Spending millions to fight parents of special needs children in court. Why not spend the money on the children instead?

A few years ago, I met a woman who had spent years battling APS over her nephew’s education or, in her view and the one ultimately embraced by the courts, his lack of education.

What struck me in listening to the woman, a military veteran who was not easily intimidated, is that Atlanta ended up spending likely close to a million dollars in legal fees that it could have spent on the young man’s schooling.

I feel the same way reading this shocking AJC story, which describes a situation not unique to Atlanta. I personally know families who have resorted to court to battle for their children with special needs, and, in some cases, won judgments that required the district to underwrite private residential education elsewhere in the country.

I understand the challenges of students with extreme special needs, and the high cost of doing it right. But I think some of the costs are a result of schools failing to give these kids what they need at the very beginning:

Here is part of the AJC story:

When the police came, Stefan Ferrari’s teacher described Oct. 21, 2008, in her classroom for autistic children as “a regular, ordinary day.”

Perhaps it was, except for the tiny digital recorder sewn into the collar of Stefan’s shirt.

The device, planted by Stefan’s mother, collected eight hours and 19 minutes of sound, much of it the banality of yet another school day for a non-verbal 10-year-old. It also captured the teacher and her colleagues talking about sex and martinis. It picked up the teacher’s teasing Stefan after he ate pizza from the trash. And it chronicled the threat of a “be-quiet hit” to a crying child, followed by the repeated slaps of an adult’s hand against Stefan’s bottom.

That single day in an Atlanta classroom led to lawsuits in state and federal courts, to the teacher’s firing, to threats of criminal charges — against Stefan’s parents — and, finally, to what may have been the inevitable fracture of the boy’s family. Atlanta Public Schools spent $1.1 million of taxpayers’ money fighting Stefan’s family in court before agreeing this summer to pay private school tuition and therapeutic expenses into his adulthood.

What happened to Stefan reflects systemic problems in Atlanta’s special education program, according to court filings, other public records and interviews. Auditors said last year the program gets poor academic results and relies too heavily on special schools, such as the ones Stefan attended, to educate some of its most challenging students.

Stefan’s experience also illustrates how aggressively the school district can treat parents when it thinks they want too much for a child, even one who is profoundly disabled.  When news of Stefan’s treatment broke in 2009, school district officials drafted a public response for then-Superintendent Beverly Hall.

“I am horrified and disgusted at what happened to the young man,” the statement read. “He and his family have been treated badly.”

Two months later, the school district sued them. In its lawsuit, the district suggested Stefan’s father caused his injuries and argued Stefan had no right to “elite private services … simply because the parents want to choose the ‘best’ programs, in their opinion, for their child.”

Federal law guarantees every child a “free and appropriate public education.” Public school districts also must provide special services needed by a child with disabilities. If they can’t, they must pay for the child to get the services elsewhere. Atlanta officials said Stefan could receive an adequate education in one of their schools.

It is not clear from public records who made the decision, or why, but school officials proceeded to fight the Ferraris — and fight them aggressively — in a state administrative court.

During a four-day trial in March 2009, the district’s lawyers pressed the idea that if Stefan was abused, it didn’t happen at school. They repeatedly referred to the incident that caused Carolyn Ferrari to seek a protective order against her husband in 2007. And they questioned her under oath about whether her husband had hit one of their sons. She said the boy told her it was accidental.

School officials made no concessions. One testified that the tear in Stefan’s shorts proved nothing. She said Stefan may have had “a growth spurt.”

Judge John B. Gatto ruled in May 2009 that Stefan was “intentionally injured in that classroom by trauma … and he was verbally abused.” The tear in Stefan’s pants, Gatto said, came from his being lifted off the floor by an adult who beat him. Gatto ordered the school district to pay for Stefan’s education in private schools through age 22.

