Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some unfinished business

After a restorative dip into frivolity, I'm ready to post, one last time, about the whole school district battle. First of all, I want to thank all of you who read, listened, and cheered us on from these, and other, sidelines. It meant a lot to have sympathy and stick-it-to-the-bastards support along the way. You know who you are, and I hope you know it helped. Now, on to business.

Chances are that anyone reading this already knows, or will know soon, a family like ours - a family trying to persuade an unwilling public-school bureacracy to agree to a private placement for their autistic child. (When Charlotte was diagnosed the statistics said that one in every ten thousand children would be autistic. Now it's one in one hundred fifty!) So here are the things we did that led to us getting what we wanted out of them, and please pass this on to anyone who you think might need it:

1. Hire a lawyer with passion for the work and a fire in her belly. ( Many thanks to our attorney, Pamela Berger!)

2.Find an "approved private school" that you want your child to go to. "Approved" means that the feds will, at some point, begin to pay 60% of the tuition.

3.Make sure it's a school that you're REALLY enthusiatic about. This will make it easier, when the district says no, to....

4.Scrimp, save, borrow against your future to pay the more-expensive-than-Harvard tuition yourself and make it clear to the district that you are willing to go farther down this road than they are. Because one thing you have on your side, that they don't, is the determination that only love can give you. It's just a job to them. To you, it's your sweet baby's life and future on the line. I didn't have much certainty about how all this would go, but I did know with unshakeable clarity that only over my dead body would my daughter ever set foot into that dreadful public-school autistic support classroom.

5.Hurt them where they'll feel it - right on their bottom line. The school district is legally required to bus your child to any school within ten miles of your house. It costs them an astonishing amount of money to bus special-needs kids. Because of the special busses and aids necessary, our district would have had to pay $36,000 a year to bus our daughter to her school! The bussing alone was 2/3 of the tuition. Then tell them if they'll pay tuition, you'll waive bussing and drive her to school. They'll add things up and realize that once the federal aid money kicks in, their costs will be relatively modest. And if they don't go to court they'll save even more money. Court cases are expensive. They're all about that bottom line.

6.Go over the heads of the special-ed people. The school board is the boss of everyone (in theory anyway), so I spoke to, and wrote gracious, rational, yet passionate letters to, the president and vice president of the school board, laying out why our daughter desperately needed this placement. I made them see her as a person rather than as a precident (and I reminded them how much bussing and attorneys would cost the district).

7.And that's, finally, what did it. The school board "talked it over" and overruled the head of special ed. Two days later we got a letter saying that if we would waive bussing, they'd pay the tuition.

And God shined down his light, and the angels sang because that day one of their own on Earth, my baby, found the way before her smoother and her heavy load lightened.

PS - After it was all over, I took flowers to the president and vp of the school board.


mumbliss said...

Thank you Elizabeth, I am printing this and sending it to several of my important papers piles, I mean files. Again, applause and hugs and congratulations. I am so happy that your fight has been successful. My love to all of you, my dear lion family, and Elizabeth, thank you for the ongoing news. I am getting quite addicted.

more cowbell said...

wow, that's great. Persistence pays off, that's for sure. I've had to be persistent (in different ways) since my first child started kindergarten. I got a pilot program started then (with her as the "pilot child") that I believe made a big difference in her life, and in my next daughter's as well. Congrats -- it's not easy to battle the schools, but the kids absolutely need us to do that for them. Good deal -- you know what's best for your daughter, she's just a number to them.