Friday, August 26, 2011


Hawaii Reporter on autism case that ‘could cost state “millions” ’

by Larry Geller

I was glad to see the coverage of this long-running case on the Hawaii Reporter website. Investigative reporter Jim Dooley has captured the procedural roadblocks that have prevented justice from being done for the DOE’s wrongs to two girls, Natalie and Michelle.

Although the headline emphasizes the cost to the state, the real story is the loss of two wonderful lives. Autism must be treated promptly and correctly, according to an individualized program for each student. A child’s future depends almost entirely on receiving appropriate services in the school system.

I knew the two girls and hope that at least their future care can be assured through a fair settlement of this case, which, as the article points out, was filed in 2005. It’s been to the 9th Circuit twice, and has just been re-assigned to a new judge.

Long delays in the case are attributable to rulings by an octogenarian federal court judge, Manuel Real, whose erratic courtroom behavior and quixotic legal decisions have brought him repeated rebukes and reversals from his appellate court superiors.

[Hawaii Reporter, Autism Lawsuit Against DOE Could Cost State "Millions", 8/22/2011]

What Dooley can’t detail in a short article is how the Department of Education’s treatment of these and other special needs children has too often dashed their hopes for a successful future. The Felix Consent Decree brought about badly needed improvements, creating a system of care that could have achieved positive results for children on the autism spectrum. It did not, however, change the mindset within DOE that it is ok to deny services, to fight parents, and to destroy little lives.

Imagine that a child who needs special training, required by federal (and state) law, does not get it. As a result, the child cannot speak or effectively communicate. That student, instead of living independently and perhaps even attending and graduating from college, could need lifelong care.

That frames the “millions” a bit differently. The girl’s parents will not be with them forever. The girls’ care will require more money than most parents will ever have, and when the expense is a result of neglect by the school system, requiring the system to pay is only an imperfect remedy. A million dollars doesn’t go very far these days, by the way.

The damage to special needs students who were cheated of their lives by an uncaring system cannot be measured in money. Hawaii still faces a large number of due process hearings and legal actions each year simply to line up services for the children affected.

Until the DOE undergoes a very fundamental change, the neglect will continue. Only occasionally does it break out in the courts, and only in high-profile cases like this does it make the news. Underneath the silence is a system badly in need of reform for moral reasons as well as economic considerations.

Even should the parents prevail in this case, the damage to their children is still not erased.


Sadly your article reflects the quality of the humaness of the DOE.The lack of it! Many thanks, Henry.

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