Stefan is 13 now, attending a private school that specializes in educating children with autism. Besides being autistic, a psychologist’s report included in court files says, Stefan has a severe intellectual disability and severe language impairment. Stefan, the psychologist said, was developmentally equivalent to a 2-year-old.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

134 comments Add your comment

CTPAT

September 26th, 2011
9:42 am

This is a prime example of bad facts make bad law. Really. An environment of abuse and/or neglect is not an appropriate public education for any child, much less a child with physical or mental disabilities but on the flip side, wouldn’t most parents want to provide their child with the best education and services possible? Wouldn’t we all like to be able to afford some of the elite private schools in the city? I think our public schools are failing all of our children in a lot of ways, but I don’t think that the public school system should have to pay the full cost of an elite private education, even if the school is not equipped to provide a special education student with everything that they need. The child in this story was treated horribly. That child and that family maybe deserve some type of resolution but setting the precedent of public school systems paying for top notch public education isn’t the answer either.

tim

September 26th, 2011
9:46 am

Hey Maureen…….Why don’t you ask APS instead of your readers? Or call your buddy Cupcake Bev and ask her. It seems she’s got all the answers.

Jack

September 26th, 2011
9:57 am

The school districts are aggressive in their treatment of parents because they know taxpayer dollars are there for the taking.

Really amazed

September 26th, 2011
9:58 am

I had an extremely special needs child. She has since passed away but was told she would have to go to school on a bus daily. As much as I would have loved for her to be able to learn and be included, this child only had approx. 5% functioning brain mass. I would have rathered had her home and not subjected her to the horrors of ridicule at a public school. I was told I had to send her because the local school system receives funds for this type of child. VERY sad but true story. I do realize that most of the extremely disable children can learn and should be able to have a wonderful education. I also do believe this should be the parents say if they want their child to attend or not.

The root of the problem

September 26th, 2011
10:07 am

FRAPE (Free and appropriate public education)has been the beginning of the end of the US Public education system. I understand the need and the right to educate every child but I would like to see a comparison of the amount of money this country has spent on special education versus gifted education the past 30 years and then determine why we have fallen behind other countries in the areas of math and science. Are we really investing our resources wisely into those who have the best opportunity to keep this country competitive in the 21st century.

One of the root problems is the cost and public schools would much rather not use their resources to pay a private school even if the public school has inadequate personnel and facilites to educate high special needs children.

Let’s be serious, in Stefan’s example it is said he was develpmentally equivalent to a 2 year old, 2 year olds are in day care centers, not elementary, middle, and high schools; what can these schools really offer to help Stefan and still effectively teach all their other kids.

This was part of the reason for the abuse (I believe the teacher should have been prosecuted on top of being fired) and I believe public schools should be developed specifically to special needs students so all the proper resources and personnel can be combined instead of spread out in different schools and be ineffective. However the law prevents this because now the schools are not offering the same educational opportunities to every student. Let’s be real, although it sounds nice, we can not educate every child equally because every student is not equally equipped. That goes for special, regular, and gifted education.

Tea Partier

September 26th, 2011
10:08 am

We need to stop wasting public money on special-needs students who realistically will never be anything more than a burden on society and start directing resources toward high-achieving ones whom we rely on to keep us competitive in a global economy. Schools aren’t daycares, nor are they hospitals. If your kid requires extra attention, it’s your responsibility as a parent either to provide it yourself or pay a private entity to do it for you.

Pompano

September 26th, 2011
10:14 am

@ Tea Partier – well said! Sounds like the father here didn’t want to waste his own money on his child (even tried to turn a profit) when the means were there but has no problem asking you & me to foot the bill.

What a pathetic POS!

Former SPARK parent

September 26th, 2011
10:15 am

This is why superintendents matter. The APS strategy of Deny, Delay & Wage a PR Counteroffensive (when you’re guilty as sin) is straight out of the Bev Hall playbook. Is the damage Hall did to our city & schools even mathematically calculable at this point? Probably not. But we do know she spent $800k on a Macon lawyer to churn a case where there was clear audiotape evidence of guilt. So thanks for that, Bev.

