TUSD Loses a Litany of Special Education Suits; Revamps Department

TUSD logoLast Monday, the TUSD School Board approved a restructuring of its Special Education Department. To justify the move, Chief Academic Officer Dr. Stowe, cited impacts due to increased litigation as more parents of special needs children have resorted to suing the District in order to obtain legally required services.

Board Member Don Lee lauded the restructuring saying via telephone, “I think it’s as good a thing as I’ve seen us do in awhile.” Lee also cautioned that, “If we don’t provide the right level of service for special needs kids, then it ends up costing more money in the long run.”

Lee might have been referring to a litany of special education lawsuits filed against the District as not providing that right level of service has cost the District hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs and attorney fees over the last few years. Special Education law allows for parents to recover attorney fees if they prevail in a dispute. TUSD Board meeting records show that occurred in at least thirty-four instances over the past two years. As a result of this litigation, the District was forced to pay approximately $561,249 to the lawyers of the prevailing parents.

Board meeting notes also reference 41 instances over that same two year period where mediated settlements led to the parents obtaining increased services for their children such as tutoring, counseling, transportation, and evaluations. The total dollar amount provided for those services was approximately $376,887. How much the District has paid their attorney’s to fight the litigation and prevent the special needs children from obtaining the desired services was not included in the Board agenda items.

As a result of the restructure, the District will expand the Special Education Department by adding a Director position, four Coordinators, a Legal Administrative Assistant, and a Staff Secretary. The total costs for the increased staff is $867,000 a year.

Board Member Terry Ragins questioned the hiring of so many administrators versus working level employees by stating, “It looks like we have administrator, on top of administrator, on top of administator…” She would later comment:

“That’s a lot of Coordinators and Directors and not too many people with feet on the ground working directly with the students … For that same price we could get a bunch of teachers.”

To that Board Member Mark Steffen offered, “It is a lot of money. It looks very top heavy, but I’m with Mr. Lee. It should help us reduce the amount of litigation and keep people happy.”

Board Member Michael Wermers concluded the discussion by acknowledging the same concern when he said, “I agree with Ms. Ragins that we could use some more boots on the ground, but our budget precludes that so I think this is a very good move.”

Despite the expressed misgivings about the restructuring, the Board approved the motion by unanimous vote.

41 comments

  • Charlotte

    So we respond to legal costs and services over 2 years of $930,000 by spending $867,000 every year. Hmn?

  • THIS IS BULLSHIT. HOW ABOUT HIRING TEACHERS QUALIFIED TO TEACH GIFTED CHILDREN!

    • Anonymous

      What’s BS? Hiring teachers qualified to teach special needs kids? Or, spending money on administrators who don’t work directly with children? Kids with speech delay (etc.) deserve quality education and opportunities just like their gifted counterparts–and many gifted children can also receive services in special education. I don’t appreciate the implication of your comment. Sounds elitist.

  • Anonymous

    How about hiring more teachers, and reducing class sizes, so that all children can get the attention they need!

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous 2 – All ideas are great, but no one wants to pay for anything.

  • Anonymous

    How about hiring more teachers and stopping combination classes, where teachers are teaching 2 grade levels but being paid for one!!

  • Anonymous

    Why don’t we stop giving in to parents who are in denial that have advocates that are in more denial and start saying NO!!!!!

    • Anonymous

      Parents of special needs children are not in denial, if they were, then they would not request more services for their kids. It is the school district that tested these children and labeled them special. The district is in denial of needing more teachers and service providers for these children and that includes normal functioning kids. The district does say NO all the time and that is why it forces parents to hire advocates just to get a little more time for services. Hiring more admistrators and a secretary, how does that help the children?

      • Anonymous

        Wow that just proved it!!!

        • Steve

          Wow…first “Anonymous”…you are a complete idiot. Special needs children deserve and are legally entitled to a good education. The parents of those special needs students pay property taxes, income taxes, etc. — hopefully just like you. The bottom line is that minimum standards are NOT being met and the parents are prevailing in a court of law due to the substandard education that their children are being provided. I hope that none of your children, grandchildren, etc. are born with special needs and need to rely on the current system in place. Wake up!

      • Anonymous

        I believe a coordinator or two can help organize and structure services, but without enough service providers, IEP’s cannot always be followed as written and current staff members are burdened with providing adequate services and forced to attend multiple meetings because of understaffing!! That increases the risk of mistakes happening and he person working directly with the child gets the blame and the District loses money!!! Much of these law suits would never happen if the schools had proper staffing!!!

    • Anon

      How about you keep quiet and let people think you’re an idiot, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt. You clearly do not know of what you speak, so hush up when grown folks are talking.

