Dear VDOE: Is It Okay For Compliance Specialist To Judge, Joke At The Expense Of Parent Advocating For Her Child?

8.27.20: Article first published.

6.8.23: Article republished in light of United States Department of Education's (USDOE) statement that it will continue to monitor Virginia Department of Education's (VDOE) state complaint policies, procedures, and practices, and that USDOE is opening new areas of monitoring. Almost three years to the date of this republication, USDOE advised VDOE that it would be monitoring the agency and that state complaints were areas of concern. Three years later, VDOE has yet to fully address problems plaguing its state complaint policies, procedures, and practices.

Yesterday, I shared comments from a Virginia Department of Education staff member, which appear in a Letter of Findings (LOF) to which she contributed, in which she calls a PWN both skimpy and compliant.

Here's another curious comment that appears in the same document:

“This is my justification for the length of the narrative in this case—they made me do it!! ? I wanted to separate the three categories of requests that Parent had initiated last summer — IEP, ESY, Reevaluation, Reading inventory testing. Sheesh. It shows the confusing atmosphere that FFX handled professionally. She was making lots of FFX staff work, sometimes in conflict with others. Please edit and make it better, ML.”

A few issues:

The parent being referred to was advocating for her child.

She does not work for Fairfax County Public Schools, she does not have any control over actions taken by FCPS staff, and she does not make staff work in conflict with each other.

Yet, "ML" states that the parent made FCPS “staff work, sometimes in conflict with others”.

How is that possible?

In addition: Where is the proof of the “confusing atmosphere that FFX handled professionally”?

AND: Joking—“they made me do it!?"—has no place in a process that is supposed to be an "independent determination".

Instead, "ML" exhibits very definite opinions about the parent and FCPS, even though, the complaint investigation process is supposed to be a thorough, unbiased investigation.

"ML" is Kathleen Harris, whose email signature identifies her as:

Kathleen G. Harris, J.D.
Compliance Specialist
Office of Dispute Resolution and Administrative Services
Division of Special Education and Student Services
Virginia Department of Education

This was confirmed by VDOE FOIA officer Rebecca Askew, in response to a FOIA request.

Parents have one opportunity to raise their child/children. There are no do-overs, no second chances.

Thus, parents take their advocacy seriously. We're fighting for our children's lives.

Advocating is hard enough without having to read joking and other questionable comments made by the individuals tasked with ensuring the implementation of our children's rights.

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