The State of Special Education, Part 3




Your comments, your stories, your fears and worries are flooding my inbox…and what I am reading is making me angry. What I am consistently hearing is:

  1. I’m afraid to speak openly about the issues I’m having with my child’s education.
  2. The Huntsville City School administration and board either don’t have policies in place or they don’t enforce those policies with any consistency.
  3. My child’s civil rights are being violated but I’m powerless to do anything about this.

Saying that a child’s civil rights are being violated is serious business. Unfortunately, it’s what I’m hearing over and over. In less than 24 hours, I received 203 messages from you…113 of the messages came from people who reported that they were either parents or teachers…and what resonated in each of them was that we are not treating children with special needs fairly in our school system.

Wikipedia says:

“Civil rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression. Civil rights include protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, national origin, color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability.”

When I compare this definition with the stories I’m hearing, it sure sounds like the Huntsville City School administrators and school board have created a system that is violating the civil rights of the 2,800 children who attend our schools. Many of the messages I received asked me for a “Call to Action” or a “Next Step” but I’m not quite there yet. I’m going to share some of the stories I’ve been hearing with you and hope that your feedback will help me formulate that action item that we can all rally around.




I promised to protect the identity of anyone who left me a comment or sent me a message. It is interesting to me that 112 of the 113 parents and teachers who contacted me asked that I not identify them. What do people fear? Reprisals against their vulnerable children or push back from the school administration or further cuts to special education are on the top of the list.

Please read the comments that were posted directly on this blog. Here are some of the ones I received privately…send me your comments so we can figure out what a “Next Step” would look like.

Reader 1: “I’ve kept quiet as long because I’m a teacher in the Huntsville City Schools and honestly, I’m afraid of our superintendent. Other teachers I know feel the same way. We lost so many experienced and gifted teachers since he came here because they would rather give up their jobs than work for a man who shows such callous disregard for what’s best for our students. People are only focusing on the success he’s had with the budget but at whose expense? The children…especially the kids in special education. HCS is violating the rights of kids with special needs and parents have no option but to go along with it. I think a class action suit is the solution.”

Reader 2: “My child’s aide confided to me that she was told by the school that she was not to communicate anything with me…at all. She was not to tell me what happened in my child’s day, what my child ate for lunch, what my child did in OT or PT, how my child performed academically…she was not to tell me anything at all about what my child did in school. Of course, the aide continues to report what my child does each day.”

Reader 3: “Pulling children with special needs out of every school to house them in only two or three schools is illegal. First, it’s a shame because ‘typical’ students who are exposed to children with special needs learn great life lessons early on that help society later in life. The benefits of children learning and working together side by side as ‘typical’ students and ‘special education’ students is unilaterally beneficial. More importantly, however, segregating the special education population from peers is illegal. You cannot round up all the Muslims and put them in one of 2 or 3 schools. You cannot round up all the students who are on the free school breakfast and lunch programs and put them all into only 2 or 3 schools. The law does not allow rounding up any minority and placing them all into 2 or 3 schools only. Segregating special education students this way is federally prohibited.”

Reader 4: “My child’s school has been without an OT for most of the school year. The OT left and wasn’t replaced. When I ask about a replacement, I’m told that one will be hired as soon as the money is available and that it will be my responsibility to make up the OT sessions on my own, even though our IEP mandates OT as part of my child’s academic day.”

Reader 5: “My child was born in Huntsville and went to school in the city system through third grade until we were transferred last year to another state. I didn’t know there was another way to educate my child but he is now in a regular classroom with his typical peers and is thriving. In Huntsville, he was put in the resource classroom and I didn’t know I had any other options.”

Reader 6: “My child was put into the resource classroom for kindergarten. I asked why and they said it was because his IQ was lower than 59. He was never given an IQ test so I don’t know how they know what his IQ is but since he has Down syndrome, I didn’t question them.”

Reader 7: “I’ve sued the system and was able to get my child in our neighborhood school. The terms of our settlement prevent me from speaking about it so I can’t share information with other parents on how to get what they deserve. The school’s administration likes for us to sue them because then we can’t talk, they only have to redress a problem with one family and can go about business as usual. I guess other parents either don’t know their rights, don’t know they can sue or afraid to but it’s the only thing that works. It keeps everyone in the dark and keeps one family satisfied. Once we get what our child needs, we are afraid to tell other families because then they might take away our services next year and make us sue them all over again. It is exhausting.”


Please continue to share your experiences with me.  You can reach me at  I promise to protect your anonymity.

10 thoughts on “The State of Special Education, Part 3

  1. Class action and fire the superintendent. Huntsville stop remodeling the downtown and building hotel rooms and invest in your schools!

  2. We took Cami out of Huntsville City Schools because she was not only NOT progressing, but there was just nothing available within Huntsville City School policies that fit her needs. I remember telling people “Yeh, ‘No Child Left Behind’ –except mine.” Our situation is somewhat unique in that we only have very vague diagnoses, but that shouldn’t mean that my child cannot receive services and educational opportunities that will best enable her to reach her potential–whatever that is. I realize that not everyone can do what we have done, but we have also sacrificed to do put her in a private school that specializes in teaching children with disabilities. She was in Huntsville City Schools for 4 years K-3 (she repeated kindergarten) and she was ALMOST on a kindergarten reading level. Since starting at Huntsville Achievement School, she has gone up a reading level each year and is now reading on a 4th grade reading level. We didn’t have the time to fight the system, because each month, we were falling further behind. There is more to our story with Huntsville City School System, but I do not EVER plan on putting her back into a city school! We will sacrifice whatever we need to to keep her where she is.

  3. Hi, I am the non of a special needs child. My child was educated in two different states due to being a military dependant. One school system was great and one was terrible. My heart is with these parents and children. Is there anything I can do to help?

