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Tom Sheff to host Special Education forum on NewTV

2013 June 19
by Jerry Reilly

As a result of some Village 14 chatter, possible mayoral candidate Tom Sheff announced that he’ll be hosting a forum on Newton’s Special Education on NewTV.

“I just want to announce that I just got off the phone with Newtv and on Wednesday August 7th, at 7:30 we are putting together a forum on special education. The Format is simple, parents/teachers, etc of special ed children will come up as I call them off a list and spend a couple of minutes talking about their families experience with special ed. in Newton. It will be unfiltered and unscripted you say what is on your mind. If you bring pictures of your kid(s), we can put them on air while you are talking. I think the kids will get a kick out of that when they watch the taped version. If this matters, it’s been arranged to be aired on the education and community stations. Thanks
Sincerely, Tom Sheff”



22 Responses Post a comment
  1. Joanne permalink
    June 19, 2013 11:05 AM

    Great Idea Tom

    This will hopefully be a very open and good discussion about what is good and what is not so good with SPED. Maybe this will give the SC and the NPS some ideas on what they should be doing. Rather than studying an issue to death and then not doing anything about it. Hopefully it will also allow for comments to be sent in as I am sure some parents might be apprehensive to be publically vocal as they may be afraid on any repurcussions against their child or situation.

    I would suggest you do other ones on the many issues we have in the schools and the city that are not being addressed adequately.

  2. Lisap permalink
    June 19, 2013 06:45 PM

    It can’t be an open discussion about special education for a very simple reason: Non-Disclosure Agreements. If you ask for something for your child that Newton doesn’t consider to be standard fare, they want a signed non-disclosure agreement before they will provide the service they concede is required. If you have a dispute and go to mediation, they will demand a non-disclosure agreement in order to settle with you. Therefore, you can’t have input from parents who have been forced to fight for their kids because they have been effectively silenced.

  3. Joanne permalink
    June 19, 2013 06:58 PM

    Lisap – is this standard in all communities or more specific to Newton?

  4. Hoss permalink
    June 19, 2013 07:09 PM

    Lisap — As a response to litigation, or as a routine?

  5. Lisap permalink
    June 19, 2013 07:27 PM

    @Joanne – I don’t believe that other communities demand them to the extent that Newton does.

    @Hoss -it is routine. I’ll give you a specific example: a child needed home or hospital tutoring. Newton took the position that they only offered 4 to 6 hours per week of home tutoring. After being pressured by the state DESE they agreed to bump it up to 10 hours – mind you this was for a child who medically could not attend school. 10 hours – with a non-disclosure agreement. Standard fare required by the law dept. -according to NPS. A non-disclosure agreement for a few hours of tutoring.

  6. JLF permalink
    June 19, 2013 07:33 PM

    @Hoss, I believe the non-disclosure (some call it “gag order”) agreement is most often used in court cases, mediations, and when NPS does a cost-sharing with parents on an out of district placement. All IEP discussions and documents are treated as confidential, but that means that the school is not supposed to reveal names or details about students receiving services. A parent can share what ever he/she wants with family, friends, the media.
    I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure but several years ago, I was told on the telephone that I was not allowed to tell anyone what I had gotten (it was not an extragavant item, it was permission to have the same liaison who had worked with my son in 10th and 11th grade to be allowed to work with him in 12th grade.)
    I replied that I could not be told to be quiet, and that if she wanted me to follow her request, then she needed to put it in writing, and send it to me. Never heard again, never received this information in writing.

  7. Hoss permalink
    June 19, 2013 08:04 PM

    Testing what I think I’m reading: The subject is gov’t services to similarly situated individuals. Public schooling is in part a resource of the both the municipality and the Commonwealth. You folks are suggesting that the Commonwealth in concert with Newton purposefully discriminate through allowances and agreements to hide the allowances. If I got that right, I’m truly shocked that this could happen.

  8. Joanne permalink
    June 19, 2013 08:24 PM

    Actually Hoss I think we are saying that Newton purposely hides the allowances by the nondisclosure it requires parents to sign. Not the Commonwealth of Mass but the City of Newton. I am sure the Comm of Mass doesnt know as the parents cannot disclose it to them either.

  9. Hoss permalink
    June 19, 2013 08:37 PM

    Joanne — Someone would have informed the state at some point. No action is “in concert” in my book.

