almost unseated Plaas, coming within 386 votes of her closest competitor's 5,065. (All of the board members ran against one another for the top three positions.)
Martin, the district's autism education specialist, says the close election results aren't cause to believe that other parents are as upset as Tucker.
"I can't say why anyone voted the way they did," Martin says. "Some may have voted for her because of her issue, but some might've done it because she was the last name on the ballot, and some may have done it because she's a female."

How to Avoid Special-Ed Lawsuits | The Fast Pitch | The Pitch

How to Avoid Special-Ed Lawsuits | The Fast Pitch | The Pitch

Last week, I reported on how parents
    of special education students in the Lee’s Summit School District were ready to picket a state education conference on autism because they were upset that Lee’s Summit’s Director of Special Education, Jerry Keimig, had been selected to give a presentation.

    I was never able to confirm this, but as near as I can tell, the last time Missouri school administrators heard a presentation on autism was ten years ago. The point of that program? To help them avoid lawsuits filed by parents who are angry about their autistic children’s education.
    Back in 1998, the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) annual law seminar included a section titled “Special Education for Early Childhood Autistic Students -- How to Avoid Parent Demands for LOVAAS/TEACH Methodologies.” (In this case “TEACH” is a typo; it’s supposed to be TEACHH, an acronym for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children.) That program and LOVAAS (named for the doctor who invented it) are now considered among the best methods for teaching young autistic students. The notes on the pictured copy of the law seminar’s program were written by Kansas City attorney Kim Westhusing, who has represented several parents of autistic children in due process cases against metro school districts.
    After a page and a half of running down what LOVAAS and TEACHH are – and noting that students in early childhood special education programs can have their services 100 percent reimbursed by state funds instead of individual school districts – the document goes into detail about increases in litigation over special education, test cases in which parents won, and how a district can deny education services while avoiding litigation.

    Even though this seminar program is ten years old, it is the last time MASA chose to address the issue of special education for autistic students, according to Stephanie Sappenfield, an administrative assistant with the group. She told me there had been no other programs on autism education in the past decade.

    What Will A District Pay In Order To Deny Services

    Beth Sigall brings a very interesting article to our attention. 

    "In Deal v. Hamilton County -- [Ron Leaf] was paid $48,000 to testify on behalf of school district in ABA/autism case. 

    School officials basically said they were willing to pay millions in legal fees fighting this to "teach parents a lesson" Evidently school system paid for 1st class flights for the outside law firm they hired (The Weatherly firm). Total legal bill for the school thru the 6th Cir decision issued in Dec. 04 was 2.28 million (whew, that could buy a lot of ABA therapy). It's still being appealed. 

    Atlanta Law Firm Charges To County Schools Top $1.7 Million 
    posted March 14, 2005 

    An Atlanta law firm that specializes nationwide in special education cases has charged the Hamilton County Schools over $1.7 million on a single case that is still ongoing. 

    The bill thus far from the Charles Weatherly law firm in the Deal autism case is at $1,742,636. Total taxpayer cost of the lawsuit is over $2.3 million counting pay for expert witnesses. 
    County Commissioner Larry Henry said he was advised the case could have been settled initially for $150,000, though county school officials deny that. 

    The same Atlanta law firm billed the Ravenswood School District in San Jose, Calif., $2.1 million at a time when the district was going bankrupt, according to the San Jose Mercury News. 

    The newspaper said Ravenswood paid for first-class travel and food for the Atlanta firm. 

    The Mercury News wrote, "Even as the Ravenswood school district tumbled toward bankruptcy, its former leaders allowed an Atlanta law firm to rack up $2.1 million in bills in less than a year, including first-class plane tickets and meals at some of the Bay Area's priciest restaurants. 

    "A Mercury News review found that the Weatherly Law Firm, hired last year to defend Ravenswood in a special education lawsuit, charged the district serving the Peninsula's poorest children what amounts to $420 per student -- 5.5 percent of its annual budget. A new school board replaced the firm in December with county counsel charging $30,000 a year." 

    Hamilton County school officials have been asked by for details of the Weatherly law firm billings to the Hamilton County Schools and those have not yet been made available. 