@ CTPAT, way to start off the thread with a truly idiotic, incoherent rant. When unqualified and cynical Spec Ed functionaries place a vulnerable child with a teacher who then beats him up, you don’t give the toadies another chance to abuse the kid. You put that child in a private school and the school district guilty of negligence and incompetence picks up the tab.

By the way, the “elite private school” where Stefan ended up is a nonprofit run by a couple of moms. They do a wonderful job. Why? Not because they’re multi-degreed and have gone to taxpayer-funded workshops. They’re great because they work hard and care about what they’re doing. That’s it.

Educating kids like Stefan (or our autistic child) is not rocket science. But it is very hard work. And that’s why APS Spec Ed sucks at it. Because they’d rather talk about how hard they’re working than actually work hard (another trait Bev Hall implanted here).

Take a closer look at APS Spec Ed, AJC. No qualified director in 4+ years. Overseen by a former middle school principal (and Bevvy Hall favorite) who was himself sued for an HR violation, costing the district nearly $100k. Left to founder by Hall because it did not impact her bonuses and therefore couldn’t do her any good (or harm).

None of the incompetent APS PEC staffers who continue to cost the district so much in negligence lawsuits have been fired. None.

This is the Next Big APS Scandal. Just wait.

William Casey

September 26th, 2011
10:17 am

There is never a reason that justifies physical abuse of a child. That being said, school systems must make hard decisions on how to spend scarce resources. Defending themselves against law suits is a necessary evil. Unfortunately, some parents interpret education law to mean that schools must “make it all right” for children with disabilities. In the case of the child in question (and “Really Amazed’s” child), no reasonable amount of money will “make it all right.” I had polio as a child. I know only too well the struggles that disabled children face. However, the law was intended to accomplish the possible. In my case, educate me to be a productive citizen. It did not promise that I would be an all-star athlete. Common sense should be the guide.

William Casey

September 26th, 2011
10:19 am

Not all systems are run the way APS was (is.)

gamom

September 26th, 2011
10:24 am

Why is this such a surprise…corporal punishment is legal in Georgia schools. Sad story with no winners

The root of the problem

September 26th, 2011
10:29 am

Maureen, have you ever considered or done a story on the amount of spending spent on gifted education or how many students in gifted education are now of Asian descent. I saw in the CNN education special about this issue and how Asians are now dominating the AP and advance classes in high schools. It would be interesting to track the numbers to see how many actually stay in the US after graduating high school/college. I know US corporations are constantly hiring using work Visas, employees from other countries in the field of science and math simply because the US is not producing enough qualified workers in highly technical and scientific fields. (I would help our unemployment numbers)

Former SPARK parent

September 26th, 2011
10:31 am

@ Tea Partier: as a libertarian, I feel you and I are cousins, if not brothers. But you’re wrong about this. Some of these special-needs kids have extraordinary gifts as well as huge obstacles. Do we abandon the gifts?

Medical advances have opened up hope for the parents of autistic children, in particular, that the wiring issues in the brain of kids like our young son can someday be corrected (The Fragile X studies, in particular, give hope). We don’t feel our son’s autism is a lifetime sentence, and he shows signs of abilities that, if his deficiencies can be corrected, will be truly top-tier.

Our current laws give funding to public schools (a LOT of it) for spec ed students but also lay down a lot of rules. The rules are to protect parents and children, and the reason APS fails so often is because it doesn’t have skill players in skill positions (see my post about the lack of qualified PEC leadership, above).

Special-Ed is a legal minefield, to be sure, and APS deserves a director who’s up to the task. Our “interim” director is not such a person.

I’m afraid you’re an example of why, even though I’m a staunch libertarian, I can’t go the Tea Party route. There’s an ocean of bile I’d have to swim to get from my side to yours.

Former SPARK parent

September 26th, 2011
10:35 am

And–you’re all overthinking this. The Macon lawyer was allowed to turn this case into her personal ATM machine because nobody with any common sense was available at APS to tell her to stop, and because the culture of APS was one of “it can’t possibly be our fault.”

