« PrécédentContinuer »
It seems like every time that we would get things going OK, there would be something that would come up to try to make a row, and they did.
Senator WEICKER. What effect did this have on Amber?
Mrs. Tatro. Well, luckily Amber was only 3 when this began. But it does have an effect on her, because there for a while she had no school to go to. And you know, it would just break my heart when she would say, "Mommy, why cannot I go to school; all my friends are going to school.”
But right now she does not realize what this was all about. I took her to the court because I felt that everybody needed to see what child you are talking about. And she hates going to court, but she loves school and she gets along well with her peers, and she has a good school. And all the people in the school are great. It is the administration and the school board that we have had all the problems with.
A lot of times, school boards do not realize what administrations are doing, and a lot of the harassment came direct from the superintendent of the schools.
At one point, when we finally got her into the school and the bus was picking her up, the schoolbus was being followed by a truck from the school district to time her to see how long it took her to get to school and get in her chair. This is because I had asked, you know, she was the only child on the bus, and I said, could you get her there 15 minutes early so that she could have some time with her peers? Well, no. They did this for 2 weeks, and I finally called a school board member and I said that I was tired of that. So that harassment ceased.
But you know when a child has a person behind them with a stopwatch to see how long it takes them to get to her chair and when she got to her chair, the bell was ringing, that was how close they timed it. But it was nothing but pure harassment.
We finally got a special education director in Irving that knew what special education meant, that was his field. The education directors we had had before had been people who they had pulled out of the Irving system and just went and got them a certificate so that they could be the director and I am sure they were taking directions from the superintendent.
Senator WEICKER. Mr. Abrahamson, I understand that when the school district appealed the decision in your case you were financially unable to continue the litigation.
If the Massachusetts Advocacy Center had not stepped in at that point, what would you have done?
Mr. ABRAHAMSON. Well, it was a real question of where to turn?
I suppose that I would have scratched around and possibly you know, it is hypothetical, possibly pulled together the resources to proceed, but I think that it is a very important question because a lot of people that would not have even gone half as far as I did, because they just did not know about organizations like Massachusetts Advocacy.
There are a lot of people who are just not reached by these situations and it would have been very, very difficult even for me, who was aware of some of the support organizations, advocacy organizations out there.
Senator WEICKER. Mr. Dussault, one question for you.
It has been suggested by some that the awarding of attorneys' fees should be limited to costs associated with court actions only and not be allowed the costs associated with administrative hearings.
What is your response to that suggestion?
Mr. DUSSAULT. I suggest that that is a very shortsighted view. If you look at the statistics on special education advocacy, using the broad term, well over 90 percent of the cases are resolved at the administrative level. That is where the burden of most of these actions take place. And very few cases are actively litigated. If you dissuade the awarding of attorneys' fees at the administrative level you have, again, taken away any incentive to negotiate in good faith at the administrative level, waiting for courts to resolve the issue.
By the time that you get to court, most of the time, the parents have incurred attorneys' fees at a minimum of $5,000 and often much, much higher than that. So placing that burden of not allowing the award in administrative procedures, you are still interposing a substantial barrier to the parents proceeding.
I see parents with these kinds of cases, literally three, four, or five a week. And now maybe the issue for that parent is a $50 additional expense per week for physical therapy or occupational therapy. I am forced to tell them that they are going to have to spend at least $1,000 and maybe $5,000 in an extended administrative hearing in order to win $50 a week. And I am also forced to tell them that there is no way they are going to recover those out-ofpocket expenses in the administrative proceeding to gain a very small benefit. What is happening unanimously now with the parents that see me is that they are simply deciding not to fight. By not allowing the awards for the administrative proceeding, you are encouraging the situation that parents are going to have iv either go all the way, or not be able to go at all.
Senator WEICKER. Senator Kerry?
Senator KERRY. Mr. Chairman, thank you all for your testimony today.
Mary, I would like to just touch on a couple of things if I can.