    Hamilton County School officials did release details of the some $600,000 that has been paid for "legal experts." 

    Those include: 

    $1,052.50 expert witness fee Alisa Dror 

    $40,269.58 expert witness fee Autism Partnership 

    $188,747.50 expert witness fee Behavior Therapy 

    $167,888.84 expert witness fee Dr. B.J. Freeman 

    $12,900.00 expert witness fee Dr. Craig Kennedy 

    $74,632.47 expert witness fee Dr. David Rostetter 

    $50,850.00 expert witness fee Dr. Mitch Taubman 

    $2,800.00 expert witness fee Dr. Peter Thomas 

    $48,062.50 expert witness fee Dr. Ronald Leaf 

    $1,844.20 expert witness fee Dr. Susan Speraw 

    $1,586.00 expert witness fee Thomas Oakland 

    Expert Witness Total Expenses: $590,633.59 

    TRAVEL SUB TOTAL: $10,902.14 

    GRAND TOTAL: $604,268.79 

    The Hamilton County Schools spent overall on legal bills: 

    Fiscal year ending June 30 2002: 

    Fiscal year ending June 30 2003: 

    Fiscal year ending June 30 2004: 

    Fiscal year ending June 30 2005: 

    The county schools said $419,579 should be deducted from the 2003 amount and $302,277 from the 2004 amount for IBNR items. Officials said, "According to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, we have to set aside reserve money for possible claims. This is referred to as IBNR. If the possibility of those claims goes away, then we have to decrease the amount of money in those reserves. This has an effect on legal expenses." 

    Legal payments were: 


    Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $212,374 
    Philip and Maureen Deal $12,872 
    Weatherly law firm $165,993 
    Leitner, Williams and Dooley $17,136 
    Court Reporter Services $1,510 
    All Others $1,322 


    Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $165,405 
    Philip and Maureen Deal $1,882 
    Weatherly law firm $1,418,1863 
    Leitner, Williams and Dooley $49,567 
    Court Reporter Services $9,815 
    All Others $3,367 


    Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $133,650 
    Weatherly law firm $79,043 
    Leitner, Williams and Dooley $164,736 
    Court Reporter Services $3,982 
    All Others $16,597 


    Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel $94,890 
    Weatherly law firm $79,414 
    Leitner, Williams and Dooley $139,174 
    Court Reporter Services $4,274 
    All Others $13,871 

    In addition, attorney Ward Crutchfield is paid an annual salary of $53,985 as the school board attorney. 

    Scott Bennett, of the Leitner, Williams and Dooley firm, is listed as general counsel to the Hamilton County Schools staff. 

    The Mercury News also said of the Weatherly firm: 

    Former officials in the East Palo Alto-eastern Menlo Park district did little to check whether the time lawyers, paralegals and others spent on the lawsuit was appropriate. Nor did they question the roughly $135,000 in bills for travel and meals, including $40 room-service breakfasts for one and $468 of a $969 tab for a dinner for about 10 people. 

    Former Superintendent Charlie Mae Knight, who approved the bills, said she thought the firm's lead lawyer, Charles Weatherly, ``had been pretty frugal.'' 

    "If he traveled first class, we didn't notice," she said. 

    In hiring the Weatherly firm, Ravenswood failed to require safeguards other public agencies often use, including setting a cap on expenses. The firm's contract did not get a mandatory county review before Knight signed it -- a lapse she blamed on a secretary. Had that review occurred, county lawyers say Ravenswood, which has a $38 million annual operating budget, probably would have been warned that the contract could bleed it dry. 

    Defending the charges 

    Weatherly, who is widely known for his work in special education law and has a national client base, had explanations for nearly all of the questionable charges involving travel and meals. But he said no one in Ravenswood had ever asked him about them before. 

    ``We were constantly aware of costs, but the litigation was not going to stop,'' he said. 

    The charges included: 

    • $99,800 for air fare. At least 20 of 78 tickets were first-class, and 50 of them cost $1,000 or more. Round-trip tickets from Atlanta were as expensive as $2,584, and one-way tickets as much as $2,128. 

    • $14,917 for 250 meals, including at least 23 charges for room service and 49 meals of $100 or more. 

