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Adam Michael Sacks Attorney and Advocate for Children With Special Needs

Adam Michael Sacks Attorney and Advocate for Children With Special Needs

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Published by Adam Michael Sacks
Special needs child advocate Adam Sacks
Special needs child advocate Adam Sacks

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Published by: Adam Michael Sacks on Jun 27, 2012
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06/27/2012

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Adam Michael SacksAttorney and Advocate for Children with Special Needs
(818) 253-6795
Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)March 15, 2003
Section:
News
Edition:
Valley
 
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.
Adam Michael Sacks Attorney and Advocate for Children with Special...http://www.adamlawyer.com/daily_news_ams.ht1 of 36/26/2012 6:20 PM
 
"When you have that kind of climate in place, the easiest way not to get into trouble is to say no."School district officials deny they try to save money by dictating limitations for individual education plans -- acustomized program required for every special education student. An IEP includes everything fromcurriculum to what kind of therapy a child will receive.Officials attribute the high number of hearing requests to a new state ruling that changed how the districtreimburses parents for private services for their children. In the past, the district worked out reimbursementsinformally, but two years ago, it began requiring parents to go through a formal process."It pains me because the truth of it is, although we may be managing our system better, neither I nor any ofmy staff would take away services needed for a child or not recommend services," Jaque-Anton said.Nationwide, the number of hearing requests is also growing, but at a slower rate than the LAUSD's,according to a 2002 study conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Thestudy showed that hearing requests nearly tripled from 4,655 in 1991 to 11,068 in 2000."Parents are becoming more educated. They are more aware of their rights," said Woodland Hills specialeducation advocate Adam Sacks, who represents Dattilo. "There are a lot more resources on the Internet thatpeople are coming into contact with."In California, a disproportionate number of requests originates from the LAUSD, which is the largest district inthe state and the second-largest in the nation.The LAUSD educates about 13 percent of the state's special education population, or 86,000 students, but itaccounted for nearly 32 percent of the hearing requests filed statewide in 1999-2002, according to stateDepartment of Education data.When parents apply for due process, they are first directed to try mediation. When mediation fails, the nextstep is a legal hearing, which is like a mini-trial pitting experts against experts. An overwhelming number ofthe disputes -- more than 90 percent statewide -- are resolved through mediation.Dattilo hopes her dispute with the district will also be resolved through mediation because she believes herrequest for additional services for her son is reasonable. Gabriel, she said, has language delay andsometimes hits and pinches other people without provocation. She is afraid, without the appropriate therapy,he will injure someone."I am not asking for anything outrageous," she said. "It's what he needs."She is sympathetic to the district's financial hardship, but she noted that it's human nature for a mother tofight for her child."I want to give him every advantage in the world. Every parent feels that way. Every parent wants their childto succeed."Harold Kwalwasser, the LAUSD's general counsel, believes the rise in hearing requests came about becausethe district is resisting excessive demands from parents who want more than they are entitled to under thelaw.Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts are required to providespecial-needs students "free and appropriate education." How to interpret that vague language is at the heartof disputes between parents and school districts across the nation."Previously, the district was too accommodating to parents' demands," Kwalwasser said. "However, in an erawhen the district is under great financial stress, we cannot simply spend regardless of whether it's required."In the LAUSD more often than not, parents prevail in mediations and hearings, according to the inspectorgeneral's report. Of a sampling of 600 cases, parents won 400 -- 70 percent of which were decided in theirfavor because the district made procedural errors."This created business opportunities for numerous law firms and advocates to file lawsuits against theLAUSD," said the inspector general's report. "As a result, the LAUSD incurred additional or excessdue-process cost, including legal fees."
Adam Michael Sacks Attorney and Advocate for Children with Special...http://www.adamlawyer.com/daily_news_ams.ht2 of 36/26/2012 6:20 PM

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