Chapter 6: Oberti v. Clementon
09:02:04:14 - 09:02:38:08
09:02:04:14 - 09:02:38:08
Lisa: Judy, you'd once said that you believed that we would see the closing of all state institutions in our lifetime but as you well know since 2011 I believe 14 Pennsylvanians have been institutionalized given the lack of funding for supports in the community.
Lisa: Do you still feel that we'll see the closure of institutions in our lifetime?
Judy: Yes I still believe that.
09:02:42:25 - 09:04:38:15
Lisa: Why is it, do you think, in all of you time and work around these issues that these issues central to the disability community have kind of remained below the radar?
Judy: I don't know but, excuse me. I think it has a lot to do with the increasing inequality in our society, the increasing concentration of resources in hands of relatively few people. I think it is much harder now for families and advocates to, to bring about change in the system. The system, systems are much stronger now than they were 20 years ago. There is not as much common ground between families and advocates on the one hand and the people running the system on the other. It is more costly to challenge a system, it's infinitely more costly to bring a lawsuit now then it was 20 years ago and, and people have to work much harder and all of us, you know including families with children with disabilities, are having to work harder at jobs and have less time. It's, it's just a much greater challenge now then it was.
09:04:40:15 - 09:09:35:13
Lisa: Judy, I know that you've done, also, extensive work in the area of inclusive education and although we don't have time to nearly touch on the breadth of that work that you have been involved in some significant cases, one I'm think of in particular is Oberti versus Clementon which I believe was in 1993 and I wondered if you could tell us what was significant about that litigation?
Judy: Well that case was brought by my colleague Frank Laski and I did some work on it in the initial phase and it really made major president in this jurisdiction in the third circuit. It was a case on behalf of a child who was in first grade at the time, Raphael Oberti whose parents wanted him in his home school district in regular class to the maximum extent possible and the school system in New Jersey had sent him to a neighboring school district where he was educated full time in a self-contained class. So after a hearing in the Office of Administrative Law, which upheld the school district, Frank filed a case in Federal Court and a very wonderful visionary, Judge Gary, the late Judge Gary, ruled in favor of Raphael after a three day trial and then it went up to the Court of Appeals and resulted in a very wonderful decision which I still find new things in it almost every time I read it, it's very rich and it really laid the ground work for cases on behalf of children with significant disabilities in this jurisdiction. And using that case as ammunition we've gotten inclusion in regular class for kids with every disability you can imagine, sever and profound retardation, multiple physical disabilities, mental health disabilities, autism, the list goes on and those cases have been very successful and resulted in great improvements in people's lives. And Raphael's story was very interesting because after the court of appeals decision came down he moved to Pennsylvania, his family moved to Pennsylvania and he continued to be included, because of the original court's orders, throughout his schooling he was educated in regular class for most of the school day but when he reached high school he did not have, he did not have transition services that were really designed toward the outcome of a real job in the real world and the school system would not agree to provide a job coach for Raphael so he could learn a real job. So his father decided to serve as his job coach and helped him get a job at local CVS store and taught him the job, on the job, did a really great job and by, we had a due process hearing to challenge the lack of appropriate transition services and by the time of the hearing Raphael was completely independent on the job. He would go to work independently, he, he was really the best worker in the shop, I think, and we had an evaluation done at the time of the hearing in which a team of people from an agency that does this sort of evaluation posed at customers and rated Raphael, compared him to his coworkers on every aspect of the job and they found that he did more parts of the job, he took fewer breaks, he worked harder than just about anybody in the place and the school district continued to take the position that he could not work because of his diagnosis of mental retardation and, and they refused to accept the fact that he was already working. It was a very strange hearing but Raphael prevailed.
09:09:41:04 - 09:12:23:29
Lisa: And, Judy, you've supported people with disabilities and parents through litigation, due process hearing, many ways and so you've had, you know, really a unique sort of exposure to the parents movement in Pennsylvania. How strong do you feel the parent's movement is today?
Judy: Well as I said I think it is much harder now, parents have to be much stronger now to, to resist the system, to change the system then they have, have ever been and one of the problems in the system is that it's, in the parent movement is that it's somewhat fragmented. There are, there are still divisions between parents who want inclusion and parents who accept continued segregation and who accept the view of professionals that this is the best way for their children to learn. And of course many parents still want a cure. I think we see it most of all among parents of children with autism who believe that with applied behavior analysis they can essentially cure their children's autism. So it's, it's hard to say how strong the movement is today there certainly are, are many parents who are carrying on the struggle, younger parents. I think the, one of the problems is that parents need to be supported by organizations, they can't just act alone they need to be part of a movement and the organizations that lead the movement such as the Arcs have their own difficulties surviving in the present economic climate and so I think I, I think the question is really not so much how strong are the parents but how strong are the organizations and how can we build those organizations so that they are strong enough to support the parents.
About Judith Gran
Born: Virginia, 1943.
Community Collaborative, Institutions, Pennhurst, PILCOP, Raphael Oberti, Right to Education, Self-advocacy