Adam Michael SacksAttorney and Advocate for Children with Special Needs
Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)March 15, 2003
Costs of parent demands weighed
By Helen GaoStaff Writer
When her 3-year-old son, Gabriel, was diagnosed with autism last year, JessicaDattilo plunged into learning all she could about the developmental disorder andwhat his needs would be in preschool.
Supported by an advocate, the Sherman Oaks mother asked the Los AngelesUnified School District to provide Gabriel with speech, language and behavioraltherapy, in addition to the occupational therapy he is getting. When the districtdeclined, Dattilo filed for a formal hearing to challenge the decision.Such legal skirmishes over special education services are skyrocketing in the LAUSDas it aggressively tackles ballooning costs that threaten to overwhelm its budget.
Jessica Dattilo watches asher three year-old sonGabriel works on a puzzleat home. Gabriel isautistic.Jessica is seeking dueprocess hearings to gethelp for her son.
(Charlotte Schmid-Maybach / Daily News)
According to a study conducted by the district Inspector General's Office, requests for due-process hearingsdoubled in three years, soaring from 489 disputes in 1999 to 1,017 in 2002. Parents file for hearings whenthey disagree with school officials on what constitutes an appropriate education for their special-needschildren."Parents are on a journey of searching for what is going to be the best for their kids, and they will exhaustevery avenue for their kids," said Julie Fabrocini, principal of CHIME Charter School in Woodland Hills, whichis pioneering an education model that serves children of all abilities."But there has to be some fiscal responsibility for providing education for all children. There can be a greatdisparity between what someone thinks it costs to educate their child and what other people think it costs toeducate their child."The LAUSD spends about 12 percent, or $1.3 billion, of its $9.7 billion budget on special education. Its costof educating a special-needs child averages $12,976 per year, compared with $7,065 for a general educationstudent.Advocates argue cost-cutting measures instituted under the leadership of Superintendent Roy Romer andAssistant Superintendent Donnalyn Jaque-Anton have gone too far, contributing to the dramatic rise inhearing requests. They say school officials either routinely deny parents' requests for services or provide theminimum because of apparent dictates from the top."In many ways, it appears that now the entire system is micromanaged from downtown," said ValerieVanaman, a Sherman Oaks special education attorney. "Everybody is sort of afraid to take any action or movebecause they are getting their shoulders looked over all the time.
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