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Michai Freeman started this petition to Tony Thurmond and

It is my hope that my family's story of economic injustice and systemic bias at Berkeley Unified School District will help low-income families of color get equitable and respectful treatment when advocating for the special education rights of their children in settlement agreements. I am ending my silence because the only entity that benefits from the injustice meted out against my family is Berkeley Unified. It must end and I ask for your help.

In 2016, after many attempts to obtain an appropriate IEP and an offer of FAPE for my son at Berkeley Unified we were disenfranchised in a settlement agreement by the district. How? I was given three days to find an attorney to review the agreement. To my dismay, I could find no attorney who would review the agreement in that short amount of time. I told BUSD's attorney that I could not find an attorney within three days, and did not want to homeschool my child for a year, which the proposed agreement required. Furthermore, I told the attorney I did not understand the waivers in the document. Berkeley Unified's attorney wrote the agreement and I was told the terms of the offer would not change. I was told the waivers in the document were just "boilerplate" language and I could either "take it or leave it". 

Background 

In the summer of 2016, I had filed a due process complaint which led to two mediation hearings. At the first mediation, I was offered $25,000 to resolve the complaint. The catch was I was required to pay for services upfront and wait sixty days for reimbursement. There was no way I could accept the agreement on a Social Security Disability income. I also found the offer shocking because all I was asking was for the district to reconvene an IEP meeting and a FAPE offer. I had to refuse the offer and refile the complaint because the district refused to have an IEP meeting or to state how (based on assessments) my child would be appropriately supported in his classroom (FAPE). 

I entered into second mediation proceedings wary and demoralized by district administrators who acted like I was a criminal for my advocacy. I don't apologize for being an advocate for my child. If I am not who will be? However, I was not prepared for the heavy-handedness and hostility I encountered by Berkeley Unified administrators. I have to state in all mediated settlements I have not broken one agreement. In hindsight, I should have not signed the document. It is my opinion the settlement agreement was purposely written to disenfranchise my child and as punishment for me challenging his exclusion from the after school program in 2015 ( see OCR complaint) and what Berkeley Unified agreed to honor but did not. I am happy families with disabled children benefited from this action but my son never did. I was tired from being threatened with a truancy hearing as retaliation. When I challenged the basis under which the district brought the hearing my son was dropped from Berkeley Unified admission rolls. Months went by but I repeatedly asked the district for a complete IEP and FAPE offer. I signed the agreement because I was eager to end the pressure from contentious actions taking against me in the course of advocating for my child during that year. 

Berkeley parents you are homeschooling and for many, it has been difficult. I know how it feels to be unexpectedly thrust into it. I know how it feels to feel like you do not have the resources to homeschool effectively. You had no choice because of the pandemic we all are facing. I had no choice either but the only difference is in my case I was forced to homeschool. I guess BUSD had to protect itself from me. I was told having my child's placement as "homeschool" would give the district a break from my advocacy. I had no power to change this and feeling unprepared I enrolled him in a  public charter school that supports homeschooling families. BUSD did not care if he had a full academic program. They ignored my clear objections to this. I never moved out of the district (or from my home address) but BUSD sad I violated the agreement by enrolling my child in the public charter school. They claim my district of residence switched to the district of the public charter school and therefore BUSD is not responsible for the terms in the settlement agreement. Yes, Berkeley Unified claims it is not responsible for actions and denials that occurred while my child was in the BUSD district. I ask you, is this right? BUSD cared about money, not about my child's education. To all of you reading this petition, BUSD would be receiving education funds from the state for my child if they did not KICK US OUT. I did the right thing for my son which was to get get the support I needed to give him the education he deserved. The compensatory education in the agreement did not provide for science, art, social studies, and math. The Berkeley Unified school board allowed the law firm of Fagan Friedman & Fulfost and the attorney Lenore Silverman to craft a coercive discriminatory agreement that continues to affect my family to this day despite numerous requests for renegotiation.   

Please:

1) Sign this petition and then contact the BUSD school board members at boardofed@berkeley.net and demand low-income and financially struggling families not pay for services upfront in settlement agreements. This is an extreme hardship and potential trap for poor families because children can lose provisions of an agreement when parents cannot or are unable to keep paying.

2) Low-income families that cannot afford an attorney need timely representation. Families need access to free or low cost local community-based legal agencies. Additionally, parents need a  longer time period than three days to get an advocate to review proposed settlement agreements. 

3) Require BUSD and law firm of Fagan Friedman & Fulfost to end the tactic of removing provisions from an offer when unrepresented parents request time to review and understand a proposed settlement offer. This is coercive and a form of violence! 

4) Demand the California of Education conduct an audit of settlement agreements at BUSD going back ten years. Berkeley taxpayers should know the amount Berkeley Unified pays out in settlements and if they are equitable to families of color? We should know what budget settlement funds come out of and how much does the district pay to law firms?   

4)Help me get a resolution. Tell Berkeley Unified to renegotiate my settlement agreement. BUSD never reimbursed me for an AT device or provided the compensatory education they stipulated in the agreement. I provided receipts for the device. Having my money returned would really help pay for PPE and necessities during this pandemic for my family. As it stands I would have to go to federal court to end this which I do not have the money for.   

Contrary to what school districts would have people think public charter schools are not the enemy. Public school charters were created by parents and concerned citizens through a referendum in 1992 to provide an education for their children who were ignored and had few educational opportunities. Berkeley has many private schools. Are parents with children in private schools the enemy? Are their children more worthy than mine to have a personalized individualized education? Do Black children's minds matter? Do Black and Brown parent's voices matter? As one special education case manager related to me in a meeting "I should be grateful my son is cute and not a problem". I swallowed my anger then but doing so has solved nothing. Enough is enough. I ask for your help to help me get justice from Berkeley Unified. I ask your help for more transparency for Berkeley residents and low-income families of color. I demand Berkeley Unified stop demonizing public charter schools and charter families. Black and Brown children are not place holders for educational funding. Our children deserve an equitable education.  Our voices are just as legitimate and worthy of being heard. Name changes of buildings are window dressing without systemic change and restorative justice actions. Start with me!  

#Blackwomensvoicesmatter,#BlackandBrownmndsmatter,#equaledfundingforallCAstudents,#publicschoolcharterfamiliesvotetoo,#Blacklives,#changesymbolsandsystemicracistpractices,#endtrannyinleas,#notthefloor-highexpectationsinspecialed,#not4theDevosagenda,

#resistsilence        

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