Thursday, October 07, 2010

TX: School District Seeks to Bankrupt Disabled Student's Family

Dreams brought Kenneth Chibuogwu to America and in time determination brought many of those aspirations within reach. "I worked hard. I came to this country with nothing," says Kenneth.

It is a country this father and husband have deeply embraced, along with its core convictions. "If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything," he says.

And what could be more worthy of battle than his first born son, Chapuka, "Chuka" for short a child who will spend each and every day of his life challenged with autism? "This child was a gift from God," insists Kenneth.

Guaranteed by federal law a "free and appropriate education" for their son, Kenneth and wife Neka hoped the Alief School District would prove an able partner in helping Chukka reach his potential.

It didn't happen. "When I went there I saw things no mother would want to see," says Neka her visits to Chuka's middle school. "My wife went to observe, found him squashed in the corner and nobody cared," says Kenneth.

"There was nothing I could do but cry because I was so shocked that such a thing could go on in this country," added Neka of the repeated conferences with Alief administrators ending in stalemate.

In Texas when parents and educators can't agree on whether a school district is giving a disabled student all that the law demands the state offers a procedure called "due process" where a sort of education judge listens to all the evidence and decides the issue.

In May of 2007, using much of their life savings, Chuka's parents filed their case. Instead of seeking compromise, Alief launched a full-blown legal counterattack alleging the case was "improper" and that the Chibuogwus "harassed" district employees during meetings. "Nobody in this household harassed the school district. I feel that they harassed us," insists Neka.

"These people had been railroaded, these people had been maligned," says special education advocate Jimmy Kilpatrick who represented Chuka and his parents. Drained and discouraged, Kenneth and Eka dropped their due process case and Chuka never returned to class.

The conflict could have ended there, but Alief Superintendent Louis Stoerner and then board president Sarah Winkler had other plans. The District sued the economically distressed parents of a special needs child for every penny of the district's legal expenses, an amount, at the time approaching $170,000 dollars and now estimated at close to a quarter million. "What I feel is that they are trying to bully me for asking for a chance for my son's life," says Kenneth.

Alief taxpayer and watch dog Bob Hermann sees the lawsuit as senseless and mean spirited. "I don't know why we would spend taxpayers money to try and punish somebody who doesn't have the money and are probably going to win at the end of the day anyway," says Hermann.

Those who represent special needs families suspect a larger more sinister scheme. "What they are trying to do is send a chill down parent's spine about advocating for their children," says Louis Geigerman, president of the Texas Organization of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates.

"Lets set some examples, lets hang a few of them at high noon right out here in the middle of the town square and show you what we do to people who want to advocate for their children," adds Kilpatrick.

"If I don't fight them, you know they are going to do it to other parents," says Kenneth Chibuogwu. This past April after three long and expensive years of legal warfare a federal judge here in Houston issued his ruling. Alief I.S.D. was wrong and had no right under the law to collect legal expenses from Chuka's parents.

Instead of accepting the ruling, superintendent Stoerner and apparently the Alief School board have chosen to risk even more taxpayer dollars and appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit.

At a board meeting, by phone and by e-mail Fox 26 news has repeatedly asked the Alief decision makers "Why" and have yet to receive an answer. A district spokeswoman promised comment after the appeals court rules.

"We've almost lost everything trying to keep this up," says Neka. "What basically there are trying to do is run me and my family on to the street," says Kenneth

While school expenses are generally available for public inspection Alief has attempted to block our opens records request.

FOX 26 News has however obtained invoices which show the district's taxpayers have compensated Erik Nikols and his Law firm Rogers, Morris and Grover as much as $12,000 in a single month for waging the three-and-a-half year courthouse campaign against the Chibuougwu's. The meter, presumably, is still running.

"I know a lot of people have gained from this, a lot of people have been enriched by this," says Neka.

As for Chuka, he's now fourteen, attends no school and for five years hasn't received a single minute of the free and appropriate public education that is his right. Their child, his parents insist, has been thoroughly left behind.


British head teacher shocks pupils by eating spider

He has been recognised as one of the country’s leading head teachers whose methods have helped achieve enviable results at his schools. Indeed such is Aydin Onac’s reputation that he was even awarded a £40,000 golden hello when he took over at one London secondary. But his latest methods may prove a little difficult to stomach, after he stunned pupils at his new school by eating a tarantula in front of a packed assembly.

Recreating the sort of stunt usually seen on reality show, I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here, Mr Onac ate the baked spider, in order to raise money for a new sports and drama centre at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington, Kent.

While some of his pupils delighted at seeing his discomfort during the ordeal, others were said to be upset, and at least one parent complained that it set a bad example to youngsters.

Mr Onac only took over at the highly rated St Olave’s school last month, after resigning from his previous post as head of the Fortismere School in Muswell Hill in London. When he joined Fortismere School in 2006 he became the first head teacher in the country to receive a £40,000 signing on bonus. But despite some initial opposition, he oversaw a significant rise in exam results, with the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs rising from 64 to 73 per cent in just three years.

Just weeks into his new job in Orpington however his unconventional approach to running a school has threatened to divide opinion. Mr Onac, whose school serves more than 900 boys aged between 11 and 18, said he came up with the idea of eating a poisonous spider as a way of raising sponsorship money for a new sports and drama complex.

He explained: “It wasn’t until I opened the container and saw how big it was that I started to feel very nervous. “When all the students came into the great hall and I realised what I had let myself in for, and that there was no way out, then I really started to panic.” He added: “It tasted quite salty, and a little bit like burnt chicken. It felt crunchy and very dry in the mouth, like eating those very dry cheese biscuits, so it was difficult to swallow. “As I was eating it I was thinking about the quickest route to the cloakroom and whether I would still be alive by break-time.”

