theebrandenburgs blogspear

This page is designed to share information about our struggle to gain equity for our unique children and their learning styles in a public education system that is designed primarily to teach a single type of learner, and which is increasingly sidelined by fiscal and philosophical issues that challenge the core of its collective existence. We are especially interested in unique learners, and the talented people who teach them, their families, and our shared value as human beings. We seek the end of discrimination, the end of seclusion, separation, and isolation, as well as an end to chemical and physical restraints that are commonly used to assault our children and our unique interpretations of the world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Repost from Sierra Madre Patch: Request Denied, But Autistic Child's Parents Continue Fight

Request Denied, But Autistic Child's Parents Continue Fight

Though the Pasadena Unified School District denied Tony and Mary Brandenburg's request for an investigation involving treatment of their autistic child, they are still pursuing legal action.

Tony and Mary Brandenburg’s request for an external investigation of the Pasadena Unified School District has been denied; the Brandenburgs had alleged that the Board of Education members--plus PUSD and Sierra Madre School staff--violated numerous policies when it came to their eight-year-old autistic son’s education.
However, the Board of Ed has directed Superintendent Jon Gundry to work with the Brandenburgs to “address their specific concerns related to their child’s education at Sierra Madre School,” according to Renatta Cooper, Board of Ed President.
“Although I appreciate Gundry's attempts, he's trying to clean up a mess he really wasn't involved in,” Mary Brandenburg told Patch. The couple still plans to pursue an investigation of the PUSD to, as they describe it, “shine a light on what [the] PUSD continues hiding, as it impacts many students.”
The Brandenburgs are looking for a civil rights attorney and have filed a new complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.
“[Our son] continues to be segregated from his age peers and denied access to music class,” said Mary Brandenburg.
What did the Brandenburgs want investigated?
The couple pulled their 8-year-old autistic son out of Sierra Madre School just 27 days after the start of the 2010 school year to homeschool him. Here’s a partial list of the Brandenburgs’ complaints,which originally appeared in a previous article on Sierra Madre Patch:
  • That behavioral reports filed regarding their son did not follow district protocol;
  • That PUSD employees knowingly altered records, created false documents and made false statements relating to their son;
  • That PUSD staff withheld, and are still withholding, public documents about their son;
  • That a board member discussed confidential business relating to their son outside of an official board meeting;
  • That a board member actively planned and participated in a meeting with a group of Sierra Madre School parents regarding their son. The Brandenburgs allege that this falls outside of the Board’s duties.
  • The PUSD made significant changes to their son’s educational program without their consent.
The Brandenburgs previously filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, who conducted its own investigation. No wrongdoing was found. The Brandenburgs insist the entire process was flawed and involved fraud.
“OCR was looking for very specific violations involving bullying and harassment. The violations of confidentiality and withholding of docs by Honowitz were not investigated,” said Mary Brandenburg.
The PUSD looked into the issue internally and insists that everything it did fell  within the boundaries of the law.
“Every action that I took was certainly in accordance with ensuring the confidentially that all parents are accorded under law and was appropriate in relation to the issues that were at the school site,” Honowitz said previously.
Honowitz recently told the Pasadena Star-News that he “recused himself from closed session meetings on their request.” However, the Brandenburgs say they never requested that of him.
The Brandenburgs’ son returned to Sierra Madre School at the start of the 2011 school year and is now in a special education class with older children.
Related Topics: AutismMary BrandenburgPUSD, and Tony Brandenburg

Repost from Pasadena Star News, Mercury News: Pasadena Unified schools denies request to investigate autistic education in Sierra Madre

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.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Taking a Breath

by Tony Brandenburg

The last few days have been busier than usual, and the bleak hue of bitterness set upon the house when we were told of the PUSD school board's decision to deny our request for an external investigation into the civil rights violations against our youngest child by a number of high ranking school officials and a board member. That isn't to say that our home is full of dark, creeping malfunction- just that there has been a general angst that began with an injustice that was denied, and one that continues to exist.

This morning the Pasadena Star News ran an article on the denial by the board, which we paste in and will run tomorrow from here. It started the day in the same way that most days have been around here- with the reminder that we are intertwined in a battle for social justice, and it hasn't, and won't, go away. Unlike the adversaries we have pitched battle against, this does not come from a place of theory, but from a place of personal experience and dedication. We will not back down, and we will not leave this alone.

Having said all of that, we still have an obligation to our family to try to replicate a place of normalcy and to try to teach our children a sense of awe and wonder, and to assist them in their continued exploration of the world. All three of our children are very creative beings, but like all of us, they sometimes miss the smallest things in life because we are looking at the biggest problem.

On our way to take our allergy shots, my 13 year old son and I have to cross a large parking lot. In the lot is a nicely manicured garden with a few annuals plunked in to make the cement and asphalt aesthetically pleasing. Something in it caught my eye, a movement I recognized from my own childhood, but have rarely had the opportunity to share with my son. A bee was pollinating a flower. It has been more than three years since I have seen a bee. I walked over, and took out my phone.

"What are you doing, da?"
"Lookit. A bee pollinating. Cool, huh? 
"Careful. You are allergic to them and I don't have an epi-pen."

I ran a few possible scenarios through my head. At worst, I could scoop him up and run over to the emergency room across the street as long as no one on their way to the Santa Anita Race Track ran us over. Oh yeah, I can just run him up the stairs and the doctor can give him a shot. Yeah. That's right, allergies doctor's have that gear, duh. At best, the bee will just let us dig the routine and not even notice our presence with hs billion eyes focusing on flower spit.

Then I realized, for the first time today, of three times today alone, that my anxiety is a life long intrinsic, biological trait, and I am doing OK with keeping it in check, and hiding its outward manifestations. How do I express this to my children to help them cope with it? Will it matter? Will it help, or will it complicate things even more? Am I doing this right? Why can't I see the world like others do, even sometimes, so I can stop pretending and stop playing the chameleon game?

We watched it for a while. Silently.

"Come on. Let's go get our shot and grab grandpa a burrito."