Why My Son With Autism Isn't In School

If you’ve been around here in the past, you know my wife and I are struggling like mad to get our 9-year-old severely autistic son into school. Between Facebook, Twitter, emails, texts and everything else in between, a lot of you have been asking what’s the latest status with us getting Jack into school. So, I figured it would be easiest to just write a blog with the latest and not-so-greatest. Also, if you don’t have the time to reach the bottom of this post, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE click here to join Jack’s Army!

If you’ve never been here, here’s the quick elevator pitch: I’m a father of three and a marathon runner and between running 61 full marathons in 2010 and putting on the Operation Jack Marathon every year, I’ve grossed about $180,000 in my fight against autism. Operation Jack is named after my son, Jack, who is a 9-year-old, low-functioning autistic child, still not potty trained with very limited communication. For more about my charity efforts, click here.

OK, so here’s the deal with Jack’s school. Jack elopes, which means he runs away without warning, and he’s pretty sneaky about it. He waits for the perfect opportunity and then darts. He’s a complete danger to himself, which is why he’s had a handicap parking placard for more than four years now. He doesn’t know any better, but it’s a challenge.

He was enrolled at the local school, which he attended in the spring, but we were sold on moving him to different school about six miles down the road. We didn’t know at the time that the new school has a playground that’s 86 feet from a parking lot and NOT FENCED! Some things you just take for granted, like … your kid isn’t going to be at risk of a fatal incident every time he goes to recess. We tried to get him back into the previous school, because it’s actually safe, but we’ve been denied without ever being told a truthful reason (they tell us they’re not letting Jack go there because we don’t want him to go there, even though we want him to go there and we’re asking for him to be able to go there).

Me and Jack.
Me and Jack.

So, here’s an update on what’s going on.

1. We had a lawyer. Now we have no lawyer. And we’re not going to have another lawyer
I’m not going to get into the details about the lawyer we had, but we don’t have her any more and we’re not going to be able to afford to get another one. I’m OK with fighting this fight on behalf of Jack. I feel like what’s morally right is on my side, as are the facts in this situation. I’m going head-to-head with the school district’s lawyer now and if Jack loses and is kept out of school “because they can”, well so be it. It seems like the district is using time and money to keep Jack out of school and it feels like I’m fighting a huge corporation with vast resources, but I’ll keep fighting.

2. We have mediation next Thursday
I have no idea how that’s going to go. And I know it’s non-binding, so it’s not like anybody can force the district to let Jack back in school. But I’m looking forward to being able to talk about the true issues in play without the conversation being steered by the district moderator when the conversation doesn’t fit the district’s agenda.

3. I offered a free fence to the school district. But they wouldn’t take it.
I have a friend who works at a very, very large company and they’re in the contracting business or something like that. He offered to have a fence donated at the unsafe school, so I offered that to the district. The district said they wouldn’t consider taking it until after mediation. Either they want the fence or they don’t want the fence. But to wait until after mediation to consider it obviously means that whether or not they want to consider taking a free fence will be determined by the outcome of mediation. Realistically, they’d find a way to use that free fence offer against me, which truly means they’d find a way to use it against Jack, and I’m not going to allow that to happen. I told the lawyer on December 21 that they had until December 31 and I never heard back.

4. We can’t get an IEP meeting for Jack
We can’t get a meeting for an IEP for Jack. They’ve told us all along that the IEP is never final and we can call a meeting at any time. And from everything we’ve ever been told by anybody, it’s within our federal rights to call an IEP without a time limit. Much to our surprise, when we requested an IEP to cover safety and modifications, they denied us, saying there was no new information. So, I sent them an email with five new pieces of information. And then I followed up. And I followed up. It took 12 emails in one week for the lawyer to finally write me and scold me for being hostile (maybe if it would have only taken 6 emails I would have been happier?). She also told me she would not reply to my emails any more. And still, no acknowledgement of those five new pieces of information. And no IEP.