This won’t happen with Errol Davis. It just won’t. Because he has a moral compass, and he would understand that while it’s necessary to defend against some lawsuits, at some point you have to acknowledge that there’s a scumbag teacher beating up an autistic child, and that’s indefensible.

Bob

September 26th, 2011
10:38 am

Casey, this has very little to do with scarce resource allocation since funding for special education does not fall completely on APS to fund it. They do get money for special education from the state and federal government.

We know APS is being run incompetently and that they spend more per student than many rural counties with far worse results. If APS could be run competently then the resources would be available.

the prof

September 26th, 2011
10:40 am

@Tea Partier and @Pompano….you two are the real POS’s.

ABC

September 26th, 2011
10:41 am

What, you think this is unique?? Every day public schools spend thousands upon thousands to meet the requirements of catering to the speds. It’s disgusting. Special ed teachers, special ed counselors, special ed facilities, special ed playgrounds, special ed meals. It goes on and freakin on.

Meanwhile, try and figure out how much is actually spent on gifted children. Oh noes. They have to do fundraisers to get anything “extra”.

I ask you, who is more likely to find the cure for cancer? What would be a more efficient use of limited resources?

Tychus Findlay

September 26th, 2011
10:45 am

@the root of the problem

What a novel concept! Instead of spending money trying to catch the bottom 1% up, why not spend it on the top 1%?

When so-called “experts” compare the decline of American education against the rise of AsiaPac education, they tend to forget that China and Japan are only reporting their most promising tier of students because they’re not concerned with the bottom of the barrel.

The America obsession with the concept of “fairness” has diluted down the quality of our public education and it’s time to stop worrying about our lowest achievers.

APS Elementary Principal, 26 yrs.-retired

September 26th, 2011
10:47 am

I am so saddened after reading the article about Stephan’s treatment. I can’t fathom why criminal charges and sentencing did not follow.

On a positive side, nano-technology is rapidly improving and its price, as well is quickly falling. Planting recording devices as mentioned in the article will help reveal what is occurring. Use of this technology will make teachers behave just as it is making others such as law enforcement officers rethink their actions.

I recommend all (special ed. & non special ed.) parents consider implanting recording devices regularly to confirm physical, and worse, the ever present verbal abuse. The abuse of children throughout APS is rampant.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Stephan’s parents had been among the majority of poor APS parents? You guessed right, the prized APS tactic of intimidation would have as usual succeeded.

The aura and specter of Beverly Hall & associates is still alive and thriving. Advice to parents: purchase recorders.

In summation: APS ruined this family.

Inman Park Boy

September 26th, 2011
10:49 am

P:ublic school systems spend an incredible amount of tax dollars on special needs children. No right thinking person resents this, but it must be factored in to theoverall education budget and costs must be analyzed on a needs basis. A year’s tuition at a special needs private school can easily top $100,000.00. The question to be answered is, is that a good use of tax money? (Not a “fiair”use, or a “just” use, but a “good” use.) Georgia typically spends about $10,000.00 a year to educate a student. So, is that a good use of tax moiney, and/or Is it “fair” for the family of one special needs child to get ten times that much for their child? Well, that is a question that needs to be debated. The courts have answered the question, but law can be changed.

Observer

September 26th, 2011
10:59 am

@ Former SPARK Parent, 10:35 am. When the suing parent is very wealthy, has been very litigious in the past, and has tape-recorded evidence of the physical abuse, it’s better to settle…. you’re sure right about that Macon lawyer.

@ABC. Ever heard of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, just newly amended to expand the legal definition of “disability”? Everyone has to follow the law… even you.

carlosgvv

September 26th, 2011
11:01 am

There is another problem here. It is lawyers and the Courts who, apparently, will accept any case presented to them for litigation. If schools were to try to implement programs as you suggest, lawyers would lose money, and you can bet they would try to block these programs any way they could.