The spider was sourced from Cambodia, where they are farmed and eaten by locals as a delicacy, and Mr Onac has insisted its importation complied with British and EU guidelines. The spider are usually deep fried and the cooking process negates the effects of any toxins the spider carries.

But while he has insisted the stunt was ethically sound, not everybody connected with the school is in agreement. One parent, who did not wish to be named, said: “It's all very well raising money, but why does he have to behave as if he's taking part in I'm A Celebrity? “Head teachers, especially ones of his calibre, should not be copying people like Jordan or Joe Swash and eating exotic animals. “I don't care if it is responsibly sourced, if children get the wrong idea then they'll think it's OK to go around eating spiders.”

Another parent said: “I know that these spiders are farmed in Cambodia and considered a delicacy there, but we're not in Cambodia, we're in Orpington and in Orpington we don't do things like this."

But a member of the teaching staff said they were full of admiration for Mr Onac’s actions. He said: “It was a sight that I for one never thought we would see in the great hall. We all thought he was incredibly brave.”


Some reasons why Latin continues to fascinate

Comment from Britain

The power of Roman history, literature and myth is so great that it will always go on being reinvented. And that reinvention didn't just start in the Thirties with I, Claudius.

Because classics was the staple diet of British and European education from around 1100AD until about 1900, it was classical thought that provided the majority of storylines in Western European literature, as well as much of the subject matter in Renaissance art and architecture. Throw in Christianity – largely disseminated through Europe in Greek and Latin – and you see how the writing mind of the Western world was, until recently, a classical mind.

Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare that he had "small Latin and less Greek", but the point was that even a man of humble origins brought up in rural Warwickshire knew a little of both – pretty unlikely these days.

Shakespeare was only one of the great European writers – including Dryden, Pope, Milton, Dante and Samuel Johnson – to use classical stories as their raw material, refashioned in new and brilliant, and pretty fast and loose, ways.

It's not just the usual suspects – Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus – that were borrowed from the ancient world. The fountain of classical tales was so powerful that even a play such as The Comedy of Errors was rooted in a – now obscure – Roman comedy, The Twin Brothers by Plautus.

The predominant influence of the classical world on English writers has only recently been extinguished. P G Wodehouse won a senior classical scholarship to Dulwich College in 1897, and packed his books with Latin references. In The Girl on the Boat (1922), Wodehouse gives a Latin lesson that wouldn't disgrace the most fastidious of classics masters: "Nothing is more curious than the myriad ways in which the reaction from an unfortunate love affair manifests itself in various men…

"Archilochum, for instance, according to the Roman writer, proprio rabies armavit iambo. It is no good pretending out of politeness that you know what that means, so I will translate.

"Rabies – his grouch – armavit – armed – Archilochum – Armilochus – iambo – with the iambic – proprio – his own invention."

"In other words, when the poet Archilochus was handed his hat by the lady of his affections, he consoled himself by going off and writing satirical verse about her in a new metre, which he had thought up immediately after leaving the house."

Wodehouse, as ever, hits the nail on the proverbial. Whether you're talking about men who have been chucked, like Archilochus, weak men (Claudius), debauched men (Caligula) or powerful men (Julius Caesar), the Romans got there first, and gave modern writers an archetype to play with.

It's no wonder that the head of MI5 also said that he had seen lots of security chiefs like Sulla (a Roman general known for his cunning), in despotic regimes across the world. Republican and Imperial Rome was seething with characters jockeying for position in the ancient city's complex military and political hierarchies.

So, want a parallel for Louise Shackleton, David Miliband's wife, incensed at her brother-in-law's decision to enter the Labour leadership race? Well, you could do worse than Livia, the ambitious power behind several imperial thrones; Augustus's third wife, mother to Tiberius, grandmother to Claudius, great-great grandmother to Nero.

Margaret Thatcher has often been compared to the British rebel queen Boadicea. And David Cameron could be any one of a dozen confident emperors, born to the purple (the colour of the toga worn by emperors, consuls and generals). Throw in the power of myth – mostly, admittedly, Greek myth, adapted by the Romans – and you can see how classical tales are so easily revived, and so memorable, particularly to the minds of children.

The battles between the gods, the Trojan horse, the endless wanderings of Odysseus, the hell of King Midas turning everything he touches to gold, the 12 Labours of Hercules… Ancient myths are beautifully structured stories. They follow peaks and troughs, just like the plot arcs of the Hollywood scriptwriter ruthlessly trained in the art of story-telling.

It means classical stories jump effortlessly from papyrus to cinema screen. And it also means that those stories have kept on jumping to cinema screens, even as the study of classics has declined in recent years (although the number of state schools doing Latin has doubled in the past decade).

Roman history and literature can survive the unthinking attacks of former education secretaries Ed Balls ("Very few businesses are asking for Latin") and Charles Clarke ("Education for education's sake is a bit dodgy"). Everyone gets Rome, because the Romans got everywhere.

Roman history is far enough in the past that you can play around with it for your own modern purposes; you can recycle it into good or trashy stuff without straining the original sources too much. But it's also recent enough that you can see the direct Roman influence on so many things – on our politics, architecture, literature and, most of all, the English language – while still being astounded by the savagery that accompanied all that civilisation.

Tell a child about lions tearing bleeding chunks out of gladiator slaves, and you've got them hooked on Rome for life. They don't need to know the pluperfect subjunctive second person plural of amo to appreciate the thrills of the Colosseum. Nice, though, if they can learn that, too.


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