The school year hasn’t even started yet and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest school district in the country, has already hit the ground running with illegalities left and right, not the least of which is the systemic policy issue that I’m focusing on in today’s post. It’s hardly the only violation, but its a systemic one that stands to continue hurting a lot of children with disabilities, particularly our kiddos on the autism spectrum.
What I’m about to tell you would sound far-fetched if it was not for the fact that the United States is currently engaged in a soft civil war in which right-wing extremists are attempting to change us from a democratic republic to a ethno-religious dictatorship. The evidence indicates these decades-long plans were started at the local level in city councils, school districts, and various county agencies, then percolated upward into our federal agencies before culminating in the January 6, 2021 insurrection against our democratic republic.
The reality is that I’ve been dealing with these kinds of behaviors from local education agencies for the last 31 years, and there is no end in sight for many families in local education agencies as large as LAUSD. It’s the Titanic, it’s been on a direct course for an iceberg for decades, and it will collapse and sink under its own weight before too much longer at the rate it’s currently going.
This is particularly the case as the pro-democracy backlash to recent fascist efforts to overthrow our system of government is gaining momentum as more and more high-ranking fascist individuals at the federal level face the consequences of their actions with the J6 Hearings and related Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations. When the example is finally set at the national level and all of those responsible for J6 are either behind bars or being pursued by the feds and Interpol after fleeing the country, the trickle-down of legal consequences to State and local government agencies that have been engaging in fascist practices all this time will be severe.
But, we’re not there, yet. The only way to really get there is to make public what the heck is really going on so that taxpaying registered voters in Los Angeles can make informed decisions about the people they entrust with the responsibility of educating their children, particularly their children with disabilities. So, let me get into the actual issue to which I want to call immediate attention, that being LAUSD’s unlawful and unethical method of conducting Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs), which it has implemented as a policy, district-wide, according to District personnel.
Title 34, Code of the Federal Regulations (34 CFR) Section 300.304 describes the parameters for how special education assessments are supposed to be conducted. 34 CFR Sec. 300.320(a)(4) mandates the application of the peer-reviewed research to the design and delivery of special education, which includes the assessment process. Taken together, these laws require that competent assessors acting within the scope of their qualifications conduct assessments according to the professional standards that apply to each of the various types of assessments being conducted, in conformity with the peer-reviewed research.
There is no standardized measure, like an IQ test, when conducting an FBA, though there are assessment tools and instruments that can help inform the process. Instead, the applicable science describes the types of critical thinking and lines of inquiry a properly trained behaviorist must apply when determining the function of a maladaptive behavior and the most appropriate ways of responding to it. The science used is referred to as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
ABA is not a special education service, per se. ABA is the science behind effective behavioral interventions. ABA services requires scientists to think independently in applying the known science to the unique facts of each individual person assessed. It’s not a paint-by-numbers, one-size-fits-all measure. It’s not psychometrics in the sense that norm-referenced standardized tests will be administered to the student. It requires more thought and higher-level critical thinking skills than that, and the people who are certified to do it must prove their abilities to function that way.
There are no formal criteria for FBAs, specifically, but they are based off the Functional Analysis (FA) procedures developed by Dr. Brian Iwata and his colleagues in their published research. While being certified as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is supposed to confirm that a behavioral scientist is adequately qualified to analyze behavior, BCBA certification is not required in California for conducting FBAs in the special education context. Anyone who has gone to graduate school for a school psychologist credential should have theoretically been trained on ABA just as a part of their grad school education.
My master’s degree is in educational psychology and I had to study ABA more than once during my higher education. It is not typically part of a special education teaching credential program, other than to mention that other professionals are available in the special education context to conduct FBAs and provide ABA-based behavioral interventions.
That is, except, in LAUSD, which is using special education teachers to conduct its FBAs. It will hire Non-Public Agencies (NPAs) that specialize in providing ABA services through and under the supervision of BCBAs, but it will not allow the BCBAs to actually conduct their own FBAs to inform their own Behavior Intervention Design (BID) services, which then compromises the quality of the Behavior Intervention Implementation (BII) services. This is a district policy, according to various LAUSD employees with whom I’ve been speaking about this since April, and they don’t seem to understand why I have such an issue with it.
First, the 8th grade LAUSD student I’m currently representing in which this issue has come up has been “assessed” under this model since the 1st grade and he still has the same behavioral challenges today that he had in 1st grade. He’s made no improvements and now he’s over 6 feet tall. His toddler-like tantrums result in significant property destruction, which has only gotten worse as he’s gotten smarter and bigger over time, and he puts himself and others at risk of injury when he throws them. Not only does LAUSD’s method of conducting FBAs fail to comply with the applicable science and law, it does not work!
LAUSD’s solution is to offer yet another illegal FBA conducted by an inexpert special education teacher who must then hand off their “data” to a BCBA who is then supposed to somehow magically engage in scientifically valid BID and supervise a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) who is supposed to provide the BII in conformity with the plan designed by the BCBA. When I point out the epic failure of logic behind this practice to LAUSD personnel, I’m met with the Orwellian Doublespeak of corrupt District administrators and the blank stares of ineptitude and rote recitations of District policy from school-site personnel.
