ASK - Advocates for Special Kids
"Parents helping parents to understand special education"

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COMMENTS: December 11, 2000 Board Meeting

 

We wish to speak to the boardís new policy regarding agendizing items submitted by community members. We believe this policy violates the Brown Act, by imposing additional requirements on citizens not contemplated by that Act and actually discourages participation by the community.

As well, based upon ASKís recent request to be placed on the November 15th agenda, we believe the boardís implementation of this policy is subjective, for it favors those with whom the board and the superintendent agree by placing them on the agenda, while disfavoring those with whom they do not agree, by refusing them access to the agenda. We feel this practice not only violates your policy, it also violates First Amendment rights of members of the community, as well as the spirit and intent of the Brown Act. Therefore, we believe this new policy needs to be rescinded.

On Tuesday, November 7th, ASK sent Nancy Bogart a letter which included our request to be placed on the November 15th agenda. Our purpose was to take three minutes on the agenda just as your policy contemplates to "ask for the opportunity" to make a presentation at a later date about the philosophy of inclusion and how it relates to our own school districtís Mission and Vision Statements. Our November 7th letter complied with the Boardís new policy.

Contrary to what Mrs. Campbell stated at the November 15th meeting, we did not ask for 15-20 minutes on the November 15th agenda. As our letter makes clear, we were asking for the three minutes your policy allows, so that we could formally request your consideration of a presentation.

On Wednesday, November 8th Mrs. Bogart called me and informed me that Mrs. Campbell and Superintendent Davis had decided that before we could be agendized, we first had to go to the districtís Advisory Board for Special Education [ABSE] for its approval.

This violated the school boardís own policy for public participation and, we therefore faxed a letter to the full board on November 9th informing you of what had transpired and reminding you of your policy regarding agendizing, which states as follows:

"A citizen may place an item on the Board agenda if the written request and supporting information are received in the Superintendent's Office no later than Tuesday noon of the week preceding a regular Board meeting. The speaker will be allowed three minutes at the meeting to present the information to the Board."

We never received a response to our letter. When the November 15th agenda came out, ASK was not on it despite our having complied with your policy. Left with no other choice, we did what Superintendent Davis and Mrs. Campbell insisted: we went before the next duly noticed meeting of the Advisory Board on Tuesday, November 14th, to make our presentation to obtain the Advisory Boardís approval, despite the fact that even your own policy doesnít require such step.

At the Advisory Board meeting, after a discussion in which all attendees were afforded the opportunity to speak, the Advisory Board voted 7-4 to recommend that ASKís presentation be brought to the school board. At no time during the Advisory Board meeting, did anyone object to the validity of the vote or claim that the meeting had not been properly noticed. In fact, Mrs. Campbell was one of those who not only took the opportunity to speak against the presentation prior to the vote, but also voted against bringing the presentation to the school board. It was only AFTER the vote by the Advisory Board approved the presentation did complaints suddenly materialize.

At the November 15th school board meeting, Mrs. Campbell brought up the Advisory Board vote during her Board Commentary. She told the rest of the school board that ASKís original request for agendizing was to make a lengthy presentation. As weíve made clear, and as ASKís two letters to the board also made clear, this simply is not true.

Mrs. Campbell also stated that after the Advisory Board meeting, she received complaints from Advisory Board members who had chosen not to attend the meeting, but who after the fact claimed that they hadnít been able to provide their input. Mrs. Campbell then raised the issue that the meeting somehow wasnít properly noticed, despite the fact that an agenda had been circulated and that it had been specifically at Mrs. Campbell and Superintendent Davisís insistence that ASKís presentation was placed on the Advisory Board agenda for its approval.

Ironically, at the November 15th school board meeting, Mrs. Campbell and other board members spent almost fifteen minutes discussing ASKís request and the Advisory Boardís approval. Board members freely and without constraint gave their side of the story, all the while misstating our request and our letters. All with regard to an issue for which we were completely denied our right to have even three minutes on the agenda.

On the basis of Mrs. Campbellís statements and then after seeking Superintendent Davisís guidance, the matter was sent back to the Advisory Board for yet another vote (one we fear the district may unfairly influence so that the vote will end up AGAINST bringing the full board information about a critical issue facing the district.)

We feel compelled to make several points regarding the boardís new policy:

1) On several occasions, we have observed that you will extend the three minute time limit to accommodate those with whom you agree or who come here to praise you, while those with opposing views do not receive the same courtesy.

2) Under the Brown Act, neither the superintendent, the board president, nor any committee, advisory or otherwise, has veto authority over an individualís right to utilize their three minutes to speak to this board regarding any matter related to school district business. By refusing to place us on the November 15th agenda for our three minutes, the board has in effect, vetoed our right.

The boardís new policy claims "The Board of Trustees encourages your participation in its deliberations and has tried to make it convenient for you to express your view to the Board." We submit that by imposing additional, last-minute requirements upon members of the community with whom you disagree, as you have here, not only have you made it inconvenient, we feel you are attempting to discourage our participation in your deliberations. As well, we feel this is a violation of the very heart of the Brown Actís protections of the communityís First Amendment right to free speech.

