Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

Day 128. 

Republicans claim they want “school choice” which is really a way for the government to subsidize private schools of their choice.  However, there is a case before the Supreme Court that shows just how limited they really want “school choice” to be in the case of disabled children.  And, believe it or not, Gorsuch is at the heart of that case.

The case is Endrew F v. Douglas County School District.  This case will determine the standards under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  According to what took place during the hearing, Gorsuch’s potential colleagues are mystified about a term that was used in a lower court ruling against the plaintiff.  That term is “minimally more than de minimis”.

Judge Ruth Ginsberg asked “who invented it”?  Well the answer is Neil Gorsuch.  Here s a little breakdown of the case.

The family of an autistic child (Luke) sued the school district about 10 years ago.  The case came about because the school district refused to reimburse the family due to their having to send their child to a specialized residential school for autistic children.  Such private school placements, paid for by the public school district, are allowable under the IDEA in limited circumstances.

It’s not that the school district wasn’t doing what it could to meet Luke’s educational needs. As Gorsuch put it, his “life away from school during the same time paints a much different picture.” Berthoud Elementary, where Luke attended second grade, didn’t seem equipped to prepare him for home life.

“Luke was unevenly tempered, often displaying inappropriate and sometimes violent behavior at home and in public places such as grocery stores and restaurants,” Gorsuch wrote. “He developed various sleep problems ― going to bed at odd hours, waking up frequently at night, and refusing to sleep in a bed. Luke also developed a habit of intentionally spreading his nighttime bowel movements around his bedroom. In addition, although Luke became toilet trained at school by the time he was in first grade, he was not able to transfer this skill to the home and other settings away from school.”

Based on this record, a hearing officer, an administrative judge and a federal district judge agreed in three separate decisions that the school district needed to reimburse Luke’s parents for a private school placement ― which the family’s lawyer Robinson and the family Perkins both said made a world of difference for Luke.

This is all in line with IDEA so disabled children get the specialized education they need.  In most cases, the school district just pays the fees.  But in this case, the school district in Colorado decided it needn’t pay the parents for their expenses.

The case wound up with a three judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and Gorsuch was one of those judges.  Despite the rulings of the three different hearings that said the a school district must pay the parents, Gorsuch didn’t see it that way.

The fact is that in a very short period of time, this specialized residential school made a world of difference to Luke and his life.  Despite this, Gorsuch led the court in overturning the three previous decisions by claiming that the IDEA benefits available to children like Luke were “limited in scope.”

“We sympathize with Luke’s family and do not question the enormous burdens they face,” he wrote in the decision, which effectively forced the Perkins family to pay for their son’s education out-of-pocket. “Our job, however, is to apply the law as Congress has written it and the Supreme Court has interpreted it.”

Gorsuch added that the statute only requires schools to create an individual educational plan that allows a student to achieve “some progress” toward the goals identified in that plan. Or in the judge’s more telling phrase, “merely more than de minimis” progress.

This is an example of just how Gorsuch looks at people with disabilities.  How could any law passed by Congress would have such a trivial standard?  That is the question that faces the Supreme Court.  The case from 1982 Board of Education v. Rowley, there is no mention of the term “merely more than de minimis”.  The word “merely” was pulled out of thin air by Gorsuch in his ruling in this case.

As a matter of fact, it was the same court that embraced the term “more than de minimis in a case in 1996.  It was Gorsuch that added the word “merely” in 2008.

This case goes way beyond just this one case.  We have a Secretary of Education that has no idea what the IDEA law entails.  Now, we have a nominee to the Supreme Court that doesn’t think the school district should help disabled children beyond “merely more than de minimis”.

You can also see that all of the fight over “school choice” does not include children with disabilities.  It only covers those who want to destroy public schools and have the government pay for their tuition at private schools.

Luke is now doing very well.  He is currently 22 and had aged out of the IDEA program.  He still lives in Massachusetts. He participates in a work program, goes shopping, eats at restaurants and engages in other activities that likely wouldn’t have been possible without the special school.  Basically, he has a good life that would not have been available without proper education.

What would have happened to him if his parents did not have the means to send him to this specialized school?  What if he had been born to poor people?  He would not have gotten this education and would not have developed.  Gorsuch thinks that the dollars are more important than this education and wants to deny people like Luke a chance.