    • $2,629 at the Swisso^tel in Boston, where lawyers met with a special education expert. The rate during most of their stay was $349 a night per room. 

    The firm's single biggest bill for meals was $468 of a $969 June 11 dinner at San Mateo's Kingfish, where the specialties of the house include the ``Full Throne,'' a $40 plate of ``oysters, Dungeness crab, prawns and ahi tartare.'' 

    Weatherly said he only charged the district what he considered to be a reasonable amount for a meal that fed about 10 people, and he paid for his own alcohol. He said he normally does not charge a district more than $30 per person per meal. 

    Although the district paid the invoice that had the Kingfish receipt attached, Knight and two board members said they were not aware of the charge until the Mercury News brought it to their attention. Their reactions: 

    ``If you tell me he had a $900 bill and he only billed the district $400, that's pretty generous,'' Knight said. 

    Lois Frontino, a board member who lost her seat in November, added, ``Well, geez, I wish I'd been there, too.'' She said she would ``review some of these things if we did it over.'' 

    And Chester Palesoo, one of two current board members in office when the firm was hired, had this to say: ``What do I think? They need to eat. If they don't want McDonald's, they don't want McDonald's. That's the way it goes.'' 

    Knight's 17 years as superintendent were marked by controversy, including allegations of cronyism and mismanagement. Reform school board candidates ousted some of her supporters in November, and she was put on paid administrative leave immediately after the new board took office. The board has made clear it cannot afford to buy out her $150,000-a-year contract, and she remains on leave. 

    Ravenswood hired Weatherly and his associates in February 2002 to prevent U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson from ordering a state takeover for its special education failings. 

    In financial jeopardy 

    Now that the district has new leaders, a takeover is no longer under consideration in the case. But, after paying the Weatherly firm $2 million between March and November 2002, Ravenswood is teetering on the brink of a takeover for financial reasons. 

    Ironically, the district needs exactly $2 million a year to improve its special education program and get itself out of trouble with the judge. 

    ``I think I'm going to be sick,'' said new board member Marcelino Lopez, when presented with a Mercury News review of all firm invoices from March 28, 2002, to Jan. 6. 

    By law, Ravenswood must keep 3 percent of its budget in reserve, or $1.1 million. Reserves are now at 0.3 percent. If the district becomes insolvent, the state will probably take over. 

    As Ravenswood weighs laying off teachers, Weatherly continues charging it for time defending his own conduct. Henderson has launched a probe investigating, among other things, whether he racked up bills unnecessarily. 

    In addition to the $2 million paid between March and November 2002, Weatherly submitted $122,246 in bills the district's new leaders have not paid. 

    Of the total $2.1 million Weatherly has billed Ravenswood, $1.5 million was for hours clocked by lawyers and paralegals at rates of $50 to $295 an hour. Those rates are comparable to what other lawyers in his specialized field earn. 

    An additional $322,897 was charged for expert witness fees and their travel expenses. Then there was $17,356 for Federal Express and postage and $130,430 for photocopies and binding. 

    Weatherly's contract said the district would cover ``various out-of-pocket disbursements, including travel expenses.'' It made no mention of meals. 

    ``We didn't get down to the details of saying you could only eat at Denny's,'' Knight said. 

    Many meals billed to Ravenswood -- where nearly every student is poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch -- included food for multiple attorneys, paralegals and experts, occasionally at some of the Bay Area's best restaurants. 

    Weatherly said room service was often necessary while he and his associates worked in their hotel suite, meeting with experts and others. While in the Bay Area, the lawyers stayed at a suite at the Burlingame Doubletree. Records show that tens of thousands of dollars were billed directly to Ravenswood, in addition to the firm's fees. 

    Other billing practices 

    Other lawyers handle expenses differently. 

    Pasadena lawyer Urrea Jones, who has represented Ravenswood on a variety of issues, including special education, pays for air fare himself. 

    Maree Sneed, a Washington, D.C., education lawyer who has represented San Francisco and Fresno schools, has high regard for Weatherly and said it makes sense that a district in Ravenswood's situation would have hired him. She said the districts she represents cover her travel and meals, often without setting caps, but she is vigilant about costs. 

