When school districts are unable to provide students with the services that meet their educational needs, the law specifies that they must fund the child’s education at a Non-Public School (NPS). It is my understanding that for students on the autism spectrum, The Help Group is the LAUSD’s preferred provider. Given our dissatisfaction with our daughter’s progress in the public system, my wife and I attended the Sherman Oaks campus for a public orientation to see if this program would be a good fit for her.
Pulling into the driveway we found that the campus is nicely landscaped and feels very welcoming. However, the first people we encountered quickly dispelled that feeling. The first was apparently a parent who was rejected for the orientation session because she had brought along her stroller age child. She was expressing her frustration to the child, who was too young to understand, that she had no one to watch her and what else was she supposed to do. It seemed surprising to me that in school full of child care professionals nothing could have been done to accommodate this parent.
Next we encountered the receptionist who was overwhelmed by the number of people at her desk and severely lacking in people skills. Most of her attention was taken by an older lady who was dropping off a student. The lady apparently did not speak English and could not understand the questions that were being asked of her. The receptionist’s apparent strategy to deal with the situation was to use a louder voice and roll her eyes a lot. The nice appearance of the lobby was doing little to convince me that this would be a nurturing environment for my child.
The tour of the facility did not do much to change my opinion. Every door and gate was locked from both sides. With his giant key ring, the administrator could have easily been mistaken for a warden. Without prompting he explained that the placement of the Sunrise School, their facility for students needing “intensive behavior intervention,” at the back of the facility had nothing to do with a judgment of the students. The thought had not even crossed my mind until he suggested it.
Despite the fact that this was an organized tour that had been planned in advance, arrangements had not been made for all parents to visit age appropriate classrooms or interact with the teachers. Instead, parents of elementary age students were allowed to look through the window in the door. Since my child is older, I did not pay attention at first. However, when the door was opened for someone to take a child out of the room I could hear an adult yelling at one of the children to “stop crying.” My interest was peaked.
Through the window I could see an adult and two children at the front of the class. The two children were standing across from each other and I am guessing that the attempted lesson had to do with social interactions. One of the children was visibly distressed and appeared to not want to be in the position that he was being placed in. In the short time that I watched the scene the teacher physically moved the student’s hands away from his face and moved his head to face the other student, but he still resisted. The adult then slapped the student on the cheek.
I immediately announced what had happened and my wife repeated my observation to the administrator, who did not react in any way. A second, subordinate administrator did come over to tell us that they would look into the situation. The tour continued.
Both my wife and I did receive phone calls later in the day from the facility asking us for details about what we had witnessed. In my opinion, this was a poor substitution for dealing with the situation immediately. I also found it was interesting that even though the representative of the school knew that we had been on an orientation for a potential student, she made no attempt to tell me that this was not the kind of teaching method that the school endorses. It would not have changed my mind that there is no way that I would send my child to this facility, but it would have made me feel better about the children currently in the program and the LAUSD’s use of the organization.