Sunday, April 17, 2011

OCR heads to Harvard Special Education

The following article was published on and is re-published here for parents of Special Education students.

In today's Northwest Herald is a front-page (top of the page, even) article about Special Education. Reporter Chelsea McDougall mentions Harvard School District 50 and a recently-terminated psychologist. Also, she mentions a retired school psychologist and author.

Chelsea is in the ballpark, but the "experts" were tossing 98MPH fast balls at her. Let's slow down and see what is really going on.

I don't have experience with the Harvard school district, but I do have considerable experience with Woodstock District 200 Special Education. And I'd be willing to bet all the money in the Northwest Herald's bank account that the Special Education problems in Harvard are real, just as they are in District 200 and schools all over McHenry County and the State of Illinois.

Read the article at

District 50 Superintendent Lauri Tobias was quoted by her front-page photograph as saying, "We absolutely did not change IEPs with students. We have a procedure, and we go through the process beautifully."

I do not doubt that Ms. Tobias believes what she told the newspaper reporter. Believing it doesn't make it true. Yes, it is true that she believes it. And she probably believes what she is told about how the special education department operates. They will tell her that they always follow the laws and the rules. Would they dare tell her otherwise? So, based on what she is told, she believes that correct procedures, laws and rules are being followed. But that doesn't make it so.

Here is why I don't believe her statement.

In District 200 a third-grade student's IEP wasn't being followed. Of course, it's hard for a parent to uncover the facts, because s/he is not in school every day to watch what goes on. But after consultants from Project Choices ( visited the classroom of the student, they reported to the principal at an after-school meeting that the teacher could not arbitrarily change a student's IEP. They had made that observation during their one visit. What happened? The teacher stormed out of the meeting, and the social worker went with her "to see if she was okay." What should have happened was, the teacher should have been required to return the meeting and be accountable for her errors in the classroom.

Every year that student's IEP was violated. Later, in 9th Grade, a first-hour computer class was put in his schedule. It turned out there was no computer available and no room available, so the student was sent to study hall to twiddle his thumbs for an hour. No wonder he didn't want to go to school. His absenteeism in 9th Grade was over 60%, and he was never reported for truancy.

Parents of special education students are kept isolated from one another. This, of course, keeps them from exchanging information and forming groups to bring about change and correction.

I don't know Peter Koehn, the former junior high school psychologist who blew the whistle in Harvard. Somehow, though, I'm pretty sure I'd like him. He stuck up for the kids. Look where it got him. Fired.

And then think back to Huntley, where a Special Education Director was tossed out because she stuck up for the kids. Parents liked her; she knew the Special Ed laws and followed them. Of course, that got her in hot water with the district's administrators.

If you want to keep your job, you learn to keep your head down. Don't make waves. Don't talk to parents. Don't tell parents that their kids are not getting what they are supposed to. Be a follower; don't ever try to be a leader. Get tenure. Know your place. Just keep sucking at the public trough.

The former associate superintendent of District 200 told me that "every teacher is an advocate for every student." I almost fell off my chair laughing. Yeah, sure.... at the risk of their jobs, maybe. And they won't risk them by standing up for what is wrong in their Special Education departments.

Watch for following articles here to correct the wrong information that was given to the reporter. And, if you are parent of a Special Education student, get in touch with me. I'll help you find other like-minded parents in your school district.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gus, you say that you don't know Dr. Koehn. If you did, perhaps you would see him in a completely different light...I do know Dr. Koehn and certainly would never use the words conscientious, ethical or morally righteous in the same sentence with his name. I would be willing to bet that the Harvard School District did not take the consideration of his dismissal lightly as he was a tenured employee...perhaps there is more to this story than the "intestinal fortitude" you describe. In addition, Dr. Koehn is certainly no stranger to the courts...Check out the link below...;jsessionid=A0502C453E6DCEBB697B0EE9A2174352.render6?caseNo=2006FA000104&countyNo=28&cacheId=B70A1A801F9FAC142171E72D9F7FA1D4&recordCount=8&offset=5&linkOnlyToForm=false&sortDirection=ASC
Perhaps the Harvard School Disrict does have some explaining to do regarding Special Education policies, this will be determined following the investigation. But, don't be so quick to glorify Dr. Koehn....I seriously question whether or not he did "the right thing, for the right reasons" The Dr. Koehn I know would be more accurately described as the type of Whistleblower described here. "Whistleblowers are commonly seen as as "tattle tales" or "snitches," solely pursuing personal glory and fame" (} Opinions based on fact are so much more reliable than those based on emotion.