J

September 26th, 2011
11:04 am

I’m curious to find out if the father really did hit the child or was the cause for the child’s special needs. What the school did was wrong but if the father was really the cause, that’s even worse.

Is Fair and Appropriate cost effective?

September 26th, 2011
11:05 am

Studies consistently show that ALL students learn better and at a much faster rate when educated in a peer group of similar abilities. Special education has become the 800 lb elephant which no one wants to discuss in why America has fallen behind educationally to other countries. I do not have all the answers but we need to try something else that uses a common sense approach and the courts are going to have to use a common sense approach as well.
Public schools have become scared because they no they can be sued at the drop of the hat but at the same time all public schools do not have the resources or the properly trained people to meet the needs of every student. This same argument can be pointed to ESOL students and the right of every child to go to school whether or not their families are in the school legally or not. At what point are we going to stop and say, hey this is not working and it is the reason our school systems are in the trouble they are in now. What worked 20 – 30 years ago and why are we not doing that now?

Smith parent

September 26th, 2011
11:05 am

The parents were dealing with a proven brute: As reported in the AJC article, Superintendent Hall emailed her communications director: “They intend to milk this one for all it’s worth!” Hall was a thug of the worst sort

If Hall wouldn’t fire teachers such as Jones for repeatedly slapping a child, you know those accused of cheating would never be disciplined. Hall was and is a cold-blooded mafia don.

A Vulgar side note: I understand that Beverly Halls criminal defense attorney is costing taxpayers $435.00 per billable hour, plus expenses. The APS board needs to be vacated!

Proud Special Needs Parent

September 26th, 2011
11:07 am

Tea Partier–hopefully, no one in your family will ever get cancer, get injured in an accident, have a stroke, etc. that makes them a “burden on society”. My daughter with Down Syndrome is here for a reason and has touched more lives in her four years than most “normal” (whatever that is) people do in a lifetime. She will never do drugs, be in jail, bear a child out of wedlock, break my heart, or break the law. What a sad day for our society that a mortal is allowed to judge who is worthy, and who is not.

Former SPARK parent

September 26th, 2011
11:08 am

@ Inman Park Boy: The tuition at the private autism center where Stefan was placed is $30,000/year. Not $100,000.

Still, you do have a valid point: the cost of doing things right for Stefan would have been much, much less than $30,000. This is the real problem: APS can’t or won’t do things right the first time, but has pockets plenty deep enough to buy $800k worth of a Macon lawyer’s time. Maureen points that out above, and she’s right.

APS should hire a PEC director who comes in and cleans house. The cost of doing that would be less than that of another lawsuit.

BT

September 26th, 2011
11:16 am

FRAPE for special needs students has it limits! But unfortunaltey, advocates have gotten invovled and at times do not have the best interest of the folks they represent. Public educastion cannot be all things to all peoples but the sense of entitlement has created these problems.

Proud Special Needs Parent

September 26th, 2011
11:21 am

I also take issue with the fact that special needs students are why these schools are failing. Studies have shown that parent involvement is the #1 reason a school is successful. Parental attitude toward education rubs off on their children. We have elected to send my other daughter to a small solidly middle class religious school. This schools REQUIRES parent involvement from ALL parents, regardless of whether they work full-time (over half the parents do) or stay at home. Can’t make it during the day? These parents landscape the school grounds, paint the school, feed the fish in the all volunteer constructed science lab, bake food for school events, coach sports, run the ENTIRE hot lunch program, etc. No one is given a free pass! This mandatory volunteerism has created a community that embraces everyone. If public schools did this, there would be a revolt. Stop blaming the teachers and special ed students and look at where the problem lies–apathetic, uninvolved parents. And by the way, we are heavily involved in both of our children’s schools because we believe we are a partner, not a bystander, in our children’s education.

Run as Fast as You Can!

September 26th, 2011
11:21 am

My advice to APS parents: If you can get your kids into another district, do so immediately!

