From: Mike Uhler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Charles Weis <email@example.com>, Leon Beauchman <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Michael Chang <email@example.com>, Joseph Di Salvo <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Julia Hover-Smoot <email@example.com>, Grace Mah <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Anna Song <email@example.com>, Craig Mann <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Date: May 8, 2012 12:27:33 PM PDT
Subject: Support for Special Needs Students at Bullis Charter School
Dear Superintendent Weis and Santa Clara County Board of Education members,
Thank you for allowing me to speak at the Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting on May 2, 2012. I’d like to expand on my comments in a forum that’s not limited to three minutes.
At the SCCBoE meeting, several board members correctly pointed out that charter schools in general—and Bullis Charter School specifically—offer a choice in education to the community. I completely agree. However, BCS is a public school of the SCCOE, and one choice that it CANNOT offer is the choice to avoid serving special needs students.
BCS has a pattern of behavior, going back at least as far as the 2005–2006 school year, that appears to demonstrate that BCS is, in fact, under‐serving this population, and the SCCOE must provide active oversight to eliminate that behavior. My family’s own experience, and that of others, suggests that this pattern is both real and ongoing.
To introduce myself again, I live in Los Altos with my wife and two children, both of whom attend Santa Rita School—my son in kindergarten and my daughter in fourth grade. We moved to Los Altos from Menlo Park specifically because of the quality of the public schools, knowing nothing of the history of the district and BCS. In fact, had we known about the discord between the district and BCS, we would not have moved to Los Altos.
Before my daughter’s kindergarten year, we attended a BCS open house, were impressed with the program, and applied for and received a spot for my daughter in kindergarten for the 2007–2008 school year. We have direct experience with both the BCS and LASD programs, and I’ll link this back to the special needs situation in a moment.
As I said at the SCCBoE meeting, my specific concern is accommodation and services for special needs students and, specifically, whether BCS properly serves that population. I have a few examples that I’d like to share, and a number of questions and suggestions that I’d like to make to the SCCOE.
First Example—Openness in Accepting Applications from Special Needs Students
The BCS registration package1 asks the applicant to provide, among other things
The student’s IEP if one is active (top right of page 3)
A copy of the parent/legal guardian’s valid Driver’s License (middle of page 10)
The requirement to provide a driver’s license goes back at least as far at the 2005–2006 school year. The requirement to provide the IEP was included over time. For the 2005–2006 school year, the registration packet asked if the child had an active IEP and the records request included the IEP, with no qualifier that this information would be requested only if the student was accepted2. The requirement to attach the IEP to the registration form was introduced at least as far back as the 2008–2009 school year3.
Dr. Weiss mentioned at the SCCBoE meeting that both are illegal and indicated that BCS administration had been asked to remove both items.
Besides being illegal, a request for an IEP as part of the application process certainly creates the perception that the IEP will be used as part of the consideration for acceptance and reinforces what appears to be a widespread perception that BCS is less than welcoming to the special needs community.
Further, this topic was raised with SCCOE staff on March 21, 2012. If a request by the SCCOE to BCS to remove an illegal requirement from the BCS application package is still outstanding, having been in place for at least 7 years, how does that give the special needs community any comfort that the SCCOE is providing adequate oversight to BCS?
When can we expect that BCS will act to remove from their application package the long-standing illegal request for an IEP and driver’s license information?
Second Example—Inappropriate use of Special Education Funds
For the school year 2005–2006, BCS submitted a special education program expenditure report to the SCCOE. While it’s not apparent exactly what caused this to happen, the SCCOE then engaged the Financial Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to review this submission.
The FCMAT visited the district on January 25 and 25, 2007 and issued its report on June 1, 20074. Allow me to quote certain passages from that report:
As submitted to the county office on August 30, 2006, the Bullis Charter School special education program’s expenditure reimbursement report for 2005-2006 showed a total of $133,294 in expenses. The county office Assistant Superintendent for Student Services reviewed the expenditures and questioned them. He referred the expenditure request claim to the county office’s Controller for an opinion. The Controller reviewed the special education expenditure claims and concluded that approximately 75% of the expenditures should not be paid with state and/or federal special education funds.
FCMAT believes that the county office Controller’s assessment is correct and that Bullis Charter School should not be reimbursed for the bulk of its claimed special education expenditures. Any special education funds that were disbursed to the charter school in excess of the allowable claims should be returned from the charter school to the county office and from the county office to SELPA I. FCMAT bases this conclusion on the following findings.