  • Yes let’s just spend a bunch of money on hiring more and more chiefs and disregard the onboarding of more teachers and infrastructure to actually alleviate the plethora of lawsuits that will continue to increase along with the bureaucracy that prompts such lawsuits in the first place.

    You can’t make this stuff up. Stupid is as stupid does.

  • decline to state

    For years the only way many parents of special needs children could get their IEP needs met has been to sue the district. It’s the only thing that to TUSD seems to listen to. Sad but true. I retired from Torrance unified as a teacher.

    • During the meeting, Board Member Don Lee said that providing services for special needs children “is one of those things you do because it’s the right thing to do.” If what you say is true Decline to State, then I find it very sad that the District will only do the right thing after being forced to do so through legal action.

      • Anonymous

        Decline to state is correct…I am in education and most school districts give the minimum of services to their Special Education students. As the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” which is unfortunate for all parties involved.

  • Clare

    Now they will be structured like PVPUSD….top heavy with a bunch of admins that sit around doing nothing all day and no more teachers/therapists available to work with students. Huge mistake. Invest in your behavior team, speech, OT, and Special Ed staff. If not, you will have the same legal and compliance issues (again, like PV) plus the huge admin costs.

    • Anonymous

      So true, Clare. PVPUSD used to be the best district in LA and Orange Counties, and since the administration changed, the most incompetent people have been given administrative positions leading to increased litigation there. The previous Director of Pupil Services strived to meet the students’ needs INSTEAD of paying attorneys’ fees. She was very successful. During that time TUSD was known as the worst district in LA and Orange Counties, probably because the attorney that represented the District at the time insisted on taking every case to due process and dragging out the litigation as far as she could. The last and current TUSD Directors of Special Education were willing to listen to parents, at least. I cannot fathom any reason for spending so much on a disproportionate administration for a single department other than to avoid providing the services afforded by law to special needs students. The huge amount of money used to pay administrative salaries will have to be deducted from somewhere – most likely from student services, thus increasing litigation yet again. Note that the article could not articulate how the increased spending on administration would reduce litigation. The District’s attorneys will get richer as the District continues to be noncompliant with special education laws, which perpetuates the need for parents to hire advocates and attorneys.

      • Yes, sadly it appears the District’s attorneys are the big winners in all of this as they continue to get paid hefty sums to fight these cases. Sounds like a great deal for those attorneys as it appears the District doesn’t care much whether they win or lose.

      • Anonymous

        The last two Directors of Special Ed did not work with parents. One of them bragged at a staff meeting that she was proud she had filed Due Process on more parents than parents had filed on the District. It was clear that both of these Directors had a mindset to refuse services and take the risk of spending more money on litigation. Clearly this strategy caught up with the District and now the litigation bills outweigh what the costs would have been to comply with the law and provide a free and appropriate education.

        So many solutions could be found if the parents and the District worked together instead of playing these legal games.

  • Anonymous

    I mean there should also be more qualified teachers and teachers aids for special education therefore the infrastructure of education would be more solid. The needs of the parents requesting the minimum for the child can be meet. Administration is important keep the follow of the workforce competitive and fair. I do not agree need to hire more administration there is plenty.

  • Roberta O'Toole- Monson

    Please allow me to begin by apologizing to whom I may offend, I feel that I must speak to this subject as a parent of a “special needs child” I find nothing that makes her more special than my two typical children and believe we should not act as if there is, when my typical children struggled with subject material different from their peers I as a parent hired and compensated the tutor to assist them in succeeding, and am proud they have become responsible adults one of which works in “special ed “as I also did.They both spent alot of their childhood looking after their sister and I am sure often wondered when would it be about them? Now that they are adults working,paying bills and experiencing heartbreak their sibling never will, because she will always be cared for without personal responsibility and while she was partially included in school as an adult she goes to a program with others like her, the inclusion does not continue into adulthood as the those who included her are now paying bills and raising their own families you can’t change what will be and while I do believe all are entitled to the best education they can receive it does not include bringing litigation to the very public education you requested for your child, step into a non special ed classroom you will find one adult to 35 students some of which are falling behind with no recourse ,yet will still be expected to grow up and assume responsibility maybe we should give some consideration to these children as well.

  • Anonymous

    I work in Sp. Ed. We don’t need more administrators! We need teachers, Para-Educators, and specialist (speech, OT, behavioralist) so we can be in compliance with the IEP’S. It’s so simple, it’s silly! Administrators just keep piling more work on already over worked staff. Come on…there is ONE middle school for ALL the Special Day in the district… REALLY? How can we do our job effectively if we are spead so thinly between students? Spend the money where it is needed… and it’s not needed paying a bunch of chiefs while the few AMAZING indians, that there are are fighting the battles, are not getting the help or support they need!