    For instance, she said she has her secretary search for the lowest possible air fares. She takes flights with connections to save money and does not bill for travel time. 

    Weatherly, who often uses a travel agent, only flies non-stop on Delta, and does charge for travel time. 

    He said his air fare often was automatically upgraded to first-class because he flies so frequently. He flew first-class at least 14 times and coach six times. The paralegals always flew coach. 

    Weatherly blamed many of the pricey tickets on Ravenswood, saying the district would ask him and his associates to fly out at the last minute, and they did not stay for the weekend -- a requirement for many reduced-rate fares. 

    Other school districts, such as Knox County, Tenn., have faced criticism for paying Weatherly's high fees. But they have vehemently argued that he actually saves taxpayers' money in the long run. His firm specializes in cases where children and their families claim districts should pay for expensive special education services or private school placements. The districts argue that paying for a special service once sets off a chain reaction, where other parents ask for the same thing. 

    Ravenswood's class-action lawsuit, filed in 1996 on behalf of disabled children, has been long and costly. An earlier Mercury News review showed the district paid more than $425,000 to lawyers from 1999 to 2001. But fees skyrocketed after Henderson held the district in contempt in August 2001 for failure to improve, and lawyers for children and the state asked him to order a takeover. 

    Last November, while the two sides were trying to settle the contempt charges, voters elected a new school board majority that vowed to reform special education. Just before the leadership change, Weatherly filed court papers including a proposed settlement -- despite the judge's order to wait for the new board to take action. Weatherly said it was important to show how much progress had been made. 

    Henderson blasted the move as politically charged, launching a disciplinary probe against Weatherly. Among the concerns the judge cited: ``needless increase in the cost of litigation.'' 

    Outstanding bills 

    The bills Ravenswood's new leaders have not paid include at least $12,543 for time Weatherly has spent defending himself and the partial cost of dinner at San Francisco's posh Gary Danko, a Mobil guide five-star restaurant requiring reservations two months in advance. 

    Although he said he paid for his own alcohol, the Ravenswood bills include a $27 bar tab. Weatherly acknowledged that submitting that bill was a mistake. 

    Ravenswood's new superintendent, Floyd Gonella, said he has no intention of recommending that the school board give the Weatherly firm another cent -- and will do whatever he can to get back money already paid. 

    ``In 28 years as a superintendent, I have never experienced such outrageous costs,'' said Gonella, who previously served as superintendent of San Mateo County schools and the Jefferson high school district. ``The amount taken away from the little kids of Ravenswood is unconscionable.''

    Look our former Special Education Commissioner and a member of the Weatherly Law Firm had a conference to help our Special Education Director's win law suits against parents.

    2011 Spring Law Conference

    Distinguished Speakers Series

    MO-CASE, along with the Thomeczek & Brink Law Firm will once again sponsor the Spring Law

    Conference. The date is Friday, March 11, 2011 at Lodge of Four Seasons. The morning keynote is

    Kathleen Sullivan from Colorado. The afternoon session will be presented by the Thomeczek &

    Brink Law Firm and will feature presentations from Jim Thomeczek, Bo Thomeczek, John Brink,

    David Willard and new partner, Heidi Atkins-Lieberman. Heidi has joined the firm after 20 years at

    DESE and will offer a new and exciting perspective to the conference.

    On-line registration is now open on the MO-CASE website at or you can find the

    registration form below. Space is limited so don’t delay!




    Friday, March 11, 2011• Lodge of Four Seasons • Lake Ozarks

    The Distinguished Speaker for this year's conference is Kathleen Sullivan. She is the Director of Colorado

    Association of School Boards Legal Services Program. Ms. Sullivan provides legal representation to CASB’s

    LSP clients, particularly in matters relating to special education and anti-discrimination. She also consults

    with school board members and administrators on a wide range of education law issues, including civil rights,

    student rights and responsibilities, school personnel issues, and school board policy. Most recently, Ms.

    Sullivan served as the Senior Advisor for Special Needs Programs and Litigation for a large urban school

    district in Georgia. Previously, she was an attorney with the Weatherly Law Firm concentrating in litigation

    in the areas of special education and school law. Ms. Sullivan has written several articles pertaining to

    education law and is a frequent presenter at the national and local levels.

