There's an infuriating article in this week's Jewish Star
, but I can't link the article, so I'm going to have to recap much of it.
As I first posted about here
, there was a request made to the Board of Education of School District 15 by district parents who wished to have their special needs children placed in Kulanu Torah Academy, as they felt their children's special education needs were not being adequately met by district public schools. The Board of Education came to a confidential settlement with the parents to reimburse them at the tuition cost of $22,500 per child. This amicable settlement would seem to have been a win-win situation, as quotes in the article would indicate:
In fact, the amity with which the settlement was reached represents a departure from past practice when virtually every dispute over private special ed placement resulted in a court battle.
“Last year the special ed litigation costs were in excess of $750,000,” said school board President Asher Mansdorf, who ordered the district’s legal team to seek settlements, in conformity, he said, with recent directives from Albany. “I can tell you that the estimate is that every time we have to go to litigate a [special ed] case, the starting cost is in the area of $18,000 dollars,” he said. “Whether you win, lose or draw you’ve spent at least 18-thousand dollars.
Aside from saved legal fees, Mark Honigsfeld, the chairman of the board of Kulanu, said the settlement represented a significant savings to the district in tuition, alone. “It’s public knowledge that it costs the district over $50,000 per year to educate a special needs child,” he said. “Some of these students,” he continued, “were being sent outside the district, which required a matron on a bus, and hours a day on a bus, and those situations cost the board over $70,000 a year.”
“My general approach to life is mediation and conciliation,” Mansdorf said. “Just think about any civil lawsuit that takes place anywhere in the country. What’s the first thing anyone does? The lawyers sit down and try to resolve it without going to court. Isn’t that what everyone tries to do. Am I the only one?”
In any event, Honigsfeld said, “Governor Spitzer has mandated that districts settle
these cases and parents should have major input. Only this district is going against the tide, because of this election.”
Despite the fact that the settlement seemed to have been in everyone's best interests, board members Pamela Greenbaum and Stanley Kopilow chose to oppose the settlement, and unfortunately, they chose to publicly air their disagreement with this confidential settlement, which had initially been discussed only in a private session completely closed to the public - violating the policy of confidentiality with which these matters are expected to be treated:
Both men also objected to the way in which confidential matters concerning special ed students have now become topics of public discussion. A person familiar with the district’s legal affairs, whose request for anonymity was granted, said “anything involving a special ed child is so confidential that the board never sees the names of the kids — they only see a number — and the number is known only to the office of pupil personnel and services.”
“Certain board members who have voiced their objection to this out-of-court settlement, in my opinion, are totally uninformed as to the sensitivity required when publicly discussing issues related to families and children who have disabilities,” Honigsfeld said. “So, bringing this to a public forum was inappropriate and, as I understand it, the full board was made aware of all the circumstances in executive sessions.” The upcoming election has played a role, he said. “It is only these individuals who are contrary to the private school sector looking to use this settlement as a platform for their campaign.”
Accusing the board members who oppose this settlement of doing it only to curry favor with voters in advance of an election campaign might seem a bit harsh, but it's hard to see what else the motivation here could be. It's clear that this settlement saved the district money. It's also noted in the article that the move had support of the district superintendent, school attorney, and special ed supervisor. In addition, it is pointed out in this earlier article
on the subject that at the same meeting, a similar settlement was made for a public school student to attend an outside special ed program - yet somehow was not mentioned by Kopilow and Greenbaum when they chose to bring these previously confidential cases under public scrutiny. It's also hard to make the case that publicly raising an issue that is so clearly meant to remain confidential is in the best interests of the concerned district children. How are we to believe that Greenbaum and Kopilow are looking out for the best interests of every
district child when they display a willingness to break confidentiality for special needs district children simply to make a political point? Doing what's best for one group of district children should not entail harming a different group of district children - shouldn't that be very clear to all, especially those who are elected to provide for the needs of all district children?
In any event, now this hue and cry as raised by Greenbaum/Kopilow has turned litigious. (Not shocking, as Greenbaum is involved). A former special education teacher from Long Beach, Ruth Radow, has filed a petition in objection to the settlement agreement. It seems that she is claiming it's unlawful:
In early April, the state education department received a petition, known as a ‘310 appeal’ asking that the education commissioner to vacate the board’s decision on the grounds that Kulanu is not an “approved” school and that proper procedures were not followed in allowing the case to be settled without the customarily lengthy appeals process.
The fact that a "customarily lengthy appeals process" is being presented as a positive, desirable goal for either the district or more importantly, for district children, is simply shocking - and Dr. Mansdorf's explanations above for settling and saving both the parents involved as well as the district time and money seem right on target. The fact that the school is claimed to be not "approved" is also debunked here:
Honigsfeld also pointed out that “there is no such thing as a quote-unquote ‘approved’ school,” he said. Kulanu is chartered by the NYS Board of Regents.
Dr. Mansdorf also takes issue with the suggestion that the settlement was unlawful:
"You have to realize that they’re also implying that our attorney, our special ed supervisor and our superintendent all broke the law,” Mansdorf pointed out. “That we said, fellows, lets go ahead and break the law, and they said, ‘OK, let’s go ahead
and do it.’ It’s just ludicrous.”
It is ludicrous, and quite sickening. It's as if a certain segment of the community who have an agenda to protect the public schools at any cost seem to think that such an agenda should come at the expense of fair, just, and equitable treatment of all district children.
It's a damn shame.