Pasadena Unified schools denies request to investigate autistic education in Sierra Madre
By James Figueroa, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/02/2012 11:41:59 PM PST
PASADENA - A couple's request to launch an independent investigation into Pasadena Unified School District's treatment of the couple's autistic child has been denied by the board of education.
However, the board directed Superintendent Jon Gundry to continue working with Tony and Mary Brandenburg about their concerns of a hostile environment at Sierra Madre Elementary School.
"Their already has been an independent investigation of the situation," said board member Ed Honowitz, who was named in the Brandenburgs' complaint and recused himself from closed session meetings on their request. "As a result the board did not choose to commission an additional independent investigation to cover the same issues."
Honowitz has maintained that he didn't do anything inappropriate, but can't discuss specifics about the case because of student confidentiality requirements.
The Brandenburgs were appreciative of Gundry's assistance but uncertain what to do now.
"The message the Board of Ed is sending to PUSD, and to the public, is that politics are more important than children," Mary Brandenburg said in a statement. "It's not that hard to figure out which Board members voted for transparency and accountability, and who voted to keep a lid on things."
The Brandenburgs alleged Honowitz, former administrators and others arranged meetings about their child without their knowledge, in an effort to move the 8-year-old from his inclusion program at Sierra Madre to a placement at Five Acres, which offers education programs for autistic children.
The U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights investigated the situation based on a complaint by the Brandenburgs. The Brandenburgs sought the school board's approval for a separate investigation because they hoped to win acknowledgment that Sierra Madre Elementary School doesn't offer an accepting environment for anyone that doesn't fit its system.
"You're not going to go to this 900-API school with your noisy, bratty little kid and your punk rock background and your bad attitude," Tony Brandenburg, who is still part of punk band The Adolescents, said of the environment. "That's really what it boiled down to."
The problems started during the previous school year in 2010, when district officials allegedly failed to notify the Brandenburgs about incidents involving their son.
Instead, other parents met, circulated a petition and began documenting incidents in an effort to force the Brandenburgs' son out of Sierra Madre, according to the Brandenburgs.
"The climate at Sierra Madre was ripe for something like this," Mary Brandenburg said. "The people at this school believe it's their private kind of school."
They pulled their son out and home-schooled him for a time, but he returned last fall and is now placed in a special-education class with older students.
The Brandenburgs, who are both teachers, would prefer to keep their son in an inclusion program among general education students.
However, inclusion programs at PUSD vary from school to school, and a district task force is looking into their operation, said Leonard McLaren, the interim special-education director for PUSD.
"The programs generally have been successful, it depends on the culture of the different school," McLaren said.
Sierra Madre has a more mainstream program that works on the "least restrictive environment" principle to provide the greatest possible education opportunities for disabled students, McLaren said. It also has a special inclusion program at the K-1 level.
However, the Brandenburgs say their son isn't getting the least restrictive environment because he isn't in a general education class.
"It's more expensive to fully include with the right support," Mary Brandenburg said.