    Wrightslaw - Congressional Hearing: Special Education: Implementation of IDEA (Feb 28, 2001)

    Wrightslaw - Congressional Hearing: Special Education: Implementation of IDEA (Feb 28, 2001)

    pecial Education:  
    Is IDEA Being Implemented as Congress Intended?”

    Congress of the United States 
    House of Representatives
    Committee on Government Reform
    February 28, 2001
    Prepared by Lilliam Rangel-Diaz 
    Center for Education Advocacy

    Miami, Florida 33156 
    305-279-2428, Ext. 211
    E-mail address:
    God blessed me with the opportunity to attend the Congressional Hearing on IDEA with a 24-hour notice! 
    I encourage every child advocate and every parent to contact Congressman Burton’s office with recommendations to improve IDEA implementation and enforcement. The record will remain open until March 15, 2001.    
    Congressman Burton’s Personal Experiences 
    Congressman Burton is deeply committed to this cause, as he has been personally touched by a child with disability, his grandson, Christian, who has autism. 
    He related the struggles of his daughter in obtaining educational services for his grandson.  He has attended IEPs with his daughter and was shocked to find the recalcitrant system that we have all grown so accustomed too. He stated that if this happens to a child who has a Congressman for a grandfather, he could not even begin to imagine what is happening to other families and other children. His experience with the special education system is what motivated him to investigate the implementation and enforcement of IDEA. 

    Contact information:
    Hon. Dan Burton, Chairman
    Hose of Representatives
    Committee on Government Reform
    2157 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, D.C.  20515-6143
    Attn. Ms. Beth Clay 
    Tel. 202-225-5074
    E-mail address:
    The following are my personal impressions and observations of the Congressional Hearing and my own opinions:
    Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana, Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, opened the hearing, which was titled, “Special Education:  Is IDEA Being Implemented as Congress Intended?” 
    What follows are excerpts of his opening statement:
    “Why do families have to go to court to receive services?" 
    “ . . . Why is it that, when we have federal law that requires that every child receive a free and appropriate public education, many families are having to go to court to receive these services?” 
    “The committee received thousands of e-mails, telephone calls, letters and faxes from families, teachers, administrators, and organizations about the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) . . .  Are teachers and administrators trained in the changes in the Federal laws regarding special education?  Are families fully informed early in the process about their rights?”
    The “Federal Role in Education: To Serve the Children not the System” 

    He quoted President Bush, “The federal role in education is not to serve the system.  It is to serve the children,” and stated that he was in 100% agreement with that statement.  He stated:
    "We repeatedly heard that parents do not want their children to be ‘warehoused,’ or placed in classes where they are not intellectually challenged." 
    "We repeatedly heard from the disability community and families about the need for accountability for schools that do not comply with the law.” 
    "Families across the country do not feel that their schools are following the IDEA law. A majority of over 2,500 families we heard from had to fight for services.  We repeatedly heard from families that the schools did not inform them of the programs available to their children or of their rights under the law." 
    "We also learned that families spend tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to obtain educational services for their children, as well as to hire lawyers to fight for their children’s educational needs . . . "
    "It was never Congressional intent that taxpayer dollars be spent on hiring attorneys to fight parents in long and expensive court battles that will keep children from getting services
    "The role of Special Education Directors, teachers, and administrators is to serve the children, not to serve the system. The new mantra at the Department of Education is that “No Child Be Left Behind.’ It is very important that no child be left behind, including any child with a disability . . ." 
    When Congress passed legislation to require a free and appropriate public education to all children with disabilities, we never envisioned that parents would have to fight for these services
    We never envisioned that schools would refuse to accept the diagnosis of a doctor and then not evaluate a child for six months or a year – delaying all services until the school evaluation is obtained. A six-month delay can have a detrimental effect on the child for years… 
    When Congress passed IDEA we never envisioned that schools would tell parents, ‘if we provide it for your child, then we will have to provide it for everyone!’ 
    We repeated heard from families that schools used this as an excuse not to provide services.  If the service is an appropriate service to meet the educational needs of a disabled child, any child with the same disability in the school should be offered access to that appropriate service…
    Marca Bristo, Chairperson of the National Council on Disability, beautifully delivered the major findings and major recommendations of NCD’s Back to School on Civil Rights Report regarding the poor implementation of IDEA and the lack of enforcement actions