    • Anonymous

      *that are fighting…

    • I think the time has come for a recall of the TUSD Board – They’ve demonstrated their extreme incompetence too many times already – let this be the last time!

    • Fuck TUSD

      That is so true. Paraeducators get stuck with too many students each, and instead of being paid a full day 7 or 8 hours, get staggered start times so one can follow the students needs. So they wont have to pay benefits. We also get shit on by admin and their secretaries alike because we “dont have a credential” . Very abusive admin that dont support us, that keep us walking on eggshells, instead of giving us tools and support we need to help the students directly.

  • Anonymous

    This is just another way to piss away money, if not on construction then on administration!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    I too am a special ed teacher in tusd. I agree that the last thing we need is more administrators. Give us some more teachers, paraeducators, and specialized DIS providers. We are spread so thin and paperwork is multiplying. I can’t wait to get out! What a shame, I always wanted to teach and special ed was my calling but now it’s just too obvious that nobody really cares about the little guy in the trenches. The kids lose in the long run.

  • Anonymous

    Really this is just a “cover or butts” move. Rather than lawyers they are going to hire more school administrators who’s job description will simply be to make these people happy. They need to address the issue, the people in the trenches doing the work. Get them more training and more support. Do simply dump money into overly paid yes men. The era of Torrance’s education being amongst the best in the state is long gone and it is because to decisions like these.

    • Anonymous

      You can only do what’s wrong for a period of time before everything blows up. Well, now everything is being made known to the public. Those working in the trenches still aren’t going to get the help that is needed. More administrators is not what is needed. Those that work directly with the children need help. Board members, I hope you are reading all these comments, as when people try to tell you what is really needed, you and others just turn a blind eye. The old saying, If you don’t see it or hear it, then it isn’t happening. Well, now you hear and see it but you still can’t to what is right. How much more $$$$ are you going to waste. Just do the right thing the first time around!!!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve read through the board decision and the comments and would like to address some of them.
    The board decision basically says the district lawyers are unable or are inadequate to deal with this type of litigation. So why are we adding instead of replacing?
    In addition the construction happening in the district is decades overdue. Companies with a budget like tusd don’t use 50 year old restrooms, asbestos flooring etc. It’s disgusting.
    Finally WHAT IS WRONG WITH BEING PRO-ACTIVE? This is what good business is all about.
    Agreed the children who can’t speak for themselves are the big losers, but the special education staff, who spends their energy to try to serve in this field lose as well. Give them the time needed to properly treat and address their needs instead of being buried in paperwork.
    Isn’t education of any kind supposed to be about the students not the beauracracy?
    Time to listen to educators of all types.
    Set it up for success.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is time for tusd to do house cleaning of these administrators. Gifted and normal learning kids are the ones that get hosed over these kinds of deals.

  • Concerned parent

    We had the chance to do some house cleaning last November, however tusd teachers and parents widely voted for the status quo. Time to face the music.

  • Anonymous

    I work for TUSD, in the Special Education dept. I have been saying, for many years, that we need more training for the Paras who work one to one with our students, all day, in the classroom. Some Paras in the district, have no clue how to work with our students, and are thrown into complicated situations. They are then left “hanging to dry”, after a parent starts complaining. The district has not addressed this problem!! Hiring more upper level people won’t help in the classroom!

    • Thank you for commenting. I especially appreciate hearing the perspective of folks like you and others that work for the District who have had the courage to share their unique perspective in this forum.

    • Anonymous

      As a parent I agree with this! The Paras will tell you that they get ZERO training and if the parents try to educate them on their child’s disabilities the Para gets reprimanded for taliking too much with the parents.

      • Fuck TUSD

        Thats correct. Paras cant talk to parents of the student they are assigned to. Kids arent getting what they need. All communication has to go through admin. When I advocated that the student I was working with desperately needs ELD (esl) for two years I was ignored, then finally transferred. This student is 16 and doesnt know the word ” bridge” in English. Congrats TUSD on about to graduate a student who doesnt have a 2nd grade reading level and can barely understand English. Admin sucks. Hurting kids and out community.

  • A Concerned Parent

    This is exactly why we have to spend so much money on attorneys and out of pocket services for our child to get our child a basic education. Adding more administrators will only increase the problem. That will not change internal policies of the TUSD administration and their mistreatment of special education students. It appears that our frustrations will only get worse. If they wish to effectively restructure the Special Education Department they should replace the entire administration with ones who give a damn about educating our children; they should also replace Superintendent with one who cares about the well being of the students. Perhaps stepping down would be the best action the TUSD School Board could take.

  • Linda Chan Rapp

    My gifted son was welcomed to the district, and got an excellent education at Torrance West. However I chose to home-school my daughter who has Down syndrome because I wanted to avoid the school district special ed machine.

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