The auditors said, “many Atlanta principals all but ignore special education classes because they often don’t play into crucial analyses of standardized test scores.”

APS is not providing “an appropriate education” for their regular students, not to mention those with special categorical needs. I understand that the district’s focuses exclusively on “teaching to the test,” the CRCT which is given at the end of the year. Nothing else matters.

Based on what I have been reading over the past few months – if even half of it is accurate, a dog kennel would do a better job!

Remove APS Board

September 26th, 2011
11:29 am

The damage done by the culture created under Beverly Hall is incalculable. Shame on the APS board of directors for being bamboozled and allowing this travesty to happen.

The APS legal strategy and expenses presented to the board by Hall had to receive their approval.

Traveler

September 26th, 2011
11:29 am

This is truly a sad situation. I am so glad the mistreatment of these needy children was revealed. However, don’t you think the parents priorities were horribly misappropriated? If I had their money, I would have sent my handicapped child to the best private school there is instead of purchasing multi-million dollar homes!

Teaching in FL is worse

September 26th, 2011
11:31 am

Interesting how some people live in the world of absolutes when it comes to other people’s problems (even though a society shares all problems eventually-$$$$)

I don’t have enough time to do the research, but there are countless special needs people who went on to make a difference. Imagine if Thomas Edison had been considered a “burden to society” because of his disability. If Tea Partier had his/her way, we’d go back to the good ole days of institutions.

Lynn43

September 26th, 2011
11:31 am

We need the “rest of the story” here. The AJC article states that the 2 brothers were in private school. If the parents were as concerned for this child, why was he not in private school? The father was earning about 2 million a year, and they lived in an 8 million dollar home.

I think I remember when this story broke as this being a “contracted out” school-not one of APS’ schools and the “teacher” was actually a teacher assistant-not certified. Whoever she is, I’m glad she is not working with children now. As this family has a history of suits, this looks like it could have been a set up.

Teaching in FL is worse

September 26th, 2011
11:32 am

Speaking of insitutions….some of these pyscho-ed centers sound a little like that….

Pat

September 26th, 2011
11:32 am

Ayn Rand was a firm believer in eugenics, weeding out the weak and disabled and all those who, as Tea Partier puts it, are nothing but “a drain on society.” So it doesn’t surprise me to see the sneering contempt displayed here for disabled children. My son is gifted (high IQ), but also has Asberger’s Syndrome and has difficulty with communication and social arenas. I guess I should do a detailed cost-benefit analysis of how taxpayers would recoup their investment before determining if he deserves to receive treatment.
What a morally bankrupt worldview on display here – disgusting.

special needs parent

September 26th, 2011
11:40 am

@ tea partier & pompano – WOW – hope you never find out a family member has some sort of disability where they require more than the round peg in the round hole education. I wonder what some of the business leaders of today – Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, Paul Orfalea, John Chambers, Steve Jobs and the list does go on would have to say about your attitude towards educating ALL of our children. Many children with disabilities go on to lead very productive lives and can even EXCEL as members of society as the list above shows. What about those that are doubly blessed, Gifted and Learning Disabled (it does happen!) Truly gifted students will be successful with or without extra educational opportunities.
FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education – not a Cadillac, but just an education equivalent to all the round pegs is all that most parents of children with disabilities want.

APS Teacher

September 26th, 2011
11:41 am

This was all precipitated by the harsh climate ingrained into the APS culture by Hall, Augustine and their band of lieutenants. They forced a toxic atmosphere into the district that will take generations remove.

Beverly Fraud

September 26th, 2011
11:42 am

Isn’t this the same Maureen who advocated that Beverly Hall remain superintendent to “provide stability to the district”?

At least Bookman showed buyer’s remorse.