5. I think the district simply doesn’t want Jack in school
Actions speak louder than words. They keep saying they care about Jack and want him in school. But they know full well we’re never, ever going to take him to an unsafe school. We had two options on the table — the unsafe school and a school that’s about 40 minutes away. Well, that school that’s 40 minutes away was pulled off the table. So, they tightened the vice on us by only leaving us with the unsafe school when they know (and they’ve admitted on the record) that he’ll never attend there. They don’t want to deal with him.

Also, they threatened to report us to the state if we don’t either a) bring him to the unsafe school or b) withdraw him from the district and home school him. Obviously they know A won’t happen. B would get him off their hands. I could see them retaliating against us for fighting for him by having protective custody force him to attend a school where he’s at risk of a fatal incident at every recess break. That makes sense.

The bottom line is that judging by their actions, I’m pretty sure they don’t want to have to teach Jack and they’ll use whatever morally reprehensible maneuvers they can.

And that’s pretty much where we stand. I still have faith this is all going to work out. And I believe deep, deep down inside in my heart of hearts that I’m doing the right thing by fighting for my son’s safety. But this sure isn’t easy.

Last little bit … I’M BEGGING YOU FOR HELP RIGHT NOW. Please, please, please click here and go join Jack’s Army. Super simple. Super, super simple. And PLEASE CLICK THE LINKS I HAVE ON THERE TO SHARE IT ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER!


  1. Amanda Buffalo says

    I’m enraged at this school just by simply reading this! I worked in social services for 6 years with children. I have two children with ADHD diagnosis and one child with an IEP. From my experience through my previous job and with my own children, I know it is illegal for them to deny you a meeting to discuss Jacks IEP. For lack of something better to say, what a bunch of assholes! How do they call themselves educators?!? I am praying for you and your family. I know you won’t give up and I will spread your story whervever I can.

  2. says

    1. You cannot be the first or only person having this problem. How can we connect you with others?

    2. How can we help you find the necessary resources to solve the problem? Can you tell us some specifics re the community and the decisionmakers?

    The more details you share, the more we might be able to do to help you.

    First thoughts:
    a. other groups that help children in this circumstance

    b. any protection and advocacy group that advocates for special needs children in your state. there is an agency like this in my state. I thought there was one in every state.

    c. organizations that help children like Jack and parents like you.

    d. any local political groups that might have some insight or impact

    e. other running groups.

  3. Karrah Martin says

    Tell the school you son will start school (without a fence) with a parent on Monday. They are banking on YOU to not send him to school so they can use YOU as the reason he won’t go. Attend with him and DEMAND a full time aide. You need to research pro-bono special education lawyers. I am a pro-bono special education advocate- where are you located? E-mail me. You need help. You need ANYONE to wear a suit, show up with a briefcase and legal pad and introduce themself as an educational advocate. Have them take notes CONSTANTLY and repeat what the district is saying as in, “So what i hear you saying is…..” and write it down. You MUST scare the school, ATTEND board meetings with LOTS of supporters, wear T-shirts, call the paper and news. NOW!

  4. theblondeview says

    If any agreement at all is come to in Mediation, it is put in writing by the Mediator and is a legal, binding document enforceable in s court of law.

    Also, you can agree to have more Mediation Meetings as well. Get the Mediator to write that up and outline the teaming issues and both parties sign. Then do not leave room without getting District to commit to a time frame for next Mediation date.

    Remind your District that:

    Operating without an IEP plan iss illegal.

    Without an attorney, you are to only be dealing directly with District personnel, not their legal representation.

    The District is not allowed to make unilateral decisions, especially regarding placement for a special ed child.

    LRE is whee your son is safe. A fence to prevent elopement keeps him safe. Denying him access to an education due to his disability and the severity of that disability is illegal, against the ADA.

    I understand your plight, all too well. We have quite the complicated and difficult situation with our District over our son’s Education as well. These Districts hire nasty lawyers, fight tooth and nail, lie, deny, twist the truth, withhold information that parents are entitled to, break the law, and attempt to deceive…..anything when it gets the District what they want.

    You just have to figure out what it is that they want. What is their motive.