3) Not only did we comply with your new policy, we went further. Although not required to do so by either your policy or the Brown Act, we took the additional step of arranging with district staff for the Advisory Boardís review of the video "Petroglyphs" and Mission Statement analysis for the express purpose of furthering the education and awareness of that body.

4) According to Mrs. Bogart, Mrs. Campbell and the superintendent wanted ASK to go before the Advisory Board for approval. Implicit in obtaining approval, is that a vote must be held. We believe Mrs. Campbell was aware of this fact based on her comments at the Advisory Board meeting that she had spent the prior weekend discussing the upcoming presentation, which had not even yet been made, with individuals she claimed didnít agree with the thrust of the presentation.

In fact, contrary to what both Mrs. Campbell and Superintendent Davis stated at the November 15 board meeting, the actual agenda circulated to Advisory Board members clearly indicates that the "desired outcome" for this issue was to forward a "recommendation" to the Superintendent. Surely, a recommendation cannot come from the Advisory Board without a vote. Therefore, anyone who received the agenda, and no one has raised the claim that they didnít, was given notice that a vote would occur in order to achieve a recommendation or lack thereof. As a result, the call for a revote was unnecessary, especially considering that a vote by the Advisory Board was never called for in the first place.

Regarding the Brown Act:

We have available a more complete excerpting and analysis of the Brown Act, as it applies to this situation. Briefly, the Act provides that the agenda is to give members of the public the opportunity to address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public relevant to the boardís jurisdiction. Mr. Alfvin, you correctly pointed out at the November 15th meeting, that anybody can request that something be put on the agenda. We canít help but feel that "anybody" means anybody but those of us with whom Mrs. Campbell and Superintendent Davis donít agree.

The Brown Act explicitly states that the school board cannot prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency or the acts of omissions of the legislative body. We believe that our public criticism of the districtís policies, procedures etc., regarding special education, is exactly what the board is attempting to suppress.

As well, the Act allows the board to provide greater access to your meetings than prescribed by the minimal standards set forth in the Act. In other words, the board can provide greater opportunity for expression, but cannot restrict that opportunity any more than the Act allows. Yet, this board not only limits public participation through allowable time limits, it also subjects parents with whom it disagrees to the review of other district bodies, in direct conflict with your own policy. Ultimately, it denies these parents their right to participate by denying them access to the agenda.

We believe your new "policy" with its selective implementation is the latest attempt by the board to discourage participation by a group of parents with whom certain members of this board disagree, from whom you would prefer not to hear, and whose views you do not wish the general public to be apprised of, specifically ASK parents whose children receive special education services.

During ASKís presentation at the Advisory Board, Mrs. Campbell spoke forcefully against it, claiming it didnít represent the opinion of all special education parents in the community. Mrs. Campbell, it doesnít have to. If as you say, other families donít agree with our position, they should have just as much a right to stand up here and present their position as we do. Just because one family isnít having a problem with their childís special education services doesnít invalidate the problems and concerns experienced by many other families.

If only ONE family comes forward regarding the problems theyíre having in receiving appropriate special education services for their child, you as our elected representatives should be concerned, for it means a child in this district is not being properly served.

This board is here to represent the community, including ASK members. You are obligated to hear our concerns, even if you donít agree with us. Although we donít expect you to agree with us, at a minimum we do expect you to play by your own rules and allow our side of the issue to be heard by the community, just as your side is.

We feel it is an abuse of power to prevent the public airing of critical issues of concern to your constituents, especially when the procedures used infringe upon the rights of those constituents under the First Amendment and the Brown Act. We also believe that a systematic effort is underway to prevent the full membership of the Board and the community from hearing our perspective.

What is truly sad is that you have attempted to prevent discussion regarding what should be a very innocuous issue, this districtís Mission Statement. Clearly, this is not an innocuous issue, as it is a metaphor for all that is wrong with this districtís attitude towards its special needs population and the programs that are supposed to be serving them.

ASK has spent the last year trying to constructively address problems related to special education in this district. It is our assessment that our constructive criticisms have been taken personally and the response has been to thwart our attempts to participate in the process. But we are here to say that this isnít about you. This is about our children and about the fact that they are not getting what they need to achieve an appropriate education nor what theyíre entitled to under the law.

We believe that you cannot solve a problem until you first acknowledge you have one. Our request for three minutes on the agenda was simply to ask you to consider a presentation about a problem which needs to be addressed and which we believe, with the will and a little hard work, can be overcome.

We feel rebuffed by your refusal to allow us to take even a first step toward solving this problem. We wonder: are you afraid the community will find out special ed is a problem in this district? We think that many people in the community already know there is a problem in special education and they are looking to you as the policy-making body for this district and to your district administrators to do something about it.

We will leave with Nancy Bogart a packet of materials which contain our comments, documents referenced in our comments, as well as an analysis of the Brown Act information which we mentioned. There are copies for all of you.

I am also available to answer any questions you might have, now or at a later time.

ASK Parents

 


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Revised: January 25, 2002


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