Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taline meeting wiith ombudsman

I am posting email I got from Taline Sagharian - long time powerful autism advocate. There is a lot of useful information so I am posting all of it:

I was interviewed by two investigators at the ombudsman's office on Monday morning. Over the course of our 45 minute conversation, I shared details of what has been uncovered in the benchmarks analysis case thus far. I stress that his office will not be investigating the IBI waitlist, the cut-offs, or the mutual exclusivity between ABA/IBI and a public education. However, based on the benchmarks analysis information I have been sending to them over the last several months, they are looking into the possible "mal-administration" of this and other autism contracts. If anyone else has information to share on this particular topic, I urge you to come forward and contact his office at info@ombudsman.on.ca.

Below is some of the information I shared with them. Evidence that supports all this has been sent to them over the last several months and I referred to each one at the appropriate time during our conversation.

1) Benchmarks

I provided them with a history of the benchmarks which are identical to the Stockton Criteria in California where a class action lawsuit against them has now been certified. Although the ombudsman's office is unable to get involved in the issue of the benchmarks itself, I felt that it was important that they know the background history and that these details have been shared with our government by advocates and autism organizations through letters, e-mails, and personal meetings, but it has been ignored.

From our American friends...

It seems like I've fallen off the planet but trust me, we are working hard here in California. Our lawsuit, now in full filed effect, is awaiting official response from federal court and discovery and depositions are in our near future on the Stockton criteria and illegal benchmarks. You might have noticed that I took down the www.autismreformcalifornia.org website for now. I am working to move it to another webserver and if you click on www.autismreformcalifornia.com you'll see a crude frame of a website. This will soon change, no worries.

For now, the autism bills are being presented again this November which would make the Stockton criteria legal. I am confident we will get Gov. Schwarzenegger to veto it again.

Just so you know, here are the bills we got vetoed for the 2008-09 year:
SB 1475 Autism Pilot Program (would allow state dept. and one regional center to create criteria)
AB 1872 Autism Clearinghouse (would allow certain people to decide who gets ABA)
SB 527 ASD: Screening (would allow state dept and one regional center to decide who gets ABA)

Gov. Schwarzenegger received our letters and I believe our advocacy got him to veto all three bills.

This year, 2009-10 SB 527 is back. It is disguised under SB 383. If you look it up, you'll notice that it is the same dangerous bill. We plan on taking it down by sending out our plea for the Gov. to veto it again.

I'll send you a copy of it when it starts going out.

Keeping you posted, and keep fighting the good fight!

2) Analysis of the Benchmarks

a) Process

I told the investigators that our community is concerned that the process for securing the contract for the analysis of these benchmarks was not handled in an appropriate (ie: legal) manner. When we first inquired, we were told that this particular contract was secured through a new system that the Liberal government had developed which is an "invitational" request for proposals (RFP) process whereby an RFP is issued by invitation only to certain candidates. We discovered that this type of RFP is used for contracts that require specific expertise in the skills required for the particular contract, that it must be for no more than $100,000 and a minimum of three candidates must be invited. The recipient of the contract, Dr. Louise LaRose requested $118,000, which is clearly above the maximum amount. We have asked the government what the final amount was that the contract was settled on and have not received a response. If our government has nothing to hide, then they would share this information freely.

Experts in the field of autism and ABA have stated that there would have been several candidates who would have qualified to do the analysis both within Ontario and in the US, had the proposal been made public. Furthermore, the entire reason for RFPs is to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent in the best possible manner by securing the most qualified and efficient candidate for a particular job. How can this be accomplished if the opportunity is not publicized? One would think that for such an important job as evaluating guidelines that will impact thousands of children with autism, the government would make it their priority in choosing the best in the field to evaluate the cut-off decisions. So even if the final amount of the contract was within the government's own rules of being under $100,000, that they decided to use an invitational RFP rather than a standard publicized one raises many concerns.

b) Conflict

I told the investigators that the conflict problem was raised to the government on numerous occasions, again by advocates and autism advocacy organizations and the government has not responded. People are concerned that Dr. Louise LaRose was working for the government when the RFP was prepared and that she has worked closely in the past with the Chair of the Benchmarks Development Panel, Dr. Nancy Freeman. Had the RFP been publicized, there could have been many other candidates without any potential conflicts.

3) PPM 140 - ABA in the Schools

I said that our community is also concerned with the government's conduct in granting the contract for the PPM 140 training of school boards to the Geneva Centre a couple of years ago. This contract was for $3-5M. Was this opportunity ever publicized? The fact that the message the recipient of the contract would communicate to the school boards could potentially impact thousands of children in the public education system demands that it should have been publicized. An example of a message is to support the Ontario government's distinction between ABA and IBI thereby blocking any possibility for our children to receive an appropriate public education.

As I had mentioned in my previous mailing, others will also be interviewed this week. The question of the process to secure the contracts for the Benchmark Development Panel itself is also being raised. I will update all of you once I am able to share more details.


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