BRENTWOOD -- Parents of special education students who recently protested in front of Brentwood Union School District headquarters are calling for districtwide reform, including greater inclusion for special needs children on campuses and an end to alleged retaliation against proactive parents by district officials.

Parents for Special Education Reform claim that their children are being treated unfairly and even excluded from grade-level field trips. Group members said parents who advocate on behalf of their children by filing complaints against the district with the state or taking legal action are being targeted.

An independent agency needs to help guide the district with its special education program, according to the group. Recently, 13 Brentwood families filed complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights in San Francisco, and a six-month investigation into the retaliation and discrimination claims is underway.

"We want all children to be treated not equal but fair," parent Tiffany Herron-Lumpkin said.

One district practice mentioned was parents of special education children being required to obtain permission for observing their children in the classroom and being limited to 30 minutes weekly. Brentwood mother Amy Howard said having a principal attend a regular parent-teacher conference made her uncomfortable.

"It sets the tone that you are being watched," said Howard, who has been in litigation with the district for more than a year.

Many parents became more vocal about special education services in the district last year after former special education teacher Dina Holder was convicted of child abuse for throwing a 5-year-old autistic child onto a classroom floor and kicking him in front of witnesses. The victim's family was awarded a $950,000 settlement from the district.

"The policy has burned some people in the wake of the scandal last year," Herron-Lumpkin said. "It is poor timing on parents who are trying to heal."

Brentwood schools Superintendent Dana Eaton said the district is planning to bring in an outside educational consulting agency to listen to all of the stakeholders and target best practices from model school districts. About 14 percent of the district's student population receives special education services, and $11 million was spent on special education this year, according to Eaton.

"I will never tolerate discrimination or retaliation," Eaton said. "We are open to working with all families."

He added that the district is examining its policy for parent classroom observations because of the concerns raised.

"We want to make sure the classroom is a safe environment where interruptions are limited," Eaton said.

Herron-Lumpkin noted that some Brentwood schools are more welcoming and inviting to students with disabilities because of the leadership on campus. She added that a cultural shift needs to happen districtwide and that schools with successful special education services should be modeled.

All of the parents emphasized that the district has some excellent teachers and principals who are not being supported by district leadership.

"It is unfortunate that we had to bring in a federal agency," Brentwood private educator Shawn Cookie Guinn said. "We want to be part of the change. Accountability is a huge piece."

The parents said one positive result of last year's events is that they are united to watch the district closely and advocate for their children together. Many of the parents support each other at meetings for their child's education, attend trainings and continue to learn about special education laws through groups such as Parents for Special Education Reform and Brentwood's All Children Aloud Advocacy.

"All of us have learned a lot," Brentwood mother Amanda Wilkenson said. "It feels good to walk in and help another parent. It is very empowering."

Contact Paula King at 925-779-7174.

Parents of Special Education Reform
For more information about this group of parents with special education children in the Brentwood Union School District, email them at specialeducationreform@gmail.com.