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Arizona Family Rights Project

CHILD’S EDUCATION Families often times encounter a dispute with CPS over the child’s education. Failure to attend to a child’s educational needs is a recognized form of neglect. However, today the alleged neglect is based upon the method of education being used to educate the child and the disagreement comes because CPS does not want to recognize the parental rights of choice with regard to education. Home schooling is often one of the allegations brought against against a parent, which currently results in a CPS report/complaint and home visit, if not more. Education is important, and in Arizona parents have the right to choose the type of schooling they wish to provide for their children, whether it is public school, school, private school, charter school, on-line on schooling, or home schooling. Parents have the responsibility to send their children to school. When parents fail to provide any means of schooling to their child, then CPS has an obligation to step in to remedy the situation. If schooling is so important in the home, resulting in reports against parents, why it is no longer important once the child is removed from the family and placed in foster care? Statistics show that foster children are more at risk: risk •

In a Washington State study, foster care students scored 16 to 20 percentile points below others in standardized tests.

36% of foster care alumni interviewed had repeated a grade.

In a national study it was found that foster care youth are twice as likely to drop out of high school.

Only about 3% of foster care youth obtain a bachelor’s degree within a few years of graduation.1

This transitions into all aspects of their life. Education is extremely important to our family also. With a family history of learning learn disabilities we fully understand how a minor disruption in education can quickly become a major problem in a child’s education. We were appalled at the disregard of the children’s education once CPS removed the children. Keep in mind that at the initial al Team Decision Making meeting meeting,, the parents and grandparents all expressed a concern about the children’s educational needs and the fact that all school school-aged children have an IEP in place. The oldest child was transitioning to a 504 plan. The pre-school pre aged children were all in the process of being screened for special education services by request of the parents. __________________ 1

Technical Assistance Brief: Asking the Right Questions Questio II: Judicial Checklists to Meet eet the Educational Needs of Children and Youth in Foster er Care, by NCJFCJ, Dec 2008

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CHILD’S EDUCATION We have been involved with special education services since 1985. We have been actively involved in obtaining the best education we could with appropriate services for our children, and then our grandchildren. We understand the disabilities the children have and are the most knowledgeable about what works and doesn’t work with our children. Yet our concerns and input were completely ignored by CPS. The result was that the children’s education suffered. Further, even when the family was invited to participate in IEP meetings, school officials did not want to accept information from the parent or family because of the CPS involvement. The perception was that since CPS was involved the parent really didn’t understand the child’s educational needs. They would often defer to the CPS case worker who had no knowledge about the child’s learning disability. Even when the education specialist was assigned to the mother, the schools still continued to question input from the family. When current educational law was provided to the schools by the educational specialist, the schools still resisted and often times ignored the state statutes. In our family’s case: •

It took 5 weeks after removal for the freshman child to be enrolled and finally be able to attend school. Then it was for only 1 day prior to another week off due to fall break. We were given the excuse that “he was on a waiting list” for public school. This child also has had an IEP since pre-school. The current IEP that was written prior to removal by CPS was not being followed in his new school. The accommodations were not being made. It took 5 months after the removal of this child to obtain an IEP meeting with the school. This was the first time his education needs, the IEP and his accommodations were addressed. Later in the case when CPS wanted to change his placement, the family once again voiced a strong concern over his educational needs, especially due to the disruption at the beginning of the case, which was also the beginning of the school year. The family wanted to avoid another disruption in his education, believing his educational needs were more important than his placement in a foster home vs. a group home. The family had been traveling from Phoenix to Casa Grande for his services and meetings, but was willing to continue that until the end of the school year to preserve his educational stability. The judge decided against the education and he was moved. This child was then arrested and put into detention as a result of allegations made in this new foster home. Once again his education was completely disrupted and he lost ALL of the work he had done in school from January through April, all work for the 2nd semester of school, receiving no high school credit. This put him a year behind in school, putting him at risk to become a high school dropout. Education while in detention, especially for a special education student, is almost nonexistent. So 6 months in detention put him even further behind. For 1 ½ semesters of high school attendance, he received a mere 5.25 credits, all because of CPS involvement.

The other children faced similar, but not quite as severe, educational issues. IEP’s were ignored, even though they had been provided to CPS by the parents. IEP meetings were not scheduled, with the earliest meeting being held 3 ½ months after the children were removed from the home. It is customary to hold an IEP meeting within 30 days of enrollment in a new school just to review the IEP and make any necessary adjustments. Obviously that wasn’t being done.