Before I say this, I must confess that I am a grandfather of an autistic grandson.  However, this goes beyond just that.  So, to me, it is a great example of why Neil Gorsuch is not qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.  I have very easy standard for the Supreme Court.  The Constitution is designed to protect people.  So, any Judge who puts dollars ahead of people does not deserve to be on the court.  Gorsuch’s ruling in this case clearly puts dollars ahead of this person.

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Day 69.

Last night there was a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos to become the next Secretary of Education.  From what I heard, she is totally unqualified to fill the post.  And, I am not even talking about her conflicts that need to be cleared up first.

To begin with, she has absolutely no experience in teaching.  She has no experience in school administration.  She has no educational experience at all.  Now some people claim that is a good thing in order to “shake things up”.  And, there could be something to that argument if we were talking about someone with some experience at anything but being a lobbyist.

On top of all of that, she has no understanding of what it takes to administer one school much less an entire public education system.  How can she honestly believe that she has any qualifications for such a task?

Her biggest claim to fame in education is her carte blanch actions she got in Michigan to get more Charter Schools up and running.  Only, the law she got passed with help from conservative Republicans, doesn’t even have any supervision or accreditation involved.

For example, if you wish to open a for-profit Charter School in Michigan, you can do so without getting any accreditation before you start.  Then, you don’t have any supervision about your results.

Since this law was passed, the reading levels in Michigan have declined steadily.  The regular public schools in Detroit score higher on these tests as well as math and science than these for-profit Charter Schools.  Yet the Charter Schools are still allowed to take in students and get their money.  How is that making education for our children better?

DeVos, by her own admission, does not understand the student loan or Pell Grant programs.  Yet, she will be expected to administer them.  That is like asking someone who failed basic arithmetic to be your accountant.

There is also a law called IDEA which deals with special needs children.  When asked if she would continue to enforce that law, she said she thinks it is up to the states and local communities to enforce it.  She doesn’t even understand that this law is a Federal Law and therefore is enforced by the Federal Government since Federal dollars are used to fund it.  Her answer forced a gasp from the audience.

She has also been a huge advocate to use public education dollars to pay for “private” or “Christian” schools to take in public school children.  That would leave the public education without sufficient funds to educate the children that are stuck having to use public schools.

When asked if she would promise that no public education money would be used for these voucher programs, she refused to answer.  Even when pushed to give a simple yes or no answer, she refused.

When she was asked about the Gun Free Zone for public schools, she said that if the president-elect repealed that law she would back his decision.  Then she got really weird as to why.  She said that a school in Wyoming has a problem keeping bears away and therefore probably has a gun to keep the bears away.  What the hell does that have to do with Gun Free Zones for schools?

Then there were the questions about sexual assault on campuses.  Schools are not required at discipline hearings to follow the “preponderance of evidence” as used in criminal courts.  They use what is known as “it most likely occurred”.  Of course conservatives don’t like that because they want to treat all victims like they “asked for it” like they do in court.

When asked if she would uphold such reforms, she said it was “premature” for her to make a determination on that right now.  When pressed, again, she said:

If confirmed, I commit that I will be looking very closely at how this has been regulated and handled, with great sensitivity to those who are victims, and considering perpetrators as well.

There are a lot of different ideas about our public education and how best to improve it.  The one thing I do not agree with is the idea that privatizing our public education is the answer.  Whether you are talking about Charter Schools or Vouchers.  That is merely “running away” from the problems and not doing anything to fix them.

And, no the answer isn’t just more money.  The answer is to actually look at what the problems are, what is causing the problems, and then come up with solutions that will help all of our children.

You especially won’t improve education with the type of Charter Schools that DeVos helped create in Michigan where they are failing the children there.  Nor will you help public education by placing a totally unqualified person in charge of the Education Department.

As I have said before, it amazes me how Republican politicians love to talk about how public education made them what they are, yet they are so willing to destroy the very institution that made them what they are.  How can you brag about how great your public education was and then try to tear it down and make it go away?

I would think that you would prefer to make it possible for all of our children to get that “great” education that put you in office.  But, no, they would prefer to “run away” from the problem and tell you that you are the problem because you don’t believe in privatized public education.

I have gotten to the point where I feel like I am watching the movie “Search For The Holy Grail” every time I hear Republicans talking about public education.  Whenever the topic comes up, they use the same “retreat” slogan in the move.  “Run away, run away!”

I spent some time as an Adjunct Professor at a college.  I have more understanding about the learning environment that DeVos does.  I was also part of a group that tried to put together a curriculum for a degree program that could be taught at all colleges.  It is tough and difficult to say the least.