    Back to School on Civil Rights was entered into the Congressional Record. 
    How to Improve Implementation of IDEA? OSEP Has No Recommendations
    Patricia Guard, Acting Director, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, testified. Congressman Burton interrupted her testimony reminding her that what she was stating was what IDEA law says and that Congress is fully aware of what IDEA says, that what they want to know is why is not being implemented and what needs to be done to improve it
    He asked her for specific recommendations from OSEP, but OSEP was unable to provide any, aside from increase in funding.  Ms. Guard indicated that she had to get back to the Committee with specific recommendations. 
    It’s hard for me to resist offering my editorials, so I’m not going to resist the temptation  . . . for OSEP not to have recommendations to improve IDEA implementation and enforcement is so tragic that is almost comical!
    For me, the highlight was . . .
    For me, the absolute highlight of the hearing was the testimony of Melinda (Maloney) Baird, Esq. From Knoxville, Tennessee, now in private practice previously involved with the Weatherly Law Firm, followed by the testimony from Mr. Gary Mayerson, Esq. from New York, a parent attorney. 
    I wish I had a video camera so that we could all relive the moment together  . . . I will do my best to describe what I observed . . . 
    Excerpts from Testimony of Melinda (Maloney) Baird, Esq., school board attorney
    The following are excerpts from Ms. Baird’s testimony:
    I am an attorney in private practice in Knoxville, Tennessee, and have been working in the field of special education law for almost sixteen years. My practice is devoted exclusively to the representation of school districts in special education matters.  I formerly served as an attorney in the Office of Special Education Programs for the Tennessee Department of Education and as Associate Publisher for Education and Disability Publications for LRP Publications.
    Over the past twelve years, I have provided hundreds of workshops and in-service training seminars for thousands of teachers, administrators, and parents of students with disabilities…. For the past four-and-a-half years, I have represented school districts in Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida in litigation concerning the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973… Despite the best efforts and good intentions of lawmakers, the paperwork burden for special education has increased rather than decreased… 
    In my opinion and based on my experience, local school districts are doing an ADMIRABLE (emphasis added) job of providing appropriate special education and related services to these students, and are rising to the challenge of meeting the mandate and increasing expectations of the law…. I annually prepare a yearly summary of federal and state court decisions affecting special education, which I have attached for your information and review . . . 
    I think it is remarkable that, on average, less than one hundred lawsuits are filed in federal and state court out of a total of more than six million students receiving special education and related services. The Committee members should remember that in each state there is a federally funded agency providing free or low-cost legal representation to parents of students with disabilities. 
    Therefore, families of students with disabilities are able to initiate a legal action against their local school district either at no cost or low cost whenever their child’s rights have been violated. Parents also have the option of filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and their State Department of Education, and of requesting formal mediation at no cost to them…. 
    The law provides a complex scheme of procedural rights and the availability of free or low-cost legal representation for parents of students with disabilities.  I can testify that the parents I encounter are well aware of their legal rights and freely take advantage of the legal process. My husband is a retired educator with twenty-eight years of experience as a special education teacher and administrator… 
    It would be wrong to assume that all complains filed against school districts are without merit.  It would also be wrong to assume that all complaints filed against schools have merit. The fact that we have disputes between school districts and parents of children with disabilities is proof that the system is working, not proof that the system is flawed…
    Excerpts from Testimony of Gary Mayerson, Esq., parent attorney

    The hero of the day, Mr. Gary Mayerson from New York (who by the way was borne and raised in Miami, Florida), provided the accurate information regarding the state of affairs regarding special education litigation.  He stated:
    Unfortunately, while there apparently are enough lawyers and law firms prepared to work on a steady retainer basis for school districts (or the insurance companies which insure school districts), there are relatively few lawyers in the country who are ready, willing and able to represent children . . .
    The subject matter is complicated, the learning curve is steep, the pay is uncertain and erratic, and the risks of failure can be catastrophic to the child and the child’s family.  There clearly are easier ways to earn a living . . .
    “Private” Conferences for School Board Attorneys Funded by Taxpayers?