  4. Well done Debra ! If we as a community can understand and view what is happening to the special needs community as a civil rights issue, than perhaps more people will get involved and the “system” will accommodate. It saddens me that so many parents are in fear of speaking up. The law is most certainly on their side. Lets not also forget that these policies extend to other districts. Despite some accolades that Madison city receives, they still “require” their students with special needs who are in a “self-contained classroom” to rotate every 2 years during their elementary school years and when they reach high school they can only attend James Clemens High School even if zoned for Bob Jones. How are these children to create lasting friendships if they are never in a school for very long? To your point earlier: if we chose a minority to implement this policy we would all agree what a violation of civil rights, yet this can be done to our children with special needs? I hope your blog will become a lightening rod for a call to action and not another forum where we sit behind our computers and get angry or sad and then move on. I pray your blog will lead to sustainable change. You have my full support.

  5. I agree with Sharon, class action and administration change is needed. This guy has no compassion for our children. He’s a money guy, devoid of feelings. His only concern is the bottom line. We moved here from Montgomery county Tennessee and were more than pleased with the effort that Clarksville/Montgomery County schools put on special education. I’ve often felt like I made a huge mistake in coming here because this school system makes you fight for EVERYTHING you get. I will ensure that I let everyone I know with a special needs child know about this blog.

  6. Kudos to you Debra! Awareness and Education must be spread! I have to ‘ditto’ what J. Lee said from above on ALL accounts. If the area school systems were segregating other minorities, besides our children w special needs, there would be rioting in the streets, national media coverage, and most probably a statement from the President himself (as it all should be b/c no one should be discriminated against). AND NEITHER SHOULD OUR CHILDREN! Sadly our children are not only being segregated into just a few schools but then within the schools themselves! Every time a parent sits down at an IEP meeting, their child is again being denied their rights when their parents are not presented w ALL educational options for their child including the option of Mainstreaming and INCLUSION. The law states schools are required to educate children w disabilities in the general education classroom w children who are not disabled to the maximum extent possible. This is NOT happening in area schools. Some parents may not be comfortable w full inclusion or mainstreaming their child but don’t YOU want to be the one to decide that for your child NOT someone else. The law also states that your child has a right to supplementary aides, services and supports in that general ed classroom (to help them function and be successful in that classroom environment). For example, an adapted curriculum, classroom aide, sitting at the front of the classroom, worksheets w larger printed text etc (these are examples made up by me not mandated by the government!).
    Despite the brokeness in the Special Education System, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of great teachers and therapists still out there that do care for the children and are trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
    I hope your ‘Call to Action’ is a Universal one as Huntsville City Schools is not the only broken system. Madison City Schools is just as broken, they also segregate their children and even worse, in elementary school they shuffle them around every two years to different schools.
    If we all ban together….we can accomplish something!

      • Yes!!! I am going to schedule an open forum discussion to be held at Merrimack Hall…just haven’t been able to slow down enough to get it on the calendar, as we have several pre-planned events here. Looking at the beginning of June…one meeting won’t do it but it will at least start a dialogue! Also want to invite an attorney or two to join in the conversation!

      • Debra have you found the time for get all of us together? I really want to put the full court press on HSV City Schools. We have to collectively push to make them do what the need to do. Amy Sledge and the crew must be held accountable!!! Looking forward to hearing back from you

  7. We moved here from Hoover several years ago. Back in Hoover we (parents) were welcome members of the ‘team’ looking for ways to help Maria learn. As such we were welcome in the classroom and contributed not only with more informed homework help, but also helped develop appropriate accommodations from PE to science experiments.

    The first year in Huntsville was ok, but that was before the cuts. We were not welcome in the schools but persistence paid off with one observation day. There were 2 inclusion special ed teachers with about 12-14 students each. They worked hard, talked to us and tried to provide the education called for in the IEP.

    But the next year the cuts hit. Only one inclusion teacher with well over 20 students. Ever try to read 20 IEPs? Remember the details of them? Quality of education we downhill immediately. We offered to help by volunteering in the school to produce specialized handouts, purchase materials, develop accommodations, etc…

    Everything in the IEP required a fight. Never did we have an IEP meeting of less than an hour, and several times we refused to sign and demanded a revision. Not that we were asking for something big or expensive – just what was appropriate for our daughter. But the IEP is the easy fight. The hardest part was getting the conditions of the IEP followed. We discovered that general ed teachers barely see the IEP and do not have a copy so they dont know what they are supposed to do. And, sadly, often do not follow even simple accommodations.

    One example – we fought hard to get Maria’s typing class adapted so that the letters she typed would be ‘said’ to her as she typed them since she could not easily see the monitor (existing program, already on license to the district, cost = $0). The general ed teacher did not like Maria having something special and one day – after we *again* demanded that the system be used the teacher told Maria “I dont understand why you need this anyway!”… um, maybe because she is legally blind with no usable peripheral vision?

    PE was a joke, with Maria constantly either sidelined or no accommodation made and some sports were even physically dangerous for her but the PE teachers did not want to talk to us about accommodations.

    Preparing to move up to Grissom we met the inclusion special ed teachers. Both seemed very nice but were clearly overworked with a huge classload. Other special ed parents told us that their child might go weeks without seeing their inclusion teacher. And the vice-principal made it clear that she wanted Maria moved to the alternate diploma – where they would not have to worry about actually TEACHING her anything. So we found a home school group and have been much happier.

    This is a very sad situation. We have the resources here to provide outstanding education for ALL the students in Huntsville. We have motivated parents who would gladly work together with the school to create innovative solutions. But the superintendent and much of the administration just doesn’t care. They prefer to box the special education students up and put the out of the way as cheaply as they can.

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