A Live Controversy


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A Live Controversy is a story of emergence. It documents one student's progress, then triumph, followed by banishment, only to be then followed by revival and triumph again. While pessimistic educators and lawyers thrash about for how to explain their exclusion of Mark Hartmann from regular public school academics, Mark, his family, and their allies march forward, finding creative ways for Mark to blossom as a student. In a richly told narrative that stretches all the way to the United States Supreme Court, this book encapsulates a national struggle over educational opportunity for students with autism and other developmental disabilities in the dramatic story of one student, Mark Hartmann, and his determined parents. A Live Controversy celebrates education as the gateway to full citizenship.

Douglas Biklen, Ph.D, Dean, School of Education, Syracuse University

Underlying this account of legal wrangling in a climate of mistrust, and amidst almost knee-jerk reactions of school districts to exclude, rather than include, is a remarkable story of a 20-year battle to remove educational barriers, and secure the legal rights for a student to learn and develop to his potential.

Dr. Benjamin Dixon, former Connecticut Deputy Commissioner of Education and Vice President Emeritus, Virginia Tech. Founder/President of Sankofa Futures Consulting, LLC, 1104 Deerfield Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24060. E-mail Dr. Benjamin Dixon

Roxana and Joseph Hartmann received the gift of a child that required all of their love and attention, and with incredible courage fought to ensure that he had the same opportunity that all children deserve to develop to his fullest potential. A Live Controversy teaches us how to defend the rights of our children and to never give up in the face of prejudice. Their story and their sacrifice for the well-being of their child should serve as a lesson and an inspiration to us all.

Jose Zaglul Sloan, Ph.D., Rector, E.A.R.T.H. University, Costa Rica


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As I read the page proofs for A Live Controversy, my first reaction was utter disappointment that I could not have the finished product TODAY to assign to graduate students, give to families, and share with administrators. This is a landmark book about a landmark case; it contains not only the Hartmann’s journey to inclusive schooling but many kernels of wisdom that others can use in their own quest for quality education. Parents often tell me, "I believe in inclusion for my child. I want inclusion for my child. I just don’t know how to get inclusion for my child!" Now, I will be able to point these families to A Live Controversy. The Hartmann's story may not be typical, but every family will be able to learn from the tenacity, creativity, and vision of these parents and their pioneering son.

Paula Kluth, Ph.D., Author of "You're Going to Love This Kid": Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom & "A Land We Can Share: Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism"

As expert witness for the Hartmann family in the Virginia Federal Courtroom of Leona Brinkema, I can personally attest to incredible adventure they took with amazing belief, tenacity and conviction! After personally observing Mark being educated successfully and thriving in his Blacksburg inclusive classroom, it was clear that he was truly in the least restrictive environment, the general education classroom. We prevailed in this courtroom which was notable considering the judge has a son with Down Syndrome (as an attribute) who had been educated in a self-contained classroom during his school career. This book is essential reading for all educators to understand many important areas including what an inclusive education should mean, how it is truly possible and how school districts can operate under a model of innovation, support, and possibility rather than fear and protection of outdated, non-student centered models. This book will be required reading for my university students.

Patrick Schwarz, Ph.D., Professor, Diversity in Learning & Teaching Department, National-Louis University, Chicago, Illinois
Website: PatrickSchwarz.com

To be honest, I had planned to only peruse it (A Live Controversy),but in short order, I found myself riveted by the content and writing style. I have just finished reading it from cover to cover. I feel emotionally drained and yet optimistic and encouraged that in the end the best happened for Mark. You have taken me, and will other readers, on the emotional roller coaster that was your lives for over five years. I found myself cheering when you won, tearing when you lost, and turning pages with trepidation as I worried what the next obstacle that would be thrown in your path might be. This book should be mandatory reading in all education law classes. In fact, I wish it were mandated reading for all school personnel considering legal action against children and families fighting for inclusive educational options. Both families and educators will gain insight from reading this story. I am so sorry that families have to fight the kind of battle that you fought. And I am grateful that there are families like you who are willing to do so. Thank you for generously sharing your journey and insights with us educators and families.

Dr. Richard A. Villa, Ph.D., President of Bayridge Consortium, Inc.

Roxana and Joseph Hartmann, like so many other great parents of children with disabilities, are instinctual integrationists. All they wanted was for their son Mark to attend the school and classes he would attend if he did not have autism with a few reasonable extra supports. Flexible, creative, caring and competent professionals in Naperville, Illinois gave mark a chance to benefit from integrated kindergarten and first grade classes in his home school. He thrived and all were happy. Then the Hartmanns moved to Loudoun County, Virginia and encountered special education evil. Loudoun county school officials would not let Mark attend integrated classes in his home school with professionally defensible and individually appropriate supplementary aids and services. Instead, they demanded that he attend a class of students with autism at a school far from his home. Rather than having their son attends segregated settings in Loudoun County, Roxana and Mark moved to Blacksburg which is about 250 miles away. There Mark attended integrated schools and classes. Joseph and their daughter stayed in Loudoun County so he could work. While we can see each other every day, they must drive long hours at great expense just to see each other on weekends. Postulating cause and effect is always dangerous. However, two theses seem reasonable. If Mark did not experience the integrated education provided