Dr. John Trotter

September 26th, 2011
11:45 am

Reading this story makes you want to throw up. The parents were/are suffering enough with a child with Stefan’s disabilities. But, to have to put up with APS, a “heartless bureaucracy” (very appropriate description used in the article) is almost more than any parents can bear. Why didn’t APS settle? Because the attorneys have to make their money first. This is real. I remember that I had a school system right in the bull’s eye and it stubbornly refused to settle [initially]. Naive as I was back then (but quite fearless, I might add – Ha!), I asked my attorney “what the problem is” (to borrow Martin Lawrence’s phrase). He replied, rather dead-panly: “The attorneys have to make their money first.”

I have been saying for years and years that the school system is indeed a “heartless” bureaucracy but it is awash in money, and that it is always about the money. Always. Who becomes the superintendents, principals, assistant superintendents, etc., is so many times simply about the money. It’s about who can help us secure more money for this politician, this relative, this vendor. Heck, look at the DeKalb County School System and see that it’s all about the money.

Jonathan Zimring is a good lawyer and has fought for years for children with disabilities. It’s always good to have an aggressive attorney fighting for you.

chappy

September 26th, 2011
12:00 pm

@ the prof – you sound like Stefan’s father – spend other people’s money on your problems.

It is time there was discussion on the billions the govt mandates public schools spend on severely disable kids, the ones incapable of even basic functions, yet still get buses sent round to pick them up for massively expensive daycare. There is at no time comparable expenditures for children capable of excelling.

I’ve known kids who attended school systems who were unbelievably catered too, just to the one child – who were absolute complete vegetables. A couple were shaken babies whose brains had been turned to soup, but who lingered in some kind of useless twilight thanks to modern medicine. There was never going to be ANY return on educational investment, it was hideously expensive daycare. Nothing more.

No bright and able child gets this specialized treatment. There OUGHT to be a heavy reliance on special schools. Schools for science, math and arts. There ought to be dozens of specialized programs, for the gifted. Perhaps intelligent able children’s parents should start suing as due to our current stupidity of PRIORITY spending of resources on thousands of poor kids without a snowball’s chance to do more than exist and that at expense to society.

Beverly Hall was a travesty to Atlanta, she lorded over a system that cheated a couple generations of children of any education and a chance for a future as they were pushed through her system. She did accomplish one thing – a spotlight is shining on the school systems here and its time serious planning offered the children in the area an opportunity. Given the facts of this story, because the well-to-do usually come expecting to spend other people’s money, rates should be charged for those able to pony up the cost. Especially given that abuse by a parent is not an infrequent cause of a child’s disability. We can’t know the particulars of this case from this news story, but millions of dollars are spent on children worse off than he. Too, liberal judges who routinely award windfalls should be checked. Not just the CEO’s of corporations are guilty of dismantling the American economy, but our federal leadership as well. Now tucked quietly into the news are stories of local state govt.’s selling off assets to foreign investors. This money just cannot be pulled out the arse of a nation in debt to china. REALISTIC choices need to be made if there will be ANY educational funds to offer kids in the very near future. Although that sounds alarmist, given the facts of the financial condition of this country and this state – its time someone heeded the alarms.

Throughout history abuse has always been heaped on the disabled, this story is disgusting, but it is hardly anything new. Where are the workers who would go into this kind of environment with a spirit of kindness? Money cannot solve this problem, no matter how much you throw at it. Other measures should be taken to develop people with the right qualities to be around children with such needs. It won’t happen when the vast majority of children are simply herded through a rudimentary system like cattle. Part of the solution is better schools for the able and part of that is more focus on the majority of the money being spent on them.

Wondering

September 26th, 2011
12:06 pm

When I read the original article, I noticed two points that aren’t made here.

1. The school Stefan attended was not part of APS. It was run by the Metropolitan Regional Educational Services Agency (MRESA). According to its website, this is an organization established by the legislature and is governed by the Supt. of 12 public school systems, 11 University Presidents, and a representative from the library board. What responsibility does this governance body have when their organization hires a physically abusive teacher? Why is it only APS on the hook when this happened at a MRESA facility at the hands of its staff?