Did you have any contact with public officials or with any kinds of people in various positions of authority outside the school system in an effort to help you?
Mrs. TaTro. Well, I had written to my Congressman and my Senator, and you know, once you start a due process hearing there is nothing that they can do because you have to go through the channels.
Senator KERRY. What about within the community itself, on the local level, did you make any efforts to try to impact the school system from the outside?
Mrs. TATRO. Well, when we first went to the due process after they made a decision to appeal to the State board, I called some of them, and the attitude was, "We do not do medical services.'
And I had asked the officials, in the beginning, the school board, I had asked the superintendent of schools to ask the school board, you know, tell them our problems and see if we could work it out. I had been in several meetings, even before the ARD meeting, you know, giving them facts, why she has to have it, her doctor's testimony. The school district brought in testimony and it was just—the more you tried, it seemed the harder they worked against you. There was just no getting through to them that Amber had to have catheterization because without it she would be damaged.
We were in the Fifth Circuit Court and the attorney was asked by the Judge what was her alternative education? And after much stammering, he finally said, a urinary diversion would be one. That was the attitude. I mean, they said, well, we have had kids in the Irving school district with spina bifida before. Yes, they had. Most of them have part of their kidney. But this was a new procedure and it was endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatric Urologists, and I had given them all the paperwork.
You know, I had dealt with them a couple of years, even before we were supposed to go for the ARD meeting, because I felt that they needed to have all the facts. But they had all the facts, it was just their determination that they were not going to do anything that was not on their "what-we-will-do-for-the-school-kids" list.
Senator KERRY. Is that what they described to you? What did they say to you as their reasoning? What was their excuse for this continued reluctance to respond to you?
Mrs. TATRO. Well, the initial decision, we went through the whole everything and we finally got down to the catheterization issue, and the special education director said we cannot provide catheterization, we cannot provide anything that is not on our list of medical things that we do.
And I said, well, fine, I will see you in the Supreme Court, not ever thinking I would, but unfortunately they took me. I did not take them. You know, and that is what a lot of people forget.
I mean all that we wanted was Amber to be able to go to school. There was no school for Amber. We looked at the school in the area for the disabled children and because of her higher intelligence, I mean, she was excluded from there. And they could have said, well, we will contract her to Dallas which is across the bridge, but they offered me nothing. They said, take it or leave it.
Senator KERRY. Now that it has been resolved, can you tell us after all is said and done what, from your perception, the school system has had to lay out, how their attitude might have changed as a consequence of all of this harassment?
Mrs. TATRO. Nothing has changed their attitude. It is my school that is good. Amber has got a super principal, and a nurse and everybody is great with Amber. But when you get over to the administration, it is not the same.
I mean, even in the paper last week, the assistant superintendent made the statement, that well, you know, that this was just an isolated case to Amber, that this had no impact on other children and that everybody that came before their ARD committees, you know, would more or less be on their own. In other words, each thing would be a separate decision, which of course it is anyway. But I think that the attitude would be that if they did not want to do it in Irving, another type, say, physical therapy, they would still fight it.
I had a parent call me the night before I left to come up here in the Richardson School District, the nurse has taken it upon herself to quit catheterizing this child. And this child had a part of one kidney. And it is vital that she have catheterization. Because of the trouble, they said, well, we have just stopped doing it, because we do not want to. So I mean right now he is in the process of going after the Richardson School District, but they do not take Public Law 94-142 money. But they can get them under 504 I believe.
Senator KERRY. One final question to you, Mary, if I can.
You obviously have a very special spirit and sense of perseverence, but I wonder if you could describe in perhaps greater depth, more personal terms, what this did to you as a family and what this did to you in your community as you went through this process?
Mrs. TATRO. Well, I did a lot of crying. You know, it seems like every time that you would turn around, they would come back with something else. And you just had to be strong enough to sit down and think about it and see what you were going to do next. Because it was a battle, I mean a regular battle. I have got three scrapbooks full of clippings on the case.
