Friday, September 18, 2009

Dogged Perseverence

Some people may remember the story of the 5 year old Columbia, Il boy who had a service dog prescribed for him by his doctor, and had to fight a court battle in order to have the right to take the dog to his school. The Kalbfleisch family won a court order to have the dog allowed to accompany their son to school, after spending about $50,000 on attorney's fees fighting the school district, and another $10,000 for training the dog, which was trained by Wilderwood Service Dogs of Tennessee.

The school district, which originally was willing to let Carter Kalbfleisch attend his home school, suddenly decided that the dog was not welcome. So the school quickly called an IEP meeting, passed an IEP without the dog being necessary mentioned in it, and insisted that placement be in a special autism specific school, rather than Carter's home school. The Carter's are going along with this placement for now, in order to get their son into school. But they are continuing to fight to get him placed back in their home school.

"I think it’s important for him to be in his own community with his local peers for him to look up to," said Kalbfleisch. "It’s very important for autistic kids for their communication skills and, later on in life, to get them interacting with people and into the real world."

It never ceases to amaze me the lengths (and expense!) that a school district will go to in order to fight a parent. When someone in the school district decides that they don't want someone in their school, they seem to have no qualms about spending obscene amounts of the taxpayer's money to fight individuals. In this case, the Kalbfleisch's have spent $50,000 so far. Further appeals will certainly take at least $10-$20K more. If the family has spent that much, the school district has spent at least the same (and probably more, as they often put multiple lawyers against the single one that the family provides). The special school that they are sending Carter to costs about $24K more than his usual school/year. So figuring conservatively, the school district has been willing to spend $85,000-$95,000 this year alone just to keep one service dog out of a classroom, with an additional $24,000 every year to keep him out.

It looks like a friend is going to be facing a similar fight against a school district, which has decided that it'll keep making the environment worse in order to force a child out of the family's preferred placement (their home school), in order to place him where he can be warehoused. Please drop by Kristina's temporary digs and lend a little moral support.

I've never met anyone quite so doggedly persistent as Kristina, and I know that she'll give this district a run for their money.


Mrs. C said...

Why we homeschool! It's not worth the fight! I think we should disband all public schools. They take our money so they can "help" us, and then they go lock kids in closets and fight parents in court for the accomodations they need.

The whole system needs to crash and burn. At least then we will lose the ILLUSION that we are getting the help we need, the help for which we are already paying.

We have a first steps disability program here in Missouri. I know it's a national thing but called different things in other places. We get speech therapists and things like that through them, but once Woodjie turns three magically the school district takes over.

And the school district is evil. They lock kids up and detail in great lengths in the student handbook how they can beat them with a wooden paddle. Apparently you need to avoid the face and make sure another teacher is in the room. Otherwise? Go for it because it's legal.

Makes you SICK.

Going to visit Kristina. Hope this family gets its legal fees back from the district, along with an apology. And a fine for being jerks. Good grief.

Ruth/STL said...

We had battles like this back in Michigan. When my husband's new job in St. Louis came up, I searched for a school district that hadn't been battling parents for needed services.

The comments on the Post-Dispatch website are disturbing. So many commenters don't see autism as a real disability. We just spoil these kids and won't make them behave. For years I heard the same stuff from my husbands family-I am still polite but not friendly with much of the group. My daughter is now doing well, mainstreamed in 7th grade, getting help with reading but doing challenge math. The battles have been worth it. I wish this family well. Where are all the Autism Speaks people to help get needed services?(Sarcasm intended).

Corrie Howe said...

Thanks for the post. It makes you wonder how many special needs services they can provide with the money they used to fight just one family?

Looks to me maybe two or three special education teachers?

I also wonder if there are organizations for service animals which can help pay for a precedent winning case?

Sadderbutwisergirl said...

If this wasn't so blatantly an attempt to discriminate and segregate their child, I would suggest that the family start having their kid home-schooled very much like when black people stopped taking the bus in order to fight segregation. Because that's just what the bastards want.
What is it going to take for the schools to treat taxpaying parents as what they really are according to themselves: their bosses? I'm serious, if it wasn't for taxpaying parents, the schools would go out of business.
And about that quote, I agree with having autistic children in the community, but not for the reasons that he has stated. It is patronizing and stereotyped to say that it's important for autistic children to go to public schools to look up to their peers. It actually goes beyond that. It is more conducive towards society's attitudes towards autistics in the future for children of different neurotypes to all have the same oppurtunity to go to public schools.

A BCPSS Parent said...

I'm not saying that homeschooling isn't a good answer for some kids, but it's not a universal answer. My son really needs the company of neuro-typical peers to model behaviors for him, plus that's the setting that genuinely makes him happy. For us the goal is to change the school system into a place that will welcome him and honor him. Sometimes it a battle, sometimes it's a negotiation and often it's just about explaining what we've learned about autism.

For us attending a public school in an inclusion setting is a necessity, not a choice. Because we are in this setting, my son is learning and making much more progress then he ever did in a autism specific separate private school. As much as my son is learning, his classmates and teachers and all the staff are learning even more about autism, understanding, intelligence and adapting. I think (for us, for now) it is the best option.

In the end, you have to do what you think is best for your child. As we work to make things better for our own children we make things better for the children coming after. My heart goes out to the Kalbfleisch family and to Kristina and Charlie as the fight for what's right.

Ange said...

The STLPost comments are reminiscent of the types of comments people were putting up this past spring during the R&S stories. If people don't see these kids as worthy, then they will never see what is wrong with their way of thinking. They think "kid has no worth to society therefore doesn't deserve X or my tax dollars." Until we change this way of thinking, I don't think we are going to make much progress. As one commenter in the paper said, if we don't invest (support and accept) in these kids, we aren't giving them much of a chance. Setting up people with disabilities to fail and then pointing fingers and saying "See? I told you they were worthless [or dangerous or stupid or whatever]" seems to be the going disability movement. :(

Daisy said...

Seeing first hand (every day!) the budget issues we face in public schools, I can't help but think "What a waste of time and money. The kid needs the service dog, the dog comes to school. Period."