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IEP’s were most often completely ignored. In fact for one of the children the IEP the new school created was blank! They did not include the parent or CPS in this IEP meeting, only the group home, who did not have educational rights over the child.

One of the other children experienced issues with enrollment, changed schools often at the beginning of the case, and missed considerable days of school.

The pre-school screening for the children was completely ignored and never materialized while in CPS custody. No efforts were even made to complete these screenings. One of these children was supposed to start kindergarten this fall, but due to his birthday being the day of the cutoff, and the trauma of the CPS involved, it was recommended by his therapist that the family delay his enrollment into school for another year.

The oldest child was supposed to transition from an IEP to a 504 plan. That transition meeting was to be held in the fall of that child’s junior year. Due to the removal of the children, that meeting never took place. Although the mother asked throughout the case of the status of this child’s education, and if the 504 was even in place, we found nothing had been done while in CPS custody to address the educational issues. The 504 transition plan was never completed.

Children are taken out of school far too often for therapy sessions, doctor and dental appointments, evaluations, CFT meetings and other services due to CPS involvement. Even though the family tried to minimize the impact on school attendance, CPS, foster families and other agencies involved with the case tried to disregard school attendance in planning appointments and meetings. In one of the group homes, they scheduled several appointments at the same time for children at the same location. This resulted in ALL children having to wait until everyone was seen before they could return back to the group home and return to school. In many cases a half hour appointment turned in to a half day outing for the entire group of children, or an entire day of school missed. Another group home took all the children to appointments regardless of who had the appointment. Because they did not have enough staff, everyone went everywhere. This also resulted in unnecessary time off school.

All of the children’s extra-curricular activities or special interests were ignored until the parent and family was permitted to become involved in the children’s education. Many of these children were involved in band, and those classes were not provided while in foster care until the family insisted they be considered as part of the child’s education.

The ONLY reason the children’s education was not completely destroyed was because the family was finally able to step in and get the services as identified by the IEP. Had the family not been involved with the children’s education, IEPs would have been ignored, children would not have obtained the services required, and many of the children would likely have been held back a grade in school, creating additional problems.

The attitude of the CPS agency in education, including the schools, was to do the very least possible. Anyone who has had to obtain services through the public education system for any special education needs knows that you must take an active role in the child’s education and absolutely must fight the system or the schools will take the course of least resistance and the one where they invest the least time and money.

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CHILD’S EDUCATION Recommendations: •

Parental rights in education should remain with the biological parents, especially when the child has already been identified as special education with an IEP in place. These parents have the most knowledge about their child’s educational needs and this information should never be ignored or dismissed. This must also apply to any pre-school aged children in the family not currently enrolled in school. If the parent’s educational rights are terminated or suspended because of CPS involvement, the child’s education will be put at great risk and could do even more damage to the child with long lasting effects.

It must be made clear to the CPS case workers as well as school administrators that the parental educational rights have not been terminated or suspended.

Educational rights should never be suspended just because the state is going for severance of parental rights. There is no guarantee what the outcome of the case will be.

The case plan for reunification often contains goals for the parent to show that they can advocate for their child’s educational needs. If the courts remove educational rights from the parents, then the schools will not take the parent seriously, and therefore it will undermine the parent’s ability to prove they can meet this goal.

School records should be accepted from parents to enroll the children. IEP, 504 plans, and school psychological evaluations for special education services should also be accepted from parents in order to facilitate getting proper services for the child. This can be followed up to obtain official records from the previous school, but a delay in obtaining official records should never be a reason to keep a child out of school or failure to provide special education services.

“Quality of education” for home schooled children should not result in the removal of children from families. It should be up to the state’s Department of Education to determine what constitutes quality of education, and if the education meets the state standards then CPS cannot use that against parents in order to remove children. If educational “quality” is an issue by Department of Education standards, then services, recommendations, and even court orders if necessary should be made to remedy the quality of education concerns.

Foster parents or group homes who fail to enroll the child immediately in school should be subject to disciplinary measures, including the termination of their foster license.

Special care needs to be given to protect the child’s education. We did not see this happening. Protections must be in place to prohibit CPS from using their abuse of power to also terminate the parent’s educational rights. We recommend reviewing the “Technical Assistance Brief, Asking the Right Questions II: Judicial Checklists to Meet the Educational Needs of Children and Youth in Foster Care” put out by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, December 2008. It has many safeguards that should be considered when children are in foster care and how to ensure they receive a proper education. Arizona Family Rights Project

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