Bullis’ special education expenditures submitted to the county office did not reflect the actual special education services the school provided to the six students at the school with IEPs.
The school’s practices and processes for providing special education services have raised many concerns.
Expenditure claims were submitted for school staff attending the State Charter School Conference in Sacramento, but there was no basis to justify these costs as being for the purposes of special education. Expenditure claims were made for the principal and two staff members to visit programs in Finland, however, the programs in Finland were related to students with severe developmental disabilities. No students at Bullis had these disabilities, and there were no plans to target this population in the near future. Expending special education funds for these purposes would be inappropriate.
The report also includes what appear to be actual charges submitted for reimbursement, which are worth examining. As mentioned in the report, expenses include thousands of dollars to send 18 staff members to the California Charter Schools Conference and to send staff to Finland. While certainly small in comparison, there are also charges for Draeger’s, Chef Chu’s, Edible Arrangements, A Matter of Thai and Chlli’s. The fact that these were included for reimbursement shows a lack of common sense and disregard for judicious spending of special education funds (or any funds for that matter).
The FCMAT report includes 12 specific recommendations, including further follow-up on the 2005–2006 expenses, additional training for BCS staff and a number of suggestions for improved administrative controls.
According to the minutes of the SCCBOE meeting of August 15, 2007, Superintendent Wilcox presented the FCMAT report to the Board on that date, but it is not clear what follow-up occurred.
At the SCCBoE meeting, I was very disappointed in the response from the gentleman whom I believe to be Dr. Shelton (pending availability of the audio recording). He indicated that he was not aware of the report and would have to look into it. Note that the Board, Dr. Weis and staff received an email on April 2, 2012 from a parent asking about the report. The most recent response from Dr. Weis to the parent was dated May 1, 2012 in which he indicated that the matter was reviewed and closed. Given the timeline and Dr. Shelton’s response, I wonder how seriously the SCCOE is actually investigating the event.
What actions were taken as a result of the FCMAT review?
Were any funds that were already disbursed to BCS subsequently recovered, as per the FCMAT report?
Of the 12 recommendations included in the FCMAT report, how many were implemented and who specifically is accountable for providing oversight for on-going BCS special education funds expenditures?
Third Example—Our Experience and On-Going Behavior
On might say that the previous example is old news and should not be considered as part of an overall behavior pattern. However, let me note that my daughter
attended kindergarten at BCS during the 2007–2008 school year, which immediately followed the date of the FCMAT report. One would think that BCS administration would by hypersensitive to the needs of special needs students, but that wasn’t to be.
At the time entered kindergarten, my daughter was anxious and had other behaviors that concerned us. At our own expense, we engaged experts to review and analyze her behavior and received a preliminary report the week before kindergarten started.
In the first few weeks of school, we held an SST meeting with the teacher, BCS administration, the county OT, and myself and my wife. During the meeting, the teacher refused to accept the preliminary diagnosis and began arguing with the county OT. That set the tone for the rest of the year in terms of teacher behavior, and administration inaction in addressing that behavior.
In the spring of 2008, we asked for an IEP meeting in which we could capture and codify an action plan. We were told that we needed another SST meeting before an IEP meeting could be convened. Despite several reminders, it took BCS administration 2½ months to convene the second SST meeting, and it was scheduled for a week or two before school ended—not much time to address the issue if my daughter was to be successful in first grade.
At the SST meeting, our consultant provided her findings. In the process, the teacher was overtly hostile and the BCS assistant principal took no action to rein her in or make the meeting productive. At the end of the meeting, I sent an email to the BCS principal and assistant principal and told them that that we were appalled with the behavior of BCS staff. Having received no response in two weeks, I followed this up with another email expressing my disappointment that we hadn’t even received a response. That finally elicited a response from the assistant principal: “I looked at it as information only.”
Between the overt hostility of the teacher and the inaction (some might say intentional delay) of the BCS administration, we felt that our daughter’s needs were not being met and that it was unlikely that they would be met if she were to return to BCS for first grade. In effect, we felt that we were pushed out. Rather than return to BCS for first grade, we moved my daughter to LASD’s Santa Rita School. I’m happy to report that she has been getting the accommodation that she needs.