  10. Tom Sheff permalink
    June 19, 2013 08:58 PM

    Jerry thanks for posting this.
    I want to address the fact that it will never be an open discussion. I understand the situation. I think this is as close as we will get. There is one aspect that Jerry forgot to post and that is anyone who is afraid of retribution (whether for real or in your own mind) we will read any statement that is made anonymously.
    I hope this helps in alleviating concerns. I’d like as open and frank discussion as possible.
    I hope to see all of you there. We will have both studios set up. The far studio can carry roughly 30 seats. we’ll have a podium up front for me and a podium for public speakers near the seats. We can also seat about 16 people comfortably in the conference room and use it as a satellite studio and the people will be able to see whats going on in the studio live.
    Anyone with pictures gives them to me early on and as I call off the parents name we will air your childs pictures. No pics, no problem.

  11. Lisap permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:01 PM

    Thank you, Tom, for putting this together. I genuinely hope that you have solid participation.

    @JLF – I would differ in that in my experience and to my knowledge NPS uses these gag order above and beyond instances involving contested proceedings (beginning with mediation and beyond) and instead demands them in instances where there has been no contest but an agreement as to what the services will be which are in any way viewed by Newton as out of the ordinary. In other words, any time NPS wants to ensure that other parents will not hear about what is being provided to a particular child they default to gagging the parents.

    @Hoss – I can say very confidently that the Commonwealth is not in concert with this. This is a local policy by the City Solicitors office (again according to NPS). To the contrary, the Dept. of Secondary and Elementary Education would tell a parent that if the parent went to a hearing for resolution and won there would be no confidentiality to the decision. These agreements are intended to keep parents from sharing information with each other as to the services which are or may be available, plain and simple. Anything you can negotiate that Newton considers to be “over and above” that invisible line in the sand will not be delivered unless you sign up with your silence.

  12. mgwa permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:08 PM

    And, sadly, Newton is not alone in doing this. These non-disclosure agreements are problems in communities throughout the U.S.

  13. Hoss permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:11 PM

    Last question: Do the agreements expire?

    I can’t believe I’m reading this.

  14. Tom Sheff permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:17 PM

    Lisap-I hope you can make it. You obviously know whats what.

    I would imagine that the gag order is used so that if one child gets an edge or a favor they keep it quiet so all kids’ parents don’t ask for it.

  15. Joanne permalink
    June 20, 2013 08:08 AM

    Mgwa- Do you know how this case turned out?

    And Hoss – you can believe it.

  16. mgwa permalink
    June 20, 2013 08:44 AM

    Joanne – I don’t. Have to run to work, don’t have time to look it up right now.

  17. Hoss permalink
    June 20, 2013 08:48 AM

    it’s probably a private settlement under another gag agreement

    Thanks for the article mgwa. How arrogant of the City to say the agreements are private school files of the child. If they were, it would be the City that agreed to non-disclosure, not the parent.

  18. David Kalis permalink
    June 20, 2013 09:52 AM

    Great idea, Tom. Is the objective solely to share experiences or will you have someone from the administration there to answer questions or clarify concerns that come up?

  19. Lisap permalink
    June 20, 2013 12:54 PM

    I checked and the case against the City is still pending.

    “I would imagine that the gag order is used so that if one child gets an edge or a favor they keep it quiet so all kids’ parents don’t ask for it.”

    @Tom – Bingo. The phrase I heard was “anything over and above…”

  20. Tom Sheff permalink
    June 20, 2013 06:19 PM

    David Thanks.

    I wish I had the time and space to allow the administration to answer these allegations/concerns. Afterall, it would make great TV:). This is the first time I am doing it and I expect if this goes well we may have other issues later. The administration is free to watch it and aproach that parent at anytime later OR I will not close the doors on anyone so they are free to come. I suspect if they do come, so people maybe intimidated, but I won’t close the doors if they come on their own time and really want to set things straight (I’ll give them equal time 3-5 minutes). Again, I am playing loose with rules caues we’ve never done it before and if someone goes to 6 minutes I won’t cut them off.

  21. Tom Sheff permalink
    June 20, 2013 06:21 PM

    We just have to be out of NEWTV by 9:30 (If we have enough people and I know in advance I’ll ask if we can extend closing time so everyone can speak.

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