One school site administrator actually tried to get me to lie to the parent and trick him into doing something he otherwise was not inclined to do. I analyzed her behavior according to ABA standards based on what information I could gather and ultimately concluded that she’s as stupid as she is corrupt; her behaviors were automatically reinforcing and externally reinforced by her employer, which appears to employ the dumbest people it can find in positions of authority well beyond their critical thinking abilities and professional skills so that they can be the clueless, easily manipulated henchmen of the mafiosos at the main office on Beaudry.
Basically, what we are dealing with here is science denialism and unconstitutional conduct on the part of public officials to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. LAUSD is the government, regulated by the rule of law and answerable to its local constituency, but the people generally have no voice against this behemoth of a self-serving institution, which is why I’m talking about it, here.
LAUSD is long overdue for a reckoning regarding its systemic illegal conduct across all aspects of special education, and it’s probably safe to say that if the District is willing to compromise its most vulnerable constituents, that being children with disabilities, it’s likely equally comfortable violating everybody else’s rights, as well. I can’t speak to the other social justice issues in which the District might be in the wrong, but it has historically failed on the special education front ever since special education and related civil rights laws were first passed in the 1970s.
Disability-related civil rights law is truly the canary in the coal mine for American democracy. The measure of how civilized a society is can be determined by how well it takes care of its most vulnerable members, and children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable humans on Earth. If LAUSD is willing to treat children with disabilities this way, it’s top administrators should probably swap out their dress suits for animal pelts so that their lack of civility is adequately conveyed. Otherwise, they’re just wolves in sheep’s clothing, preying our our most vulnerable children.
The Chanda Smith Consent Decree came after decades of unlawful special education conduct and was in place for decades thereafter in an effort to end the District’s unlawful conduct, which it failed to do. The courts attempted to pull LAUSD out of the gutter with the consent decree, but LAUSD just pulled the courts into the gutter with it. An Independent Monitor was hired to oversee the consent decree until such time that LAUSD came into compliance with special education law, but that day never came.
Apparently, presuming that compliance would never happen, the Independent Monitor began engaging in equally corrupt behavior, assuming lifelong job security for so long as LAUSD continued to violate special education law and grifting the system by overpaying consultants who failed to make any kind of perceptible difference with respect to LAUSD’s compliance. The Office of the Independent Monitor was shut down and the consent degree was closed out following an audit that revealed excessive unnecessary spending by the Independent Monitor that could not be related to the District’s conformity with the consent decree.
Further, while it may be true that the District legitimately improved some of its special education programming, by no means had to come close to a reasonable degree of compliance, as evidenced by the number of families who have still had to file lawsuits to get services, and even that doesn’t guarantee they’ll get all of the right services for their children. Many get only some of the services their children need, making their IEPs as effective as watered-down penicillin in the face of a raging bacterial infection. For all the services they may actually get that they need, the absence of the other services they also need undermines any successes they may have in the areas in which they’ve actually received help.
Which circles back around to the question that serves as the title to today’s post/podcast, which is, “Is LAUSD Run by a Fascist Mafia?” From the outside looking in, this seems to be a legitimate question.
Let’s start with the fact that LAUSD hired computer coders to work with its in-house counsel decades ago to bastardize a piece of insurance software known as Welligent into its IEP software. As a result, LAUSD has basically bureaucratically obligated its school site personnel to break the law because of the software limitations of Welligent, or at least how it has been coded by the District, that fail to even offer compliant options to its users in many areas of special education.
For example, let’s look at the assessment plan, redacted for privacy, that was offered to my current LAUSD student, which was generated from Welligent, and compare it to another redacted assessment plan for another student on my caseload in a different school district who also needed an FBA.
Example 1, below, is the assessment plan offered to my LAUSD student, and shows the FBA as an “alternative assessment” to be conducted by a special education teacher. “Alternative assessments” usually refer to non-traditional assessment measures or methods from those typically used in the place of standardized testing.
For example, using curriculum-based assessments in the classroom to gather informal data on actual classroom performance can be a more reliable method of assessing academic achievement than a standardized measure like the WJ-IV or the WIAT-4. None of this assessment plan makes sense with respect to the FBA.
Looking at the table of “standardized” testing from page 2 of this assessment plan, which is referenced by page 1, FBAs are not listed. Item 7 targets “Adaptive Behavior,” but that goes more to independent living skills and self-care, like dressing, toileting, and navigating the school setting. FBAs do not fit that category and the LAUSD assessment plan has no category that FBAs would logically fit. This was a deliberate coding decision made in Welligent by the District that has absolutely nothing to do with adequately assessing children with special needs and offering them appropriate behavioral supports at school.
Example 2, below, shows a different student’s assessment plan from a different school district. This assessment plan offers the student involved an FBA to be performed by the school psychologist in collaboration with a district behaviorist. This actually makes sense.