Even with those experiences, I do not believe I am qualified to be the next Secretary of Education.  But, I do know enough to know that DeVos definitely is not qualified for the post either.

Education of our children is far too important to be treated like amateur night at the Roxy.  We need serious professionals to look at our problems and come up with a solution to fix them.

We need to look at the schools themselves and determine if they are equipped properly.  We need to look at teachers to determine just what qualifications they really need.  We need to look at funding so teachers aren’t buying school supplies out of their own pockets.

Maybe we do need more funding for education.  Maybe many of the problems can be fixed in other ways.  We won’t know until we have serious discussions about the problems and work together to fix them.  DeVos has no solutions except to run away from them.

We also need politicians who understand that we are living in a global economy, and that “local control” is not necessarily the answer to our questions if we are willing to ensure our children get the education they will need to compete globally.

During her hearing DeVos said more than once that she would be “sensitive” to the issues brought up.  Sorry, I don’t want a Secretary of Education who is going to be “sensitive” to the issues.  I want someone with a serious plan to make our public education the best in the world.

Running away from the problems and lining the pockets of your friends to run schools that fail our children is not a serious solution.  As with most of Trump’s nominations for his cabinet, DeVos is not qualified for the position and should not be allowed any near the office she has been nominated to fill.

It is a simple equation.  An unqualified person cannot fix the problems they don’t even understand.  If you believe she is qualified, then the next time your plumbing backs up, call a telemarketer to fix it and see what happens.

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There are a lot of things in the world that threaten us and our very existence.  Ever since the end of WWII we have lived under the umbrella of potential nuclear destruction.  We have lived under the threat of being wiped out by another pandemic.  Human history has had plenty of cases of near extinction through pandemics.  Should a pandemic break out now, the anti-vaxers will probably be first in line for the shot to save their life.  But, when it comes to protecting their children from known diseases, “forget-about-it”.

I know there are valid medical reasons why some children don’t get vaccinated.  Sometimes allergic reactions can kill a child quicker than the disease.  Under these situations, I fully understand why a child may not be vaccinated.  That isn’t being “stupid parents” who refuse the vaccines for stupid reasons.

Through the years, man has worked extremely hard to find cures and preventions for diseases that can spread wildly and wipe us out.  We have seen the miracle of vaccines like polio, measles, mumps, and other diseases that killed our children before they grew up.

Many of these diseases were all but eliminated.  Small Pox for example was unheard of for a full generation.  Measles out breaks were unheard of for over 20 or 30 years.  That is all changing now.  The backwards slide into stupidity has run amuck.  And, no I am not going to pull any punches this time.  Not vaccinating your child against these deadly and highly infections diseases should be a crime.  At the very least it could be considered child neglect and it must stop!

This ultra-stupidity began with the bogus science that surfaced back in the 90s.  During that time, people began to cry that their children were being infected with diseases like autism because they got a vaccine.  It was then, and it still is now total bullshit!  You do not get autism because you get a vaccine!

The worst part of this bogus science is that politicians are willing to comply with spreading its lies!  We all heard Sarah Palin talking about in the 2008 elections.  We heard Michelle Bachman ramble on about this fictitious problem too.  Now we have two Republican politicians who are publicly saying vaccines should be voluntary.

This is all coming up again because of the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in California.  There are now over 100 known cases in several states all connected to the outbreak at Disneyland.  The President said that children should get their vaccines.  But, Chris Christie, while visiting a vaccine laboratory in England said there “should be some measure of choice” on whether shots should be required for children.

But even worse, Ron Paul, who is supposed to be ophthalmologist completely went off the stupid cliff.  He not only said that vaccines should be voluntary, he cited “many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

Not being satisfied with that, he went further explaining how parents own their children.  “The state doesn’t own your children,” Paul said on CNBC, praising vaccines for their health benefits but insisting that the government should not mandate their use in most cases. “Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

I really love the way Republicans use that word “freedom” like it some kind of candy.  If you believe that a rule or law must be forced on everyone who doesn’t believe what you do, like banning abortion, it is your religious freedom that allows you to force these laws on women with different religious beliefs.

But, if a rule or law say you must vaccinate your children for their protection and the greater good of the public health of the country, they say you should have the “freedom” to say you don’t want to vaccinate your children.  Worse, you believe that once you subject your children to these diseases because you refuse to protect them, they can then go ahead and potentially infect other children in schools, parks, swimming pools, or amusement parks.