    Mr. Mayerson included as Appendices to his written testimony, a seminar brochure entitled “Special Education and The Law" a private briefing designed for school board members, central office administrators, special education directors, etc.”  Page 2 of the Program agenda announced a session titled “Special Education for Early Childhood Autistic Students – How to Avoid Parent Demands for Lovaas/Teach Methodologies,” and another session titled, “How to Avoid Liability in Lovaas Cases.” 
    Mr. Mayerson also attached a copy of “workshop” brochure from our esteemed LRP Publications entiled “Building a Blueprint from Defensible Autism Programs,” with Melinda (Maloney) Baird as the workshop’s presenter. He also testified to Ms. Baird’s presentation in Tennessee back in November 2000, titled “The New Reauthorization – Back into Hell?” 
    We are all too familiar with these workshops and “private” conferences at taxpayers’ expense. 
    Congressman Burton and Congresswoman Maloney from New York did not find Ms. Baird’s “catchy” titles amusing at all. As one observed Congressman Burton’s increase in facial color, becoming redder by the second, Ms. Baird was asked several questions regarding Mr. Mayerson’s appendices and testimony. 
    Among the questions asked of Ms. Baird, was an explanation of how could she put on “private” conferences with taxpayer dollars designed to teach school people how to break the law and get away with it
    OK, we can all relish the moment now  . . . SMILE, SMILE, SMILE . . . 
    Of course, this refers to the infamous “National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities” by LRP, which caters to school boards and school board attorneys who attend these conferences at taxpayers expense to learn how to win against parents in court. 
    Congresswoman Maloney from New York literally yelled at Ms. Baird, stating that this practice could not be legal and that she would get this under the Sunshine Law. 
    Ms. Baird was not a happy camper. 
    OSEP Staff Comfort School Board Attorney 
    At the end of the hearing, it was observed that Ms. Baird found refuge and comfort among her friends from OSEP, Ms. Patty Guard, Ms. Joleta Reynolds and Ms. Ruth Ryder, who were all there. 
    Whose interest is OSEP protecting? Do we have any doubts left? 
    How could anyone in their right mind expect that OSEP would ever enforce IDEA, much less sanction state education agencies that allow its local school districts to violate the law?
    “The Cat Is Out of the Bag”
    For the first time I feel confident that IDEA is getting the attention it deserves (THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG). 
    “Thank God for Little Boys Like Christian” 
    Thank God for little boys and little girls like Christian, Congressman Burton’s grandson, who through the miracles of their existence, raise the level of awareness of those who are in a position to make a difference. What would the rest of us do without them?
    I encourage all parents and advocates for children with disabilities to make recommendations to improve IDEA. 
    Please Make Your Voice Heard 
    It is scary to hear the recommendations that I heard at the hearing from school people and from uninformed legislators. The school people complain bitterly about the burden of paperwork and about the discipline of children with disabilities. 
    What they really mean is that paperwork makes them somewhat accountable and they just don’t like that. They also stated that they miss the days when the parents “trust” them. 
    Accountability & Measurable Student Outcomes
    We need to demand accountability, not necessarily through “paperwork” (I’m not interested in killing trees), but through technology (instead of paper and pencil tasks) and through measurable student outcomes.
    Please feel free to contact me for additional information. 
    Lilliam Rangel-Diaz
    Center for Education Advocacy
    8600 S.W. 92nd Street
    Suite 204
    Miami, Florida  33156
    305-279-2428, Ext. 211
    E-mail address:
    IDEA Compliance Links at Wrightslaw:
    Summary of Findings & News Release by National Council on Disability. 
    Table of Contents, IDEA Compliance Report ("Back to School on Civil Rights") 
    Recommendations from IDEA Compliance Report ("Back to School on Civil Rights") 
    Search Tips -- Find Information in IDEA Compliance Report 
    Keynote Speech by Lilliam Rangel Diaz, 3rd Annual Conference of Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Houston, TX 
    Other Links
    NOTE: The 4th Annual Conference of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is at the Hyatt Crystal City, Washington DC, March 8-11, 2001. For more information, pleasevisit the COPAA site.