In this student’s case, it turns out the special education teacher was the problem and she got reassigned to a different classroom. This student had gone without behavioral challenges until she was placed in this teacher’s class, and the FBA made clear that the teacher was the one provoking the behaviors. Objectivity is one of the most critical aspects of science that must apply to special education assessments. Can you imagine if she had been trusted to conduct the FBA?
I can assure you the quality of the outcomes using appropriately qualified people who actually care makes all the difference in the world. Whereas our LAUSD student has historically been assessed according to plans virtually similar to Example 1, above, and has now gone for over six years with next to no improvements in his behaviors, our student from whose case Example 2 was taken is now thriving in school with no serious behavioral challenges of any kind.
To be clear, it’s not like the student in Example 2 has never had issues with this school district. There were problems years ago when she was little that I had to deal with, but it had been smooth sailing until she ended up in that whacko teacher’s classroom, last school year.
Because the student’s behaviors were interfering with her learning, even though we suspected the teacher was likely the problem, we didn’t go in accusing the teacher of anything. We simply asked for an FBA to get to the bottom of the behaviors and the next thing we knew the teacher was gone. The FBA report we got back was very well-written and explained the facts without demeaning the teacher or doing anything else unprofessional.
We hit a huge bump in the road that had the potential to go really badly, but the District in that student’s case handled it professionally, compassionately, and responsibly. I’ve yet to see any of those qualities from anyone I’ve dealt with from LAUSD regarding my LAUSD student. The difference in handling is night and day, and I’ve caught both districts messing up before. The difference is that my other student was met with professionalism, while my LAUSD student is being met with science denialism and an utter abandonment of the rule of law.
It is this refusal to abide by science and law on the part of the second largest school district in the nation that raises the specter of fascism. It’s all very “Marjorie Taylor Green-ish.”
Consider that California has adopted the Common Core as its State Standards. The purpose of these standards is for our public schools in California to teach students how to use academic knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems, yet LAUSD doesn’t use academic knowledge and skills to solve problems. It denies science and breaks the law.
How can people who deny science teach our kids to use science to solve problems? How can people who have abandoned the rule of law credibly teach social studies, particularly civics, and educate our kids to become knowledgeable participants in American democracy? How is this anything other than fascism and when are the feds going to do something about it?
I tried filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), but it twisted my words into a narrower complaint than what I alleged and then declined to investigate its twisted version of my allegations, which is a first for OCR with me, I have to admit, and it makes me fear for our democracy even more, now.
If OCR is too intimidated by LAUSD to investigate such that it makes up lame excuses as to why it shouldn’t have to, how does that not also suggest the presence of organized crime within LAUSD so large and expansive that even the feds won’t touch it? DOJ is a little busy with the J6 investigations, but I suspect all of this stuff in inter-related as multiple spokes of a wheel-and-spoke conspiracy to overturn democracy in America.
Remember that Betsy DeVos tried to shut down OCR after she was appointed Secretary of Education by the 45th President until she had the snot sued out of her and subsequently reinstated it. She also admitted that her goal was to abolish USDOE as the Secretary of Education; she took the job with the specific intent of shutting down the entire agency from within.
How many people from the last administration continue to poison the well at USDOE? It’s the same question Americans have to ask about every single federal agency, but as pointed out in the above linked-to article from The Root describing DeVos’ desire to abolish USDOE altogether also describes the conference at which she recently shared her continued desire to shut down USDOE as teaching far-right parents how to build conservative-dominated school boards in their local communities, ban books, and a host of other undemocratic activities intended to deny the civil rights of children with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and students from other protected classes.
It’s an anti-science, anti-democracy approach that includes anti-vax, anti-masking nut-jobs who are too dumb to know how dumb they are and/or are profoundly mentally ill, being manipulated by grifters like DeVos to vote against their own interests in favor of the interests of the grifters. It’s the “have-nots” falling for the tricks of the “haves” who know the only way they can have way more than what they actually need is to make sure others don’t have enough.
Today’s post isn’t about documenting how I’ve figured out a way to overcome whatever fascist mafia might control LAUSD. It’s about exposing what I’ve witnessed and adding my voice and the voices of the LAUSD students who aren’t getting what they need to the conversation in the hopes that it will spark others to also help hold LAUSD to account for its egregious violations of special education law.
I’m hoping that voters in LA will learn more about these issues, understand that special education social justice issues cuts across all other demographic groups, and no segment of society is safe for so long as our government is allowed to conduct itself in this way. If you are involved in any type of social justice issue in which LAUSD has engaged in discrimination and withheld services it is legally required to provide, consider getting involved with our Meetup Group, Social Justice Series – Everyday Local Democracy for All.
Our Meetup Group is not limited to people living within the LAUSD attendance area, but we certainly have Angeleños already in the Group. You can comment/DM us directly on Meetup or on our social media, or use our Contact Us form on our site with any questions/feedback. We don’t have all the answers, but awareness is the first step to solving a problem, so we’re starting there.