A playful and fun loving, sandy-brown haired boy of 4 is similar to many children his age, he has a bountiful amount of curiosity, likes to run around as fast as his legs will take him and enjoys playing with a royal blue toy plane. However, Brogan Jorgensen also has severe autism and when he was placed in a Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District preschool class without appropriate assistance he started coming home with mysterious injuries.
Brogan’s parents, Ken and Liz Jorgensen made multiple attempts to work with the district in creating an IEP (Individual Education Program) to get Brogan accommodations that would provide the right support for him, however, multiple deadlines for the creation of the IEP were missed and several other alleged cases of children not receiving the proper support they need from the district is reason for major concern in how the school district runs its special education program.
What follows is the story of three families and their children, each of their alleged stories painting a disturbing picture of how the district handles special education; these students do not get the proper accommodations they need in order to thrive, retaliation occurs when parents push for accommodations and costs instead of children seem to allegedly be the number one priority.
Before preschool Brogan was diagnosed with severe autism Spectrum Disorder, something that did not come as a surprise to his parents. According to them they requested that their son be placed in a county school for Autistic children that would be able to better serve his needs than the basic special education program at the preschool.
“There is a wonderful preschool here in Rohnert Park run by the county that has a program solely designed for autistic children and we felt that was the proper placement for him. The district has just flat out refused to consider giving him a referral — he can’t get into that school unless his local district refers him, and they insisted they had a proper placement for him,” Ken explained.
Ken and his wife have sent two letters to the district requesting the referral to the specialized school, El Colegio School, however, the district still recommended their district school, Waldo Rohnert Elementary School.
This district preschool program was sort of a one size fits all approach and caters to the needs of various special education children with a wide range of special needs. Liz says Brogan was getting minimal speech and occupational therapy.
“They did as much as they were required to, but nothing more,” Liz said. “It did not fit his needs.”
Brogan attended the preschool for 25 days and Ken and Liz claim that he was not getting the assistance he needed and that “the staff was untrained on how to work with him,” according to a synopsis of the families’ three stories prepared by Larry Holguin, a senior executive education consultant.
Brogan started coming home from school with head injuries, one so severe that he had to be taken to urgent care. In response to the injuries, preschool staff recommended that he go through physical therapy and wear a soft helmet, however, his doctor said that was not the proper solution as he does not have any motor difficulties. Brogan’s parents even said that he would climb and play around jungle gym structures with no problems and while he had the occasional fall, believed that a soft helmet was not necessary.
So why would the district recommend accommodations and a preschool that clearly did not fit his needs and was hurting his success instead of helping him excel?
Ken says when they met with a Sonoma County Office of Education representative to discuss why the district wouldn’t refer them to the school, the rep, M. Russell, said they believed it was because of a concern for the district’s bottom line.
“The tenor of that conversation was that it otherwise would cost them money (if they sent him to a non-district school),” Ken said. The family then requested several more times for the creation of an IEP, however, the district missed many of the legal deadlines for its creation. Ken and Liz then decided to take Brogan out of the district preschool and started paying out of pocket for him to have proper services; behavior, speech, music and occupational therapy, a move that has cost them upwards of $1,000.
Shortly after Ken and Liz pulled their son out of the preschool they received notification from the district stating since Brogan would not be attending the district school he would no longer be considered special ed and wouldn’t receive related services despite the fact that the district still recognizes and “believes that Brogan continues to require special education” according to the notification letter obtained from Ken. The family is now planning to move to Petaluma in order to be in a school district where Brogan’s needs will be properly met without any biases.
“We’re moving and to be honest a large part of it is to get out of this district,” Ken said.
One parent who wished to remain anonymous faced a similar so-called scenario with their children. One of their children is blind and requires assistance from an aide and the other child has a severe disability and requires the use of a wheelchair. According to Holguin’s summary the district once again missed numerous deadlines and failed to give the parent a copy of the district’s assessment plan for the children.
The children did have completed IEP’s, however the required accommodations were not being provided. Anonymous’s child was supposed to have an aide but one was not provided. They were also required to provide a wheelchair and walker for anonymous’s other child, however, for more than four months the district did not provide either of the two and like the Jorgensen’s, anonymous had to pay out of their own pocket for therapy.
