Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A response to the articles in Our Weekly regarding Special Education and AVUHSD.

Our Weekly recently wrote a series of articles regarding African-American students in special education at the Antelope Valley Union High School District (

The articles can be found right here.

Note: I will not comment on any statement regarding issues with direct students.
The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents any discussion or commentary about specific students... I will get back to that later.

Although no individual fact (again, excluding any commentary on specific students) in the articles are incorrect, the manner in which they are presented and the omission of key facts are extremely relevant to the context of the story.

For example, the secondary headline of the 11/3/2010 reads, "Link between Black students in special ed and prison."
The article then presents an array of statistics regarding the amount of disproportionality with African-American students in special education at AVUHSD and the high percentage of white teachers in the district.
It then hypothesizes, "So what is the cause of this phenomenon? One report indicates that due to the disproportionate amount of White female teachers instructing African Americans, a repetition of this type of classification persists."

The sad fact is that proper journalistic inquiry would have uncovered one key fact that would negate about half of the commentary in this article.

It is the following:
AVUHSD serves grades 9-12, and 98-99% of all of the students that the district serves in special education were identified by other districts.
Eight K-8 districts feed into AVUHSD (Palmdale, Lancaster, Westside, Eastside, Wilsona, Keppel, HELUS, & Gorman).
In addition, a large amount of our students transfer in from other districts when they move, already identified for special education.
AVUHSD inherits its disproportionality.

Why have these districts, as well as LAUSD and the other districts that transfer students to AVUHSD, identified a disproportionate amount of A.A. students for special education?
I don't know, and it would be really irresponsible for me to guess without performing adequate research.

Secondly, I have already mentioned FERPA.
It is common knowledge to those in the journalism profession that parents and disgruntled employees attempt to use the media to wage a one-sided attack.
The law prohibits any commentary by any district employee.
To do so is a violation of rights equal to, or greater, than the allegations in print.
Too often, the district staff's response of, "I cannot comment" is presented similarly to the "no comment" of someone who is actually guilty.
Now, I am not making any accusations to any or all of the parents mentioned in the articles.
However, I do take exception to the lack of commentary in the article considering that there may actually be two sides of the story.

Thirdly, I want to focus on the omissions of who were not contacted or referenced in the articles.
For example, there are resources in the Antelope Valley to assist parents in educating or advocating for their children.

One such resource is the Antelope Valley Branch of Family Focus Resource and Empowerment Center (
FFREC provides education, support, and - as a last resort - adversarial advocacy against school districts or other agencies to parents in the community.
Most, if not all, of their services are free of charge.
In the past, FFREC has convinced me to volunteer my time doing parent training for them.
Why was FFREC not pursued?

Another group that was not immediately involved is the High Desert Alliance of Black School Educators .

Here are the facts that were omitted.
HDABSE is a group of African-American educators that work in the Antelope Valley at all levels in education (teachers, administrators, support, etc.) who volunteer their time and resources to improve the educational outcomes of African-American students in the Antelope Valley.

Every year they host a symposium of workshops and resources for parents.
Example is here:

Not only are the members of HDABSE part of the African-American community in the Antelope Valley, many of them have their own A.A. children and/or grand-children going through the local educational systems.

Any discussion on systemic problems and/or potential solutions for African-American students in the Antelope Valley that does not include HDABSE is just plain irresponsible.

(Side-note: HDABSE also provides support, networking, and mentoring for A.A. educators.
Thus, they are addressing some of this issues of faculty disproportionality as cited above.)

Fourth, let's look at the "advocacy support" that was involved.
Despite any fancy titles, the vast majority of these individuals are attorneys.
As finally pointed out in the 11/11/2010 article by Bridget Cook (General Counsel for AVUHSD, member of HDABSE, member of the A.V.'s African-American Educational community, and INVITED guest to the meeting that she attended.), these attorneys make substantial amounts of money by tacking on large amount of legal fees in legal matters against the school districts.
Although they market their services as free to parents, they make their money by going straight to legal action against school districts and then charging large amounts of legal fees to the district if/when they prevail in legal action.
(According to the Office of Administrative Hearing more than 95% of all legal action is settled.
Districts usually settle to limit expense.)

The majority of the time, the services that they "fight" for can be acquired for free by using the techniques taught by groups such as the FFREC.

This is not to say that I am naive to think that parents should never retain legal counsel.
However, I will say that many of the more reponsible and locally prominent educational advocates - who are part of the AV community (FFREC and Claudia Petryshn come to mind immediately) - usually find this step unnecessary and only use it as a last resort.

This is a guess, and I do not want to portray it as a fact - I bet that these attorneys did not divulge in their meetings with unhappy parents how much money they charge the school districts in legal action that come directly out of the same budgets that we use to pay their childrens' teachers.

So let's summarize:
1. Many of the services that these attorneys fight for can be accessed for free with parental education or local advocacy resources.
2. When these attorneys do get to charge districts for their "advocacy" large sums of money, the money encroached on the local districts' general funds to be sent to Sherman Oaks, or whatever rich, white neighborhoods these individuals live and work.
3. The individuals that are part of and are invested in this community that are in a position to make positive change have been circumvented.
4. Every anecdotal example is presented in a way that renders rebuttal or clarification illegal.
5. AVUHSD inherits it's disproportionality.

So I cannot be accussed of being a hypocrite, I need to make sure I cover my bases.
1. Until 12/9/2010, I work for AVUHSD as the Coordinator of Psychological Services.
2. I am writing this article on my own time, as a community member, and as a former-employee of AVUHSD.
This is not endorsed, motivated, or requested by AVUHSD.
3. I am making no claims against the articles' author, parents, or the attorneys involved.
I am not a mind-reader, and I will not claim to know their motivations, thought, or feelings.
I merely want to present some glaring ommissions that change the context of the situation.

I would love to see some respectful and responsible discourse on how to improve educational outcomes for the students of this community.

There is no question that the need for this discourse needs to take place, but let's lay all of our cards on the table and remove the profit-motive from the discussion.

It is why I entered a career in education, and it is why I write this blog in my free time.

Integrity is more than the absence of lying.
It is also about divulging enough of the full-picture and not witholding significant, relative facts.


  1. What I find missing from those articles is a discussion from parents of the other students who lost several hours of education while teachers and staff dealt with the disruption caused by the behavior problems (that are assuredly a direct result of poor parenting).

  2. Thank you Dr. Beam for presenting this thoughtful and accurate commentary regarding the Our Weekly articles and the state of special education in the AVUHSD.

    Consistent with the mission of HDABSE to educate the community, there will be a workshop on this very issue at our annual symposium on January 29, 2011 @ Eastside High School in Lancaster CA. Hopefully, parents will come out and learn strategies and gain additional tools to support their special needs child.

    Best wishes to you in your new position, you will be missed in the AV.