That is their definition of “freedom.”  If something is good for “me”, it is called “freedom.”  If something is good for the nation, it is call “government regulation.”  In the meantime hundreds of children are being exposed to measles because some stupid parent believed the false and bogus science that was intended to scare the shit out of parents for no reason at all.

With politicians like Christie and Paul supporting this bogus science and “parental choice” more children will get sick.  Some may even die from their disease.  But, according to Senator Paul, we “own” our children.  So, if we choose to potentially kill them by not vaccinating them against disease, that is our choice and the government can’t do a thing about it.

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They should not be doing this:

When President Obama nominated Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability, many families touched by autism took it as a positive sign. Mr. Ne’eman would be the first person with the disorder to serve on the council.

But he has since become the focus of criticism from other advocates who disagree with his view that society ought to concentrate on accepting autistic people, not curing them.

A hold has been placed on Mr. Ne’eman’s nomination, which requires Senate confirmation. Whether the hold is related to the criticism of Mr. Ne’eman (pronounced NAY-men) and what it might take to lift it is unclear.

… “Why people have gotten upset is, he doesn’t seem to represent, understand or have great sympathy for all the people who are truly, deeply affected in a way that he isn’t,” said Jonathan Shestack, a co-founder of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, whose mission is to help finance research to find a cure.

Now, keep in mind that the hold may not be the fault of Autism Speaks.  The GOP is in full-blown temper tantrum mode and has blocked nominees for much more critical roles for no apparent reason since the beginning of the Obama Administration.  However, it is clear that Autism Speaks is actively trying to prevent Mr. Ne’eman from taking his seat largely because of policy differences about the way to spend limited money on Autism research.  Normally, I would be fine with that.  In fact, I think Mr. Ne’eman has a disturbing disregard for the value of basic research:

Mr. Ne’eman declined to be interviewed, citing the pending action on his nomination. But in previous interviews with The New York Times and other publications, he has argued that those most severely affected by autism are the ones who benefit least from the pursuit of a cure, which he suggests is unattainable anytime soon. Instead, he says, resources should be devoted to accommodations and services that could improve their quality of life.

Historically, the kind of genetic research supported by many parents of children with autism, Mr. Ne’eman has said, has been used to create prenatal tests that give parents the ability to detect a fetus affected by a particular condition, like Down syndrome, so that they can choose whether to terminate the pregnancy.

“We just think it makes more sense to orient research to addressing health problems or helping people communicate rather than creating a mouse model of autism or finding a new gene,” Mr. Ne’eman has said.

That attitude is the surest way to prevent a cure that I can think of.  But the problem is that Mr. Ne’eman will have no influence on how research money is spent.  The mission of the National Council on Disability is entirely about helping disabled people get accommodations in the everyday world.  From their website:

The purpose of NCD is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, and that empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

To carry out this mandate we gather public and stakeholder input, including comments that are received at our public meetings held around the country; review and evaluate federal programs and legislation; and provide the President, Congress and federal agencies with advice and recommendations.

NCD is proud that, with the input of people with disabilities and stakeholders from around the country, we have played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 as a result of its 1986 report entitled Towards Independence(http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/1986/toward.htm). Since that time, NCD has been a valuable contributor to the development of successful disability policies in many arenas.

The job, then, is an advisory position in the field of disability accommodation.  It has no way to funnel research funds and, in fact, it has nothing to do with establishing research priorities.  Its sole purpose is to help Congress and the President understand issues of access and accommodation from the standpoint of people with disabilities.  Mr. Ne’eman is extremely well qualified for that role:

He founded his self-advocacy organization, which has grown to have several chapters across the country, in 2006, and he served on New Jersey’s Special Education Review Commission, where he wrote a report calling for legislative action to end the use of aversives, restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities.

Mr. Ne’eman would be the first person on the spectrum to sit on the board.  He is well qualified for the role and would bring some much-needed awareness of autism specific challenges and yet Autism Speaks opposes him?  Why?  At best, over a disagreement in an area completely unrelated to and unaffected by the Board.  At worst, it is a display of raw power, meant to keep  an opponent of Autism Speaks (Mr. Ne’eman once objected to a terrible fundraising video Autism Speaks put out) out of a position of influence and to remind other opponents that they had better toe the Autism Speaks line.  Either way, Autism Speaks is doing a disservice to the community it claims to represent.

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