2. This was a family with a $1.5 million annual income that couldn’t figure out how to live within its means. They had private clubs, a mansion for a house, and kids in private school. However, when it came to educating their autistic son, they showed no sign of responsibility. I don’t understand why people believe they should have the government pick up their expenses regardless of how they spend their money. Government resources are limited, yet we are spending over $1 million on Stefan’s education. Doesn’t his family have some responsibility to pay for his education?

Proud Special Needs Parent

September 26th, 2011
12:11 pm

With all due respect, why is it relevant what the family’s income level is? FAPE (which is bare-bones at that) is mandated by federal law for all children with disabilities. Should it then follow that the parents of the so-called “gifted” students that want special programs have the responsibility to send them to private schools to pay for them? Such programs exist at Pace, Lovett, Whitefield Academy, Woodward Academy, Trinity School…the list goes on and on. By the way, few private schools exist for children w/disabilities and those that do are unaffordable, even for the most affluent families. Trust me–my daughter would be in one if an affordable choice existed.

Wondering

September 26th, 2011
12:13 pm

Dr. Trotter: I appreciate your statements even when I disagree. With this one you are right on. It’s all about the money. That is why they use terms like appropriate.

It is very doubtful the attorneys would have thought of a different placement for Stefen, away from the MRESA classroom. Once they got the case there was no incentive to settle and all the incentive in the world to keep their clients in court. Special ed law is written by lawyers to create a high stakes game. Regardless of which party wins, the attorneys get paid. Also, if the school system wins, the parents can sue again and litigate the same issue a year later but with increase stakes. Follow the money.

justjanny

September 26th, 2011
12:23 pm

It’s FAPE, not FRAPE!

Wondering

September 26th, 2011
12:24 pm

Proud Special Needs Parent: My family has two special needs adults, both of which went to private schools. We aren’t wealthy but their needs were better addressed by private facilities run by the Catholic and Episcopal churches. The real challenges were to donate the required number of volunteer hours. Sacrifices were made by our family and we were glad to make them.

My issue with the Ferrari family is that they want society to make the sacrifices while they demand money. They amount they spent on attorneys would have taken care of Stefan’s needs in a private setting.

Our society needs to make some policy decisions regarding education and educational funding. The Ferrari’s were complaining about the poor scheduling if their son’s time but remember that his teacher needs to have a master’s and divides his or her time across several students. If she works 1 on 1 with four students over the course of a day, that means 75% of Stefan’s time is spent without a teacher. Also, does it take a master’s to work with a child like Stefan?

Beverly Fraud

September 26th, 2011
12:25 pm

If we had just listened to Maureen’s advice, and kept Dr. Hall on, wouldn’t the “stability” have been there to prevent just this type of occurrence?

Latest Special Education News | Cheap Pumps

September 26th, 2011
12:30 pm

[...] Paying millions to battle mother and father of special needs young children in court. Why not … What took place to Stefan displays systemic problems in Atlanta&#39s particular schooling plan, according to court filings, other public documents and interviews. Auditors stated last yr the system gets very poor academic final results and relies much too seriously on particular … Examine more on Atlanta Journal Structure (blog site) [...]

Smith parent

September 26th, 2011
12:31 pm

All children regardless of their status, be it a categorical special need, or even being several grade level behind or ahead, deserve the appropriate level of intervention. Should not sight impaired (blind) children expect a rightfully cost intensive program to accommodate their disability.

Sometimes it is easy to understand a physical disability such as blindness, but overall, our society has a steep learning curve to overcome when it comes to less apparent, but equally challenging conditions.

Given the past and current conditions, APS parents and citizens must be extremely vigilant.

Proud Special Needs Parent

September 26th, 2011
12:33 pm

Wondering..I would love the name of the those schools here in GA. We have searched and searched and found nothing. We have spent almost $25K/year of our own money supplementing the “FAPE” provided to her..and we are happy to do it. Also, it is worth noting that we think my older daughter is “gifted” and she is in private school, where a rigorous academic curriculum was a bonus in light of the religious education we desired for her.