Please note that at no point did we ask for services, just simple accommodations that could be used in the classroom, several of which were suggested by the county OT at the first SST meeting. If BCS staff and administration are unable to provide simple accommodation, one only wonders how they would response to a request to provide actual service.
But, once again, this could all be considered dated information. However, the gentleman who spoke after me at the SCCBoE meeting (to whom I have never spoken) conveyed an experience very similar to our own—from two years ago. Further, my wife and I know of people who have been subject to this same behavior on the part of BCS administration and staff—THIS YEAR.
So there is a long-term pattern on the part of BCS administration and staff in failing to provide appropriate accommodation and service for special needs students.
What specific oversight is the SCCOE providing to BCS administration and staff to determine if there is a pattern of inappropriate behavior and what is being done to address that?
Fourth Example—Population of Special Needs Students
In looking at how well BCS serves special needs students, one metric is to compare the per-capita population at BCS against the same metric at LASD schools. The following table was constructed from the Ed-Data5 site, which appears to be the only easily available source of data that includes both total population and “students with disabilities” (their term, not mine).
|Total Population||% Students with
|Year||BCS||LASD K–6||BCS||LASD K–6||BCS||LASD K–6|
As you can see, the total population of BCS students with disabilities has been flat over time, whereas the corresponding number for LASD students has been increasing, rather substantially, over time. The following charts show the data graphically.
Note that the percentage of students with disabilities has been increasing at LASD and decreasing at BCS. This is due to two effects:
Many more students with disabilities at LASD with incrementally more total students
Many more total students at BCS with no more students with disabilities
The most recent data shows a 2-to-1 per-capita gap between LASD and BCS in serving special needs students.
Some people say that the ED-Data information distorts the real numbers in a way that is unfavorable to BCS. I also downloaded the equivalent data from the California Department of Education DataQuest6. However, the population of special education students is not available for BCS on that site. If the SCCOE has this information for BCS, I will recalculate the results using more accurate information.
Does the SCCOE believe that a substantial gap between BCS and LASD in providing services to special needs students is reasonable? If not, what oversight will the SCCOE provide to address this?
As a public school, Bullis Charter School has an obligation to appropriately serve special needs students. Despite this, it has a reputation for under-serving that population. As I’ve demonstrated in this letter, BCS exhibits a long-term pattern of behavior that actively discourages families of special needs students from applying or attending. For those who make it past those hurdles, BCS then fails to adequately serve the needs of students who do attend. Consider these points:
The illegal request for IEP and driver’s license information in the application
The apparent misappropriation of special education funds during the 2005- 2006 school year
Our experience and those of other families in subsequent years
The continued and significant gap in the special needs population between BCS and LASD
A pattern of four behaviors—all of which go to under-serve special needs students—is unlikely to be a coincidence. In aggregate, they clearly show that BCS is choosing not to serve that segment of the population and has no intention of changing its behavior absent explicit oversight by the SCCOE.
As I said in the introduction to this letter, choice is good. But the choice not to serve special needs students properly is both illegal and immoral, and the SCCOE has an obligation and requirement to address this behavior.
Call for Action
I ask you to please take specific actions to remedy these long-standing problems:
Modify the MOU to make it clear that BCS is responsible for providing special needs services, not the SCCOE. The current MOU only requires that BCS follow the law and administrative procedures, which is clearly not sufficient based on the patterns described above.
Substantially increase SCCOE oversight of BCS special needs services. Consider adding actionable goals for BCS, implement the recommendations made in the FCMAT report and require regular reports and reviews of special needs services.
Create actionable plans within the SCCOE that reverse the long-term trends and make BCS a viable choice for special needs students.
If the SCCOE is not willing to address this in either the MOU or in another legally binding document, then the SCCOE has no right to claim that it is providing appropriate oversight to Bullis Charter School.
Los Altos, CA
4 FCMAT Santa Clara County Office of Education Management Review report downloaded from the FCMAT Reports Archive page on May 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm.
5 Ed-Data API information (http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/App_Resx/EdDataClassic/fsTwoPanel.aspx?#!bottom=/_layouts/EdDataClassic/Accountability/APIGrowth.asp?tab=0&reportNumber=1&level=07&fyr=1011&county=43&district=69518&school=6047377) for each LASD school and BCS. 2010-2011 information from API Growth tab; previous years from API Base tab.
6 CDE DataQuest (http://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/) Page 8