Like I say, you know, having a friend to talk to sometimes, you can get your frustrations out by just talking it out, but Amber was in the hospital one time, for instance, and the doctor from the school district went to the hospital attempting to see her charts on the floor. And took a person from the school district with them. I mean, that is harassment. But they did not get to see the charts. But this was because I told them that she would be back in school on Monday and we expected to have catheterization and the like, and that is when I took the court order and the prescription with
But the judge, the last time that we were down there for a contempt motion, he told them, the attorney from the school district, "Well, this is an ARD committee decision." They were overturning a Federal judge's decision by the ARD committee. They were determined that they were not going to do catheterization and it did not make any difference what it took.
Right now, she is getting catheterization. I mean there is no problem with it. The nurse, even if she is not at the school every day, she is at a school about a mile away, and she just comes when it is time. And Amber is doing her own catheter by the way. She just needs some assistance with her getting everything ready or she would be in there all day otherwise. But she has learned to do the catheterization, taught by the school district.
Senator KERRY. Thank you.
Mr. Abrahamson, I always thought that Sharon was a bastion of progressivism and I am surprised. Let me ask you, if I can-how did you draw the conclusion, what gave you the knowledge that the program initially was inadequate? Did some outside source inform you, or was this intuitive, or was this your own perception?
Mr. ABRAHAMSON. Well, there are a lot of rather easy clues when it comes down to it. You could speak to teachers in certain day programs, and you watch the child as he grows and see if there is any progress and then suddenly-because there are no programs at all available otherwise for the child.
We took a chance and sent him to, at our own expense, to a summer camp one year run by schoolteachers who were just running a summer camp. These teachers were out of New York City and they had a camp in upstate New York, Reinbeck, NY.
And it came as a great surprise to us that there were a whole lot of things that this child could do that they taught him. And we decided that he needed a program all year round that in many ways emulated what they had done with him at this camp. But that was before the act was in effect, and we were obviously very happy when both chapter 766 and the Federal law, Public Law 94-142 came into effect, because that gave us the opportunity to try out these things in a full-time program.
Senator KERRY. And I would ask you the same question, as Mary.
What was the response of the school? What was their reasoning for their reluctance to try to assist you?
Mr. ABRAHAMSON. I think that it just boils down to money really. We are in a period of economic decline, as you know, Massachusetts 242 came along which limited taxation on property in the towns. In Massachusetts the towns run their own school committees.
Senator KERRY. Have you ever done an accounting of what they spent in administrative proceedings and in their own legal fees versus what it would have cost?
Mr. ABRAHAMSON. No, I have not. I found it difficult to communicate in some ways with them after all of these proceedings, but I suppose that I should be more curious at this point. However, the school committee took the attitude that OK, we will try this kid out in a-they did help us find a residential program which was rather austere. And it ran something like $9,000 or $10,000 a year which is not very much in that kind of a program-with the notion that maybe in a year or two he would be cured and that would be a good investment. And after he was cured, he would go back to a regular school program.
And it was really, the bottom line was money all the way because when I fought them for a better program, and the school superintendent put obstacles in our way, we found that it was simply a matter of jumping to a $10,000 program to about a $35,000 program at the time. And proposition 242 was in effect, and there was no money, that was what it amounted to.
Senator KERRY. Was there any evidence that Danny was harmed during the course of this process, developmentally?
Mr. ABRAHAMSON. That is very difficult to say. We feel like, and we have had expert witnesses testify that he does show signs of regression when he is not constantly reinforced—with mentally retarded kids and he has some autistic like behavior as well, you have to reinforce everything that he learns or otherwise he loses it. And without that constant repetition during the day, you know, you reward good behaviors and you neutrally redirect so called bad behaviors, and if you do not do this consistently all day long, and into the evenings and in the morning, training for his activities for daily living and so on, he loses it.
And we have one example, to answer your question directly, where he had been somewhat toilet trained, for instance, at about