“A functional behavioral assessment was requested but the district failed to procure one, instead trying to utilize their own district psychologist,” Holguin’s summary states.
The parent eventually filed a complaint and the state of California ended up awarding compensatory services for anonymous’s children.
According to anonymous, she knows of other families who also have children with special needs but are afraid to ask for services from the district in fear of retaliation for advocating for their child.
“What I hope to achieve with in all this is parental advocacy. Some parents do not know what they can do to advocate for their children. They maybe don’t know their rights and the district is not clear on, nor upfront about parental rights,” anonymous said of why she wanted to share her story.
Rosin’s child entered the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District with an existing 504, a plan similar to an IEP but is for students who don’t require specialized instruction, but still require accessibility accommodations for equal access to general education curriculum. An example of a 504 accommodation would be providing a child extended time on test, a short break in class or providing a child with dyslexia written notes instead of having them copy notes from a whiteboard.
Rosin’s elementary schooler requires help with notes as it can be hard for him to read notes off the board as he has to take his time in reading and assessing each word in his head and also sometimes get stuck on assignments, meriting the need for a break.
Upon entering the school district, Rosin says the principal altered her son’s 504 plan and deleted one of his major accommodations without her knowledge or consent.
Puzzled, Rosin confronted the district regarding their failure to provide the accommodations to her son, however, this move led to more delays and once again, legal deadlines were missed by the district. Rosin says the deadlines and the matter of the 504 was strung out for over nine months.
According to her, the district then refused to renew the original 504 that contained her child’s proper accommodations.
“The district… tried to send the child for special education testing, but he is not special ed. We believe they were attempting to get funding for services that the child wouldn’t need and then keep the funds,” Holguin wrote in the summary, who also worked with Rosin in researching the other two parent stories.
But what perhaps is equally alarming is that after Rosin pressed for her son’s accommodations, he was allegedly retaliated against by his teacher and office staff.
“After failing…to accommodate the child’s needs under his 504 plan, the teacher forced him into a meltdown by failing to implement any accommodations when he was stuck on an assignment. She forced him to continue working on the project, even after the allotted time was up, forced him to continue it while the other children moved on to a fun activity. While he had his head down in his folded arms, she positioned her face within inches of his and berated him until he felt worthless,” according to Holguin’s statement.
Rosin’s son ultimately told the teacher to leave him alone when the teacher reportedly screamed in his face. He then went to the office where he asked to call his parents, however, the staff told him she wasn’t trained on how to call a parent.
Instead, “He was told to work it out with the teacher,” Rosin said, who has also had to take her son out of the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district.
A negative pattern
Ultimately, what these disconcerting stories point to is that the district is failing to provide students the proper support they need even though they know full well that these children require special needs. Allegedly, they don’t want to reach into their own resources to provide these accommodations and instead the parents have to do so or even have to go to the length of moving to a different school district.
“What is happening is that the services that have been agreed upon and that children are entitled to receive are not being delivered… although the district has been clearly receiving the funds for services! This is more than petty handling; the pattern is that while the district doesn’t deny these children the identification of being special education, once they have been so identified they are not being delivered appropriate services,” Holguin explained. “That is why we have referred many incidences and families to statewide and federal agencies for legal review. What the community wants is to have the state and federal agencies perform formal and complete, independent third-party audits on the special education and English Language Learner programs to trace where the money is as compared to where it has been designated to go. We feel that the conclusion could result in an ‘inappropriate use and application of federal and state funds,’ an illegal act.”
The Voice reached out to Elizabeth Kaufman, the director of special education at CRPUSD, and asked if there were ever any instances where a child’s accommodations or IEP would be denied. The Voice also told Kaufman that some parents had concerns of not getting accommodations for their children and not having IEP’s created in time and we asked if that was a concern for her.
While she didn’t directly answer the questions she did say the district works to provide accommodations for all children.
“The simplest explanation is that we work to provide all students a free and appropriate public education in compliance with laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act as outlined and agreed to in each student’s IEP,” Kaufman said.
*If you have a story you want to share regarding special education issues/concerns within the district, please contact The Voice at firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Holguin at email@example.com