    I wish you stamina, clarity of mind, and powers of perception in your struggle with your son’s school district. It should not be this hard for families like ours, for children like yours and mine.

  5. Tracy says

    Hello Sam,

    My name is Tracy and I am also a parent of an autistic child who was placed in an unsafe school also. I have fought this very same battle you are fighting. My son is a runner. He too when stressed, confused, upset would run. Many times I had received calls that he was attempting to flee the grounds. It got to a point where he did not stay at school for more than an hour each day before I got a call to come pick him up. The last option our district (Riverside, CA) offered was to send him to a different school over 40 minutes away but they did not have a fence. Eventually they came back and offered a boarding style school over 1 1/2 hours from our home, stating that we would have to transport of pay for his boarding which they recommended. At that meeting I stood up and declared that we would home school our son. It has been a year and a half and we could not be happier.

    I know the journey with iep’s, school district and modifications is a tough one. I would be happy to help if I can. Feel free to contact me. You can ask for a medical leave until the school modification is made. It would keep your son safe.

  6. julie says

    Is this school district in California?
    Every request & response needs to be in writingto the principal & cc: to District Special Ed Office,even school board if necessary.
    Also, an educational advocate is helpful~
    I know several parents& special ed instructors in Calif that may be of assistance with referals.
    Julie Griffin, MSW 909-238-8795

  7. says

    I want to say’keep fighting’ or ‘don’t give up’ but I know that you never will. Jack is incredibly lucky to have such amazing parents.

  8. Teresa (Farmer) Rowan says

    I have no words of advice or wisdom, but I have prayers, and you and your family are in them daily. I’m so sorry. My heart breaks for you and your family.
    Prayers from Cali,

  9. Tanya says

    I am admittedly not very knowledgeable about this subject, but if your son is low-functioning, what do you expect him to learn in school? And if his eloping puts him at risk, is it really worth the risk of sending him to school knowing that he is low-functioning? Again I fully admit that this is not my area of expertise. It just seems like everyone is making a lot of compromises when the benefit could be small.

    • Tiffany Felsenfeld says

      Hi Tanya,
      I’m Jack’s mom, Tiffany. I have a book’s worth of data, taken from Jack’s home therapy team, that show (and prove), Jack’s fully capable of learning every goal in his IEP. I work at home with him myself, and he’s definitely not a kid you’d want to just throw the towel in, on. He made amazing progress just over this summer, alone, with his home team of thrapists. They got him to go from 2 words requests and labeling, to 4 word requests and labeling. Trust me, everything that’s outline for him in his IEP (his customized goals) he’s proven in the past, he’s fully capable of doing. The problem is, the schools often choose to just sort of “babysit” kids like Jack because it requires little effort.

  10. Keith Bridgeforth says

    Sam you are doing the right thing! It is your job to fight for you son’s safety and education. I will be praying for you. Be strong and be courageous.

  11. Inez says

    Hi, I am a special education teacher in California. I work for the Los Angeles Unified School District. I have not ready every bit of your blog or updates, but scanned it briefly. I am extremely distraught and appalled that this school and district is handling things in this manner. I teach students of all disabilities 5-7 years old, I have worked mostly with children that have autism. These children are amazing and have my heart & soul, no matter how severe or limited their skills and cognition may be. I would just like to let you know that in my school district we allow all children a Free Access to a Public Education (FAPE) which is the federal law..potty trained or not.
    First, you should look into “advocates” that may be low cost/free to support you instead of a lawyer. Second, when you request a meeting in a writing, they have a timeline of 30 days to meet with you if you are not requesting assessments, they have 60 days for that….I might have a few of those details mixed up, so look up federal law to confirm. Also, you should at this point file a complaint with the state about the school not complying to the law (FAPE and timelines to hold an IEP). I’m sure you have all your actions documented and the lack of theirs to back you up. Look up your state’s government website, it should have the complaint form and special education law and the student’s rights. If you don’t find it for Colorado, look on the California site.
    Best of luck! Please feel free to email if I can further assist you.

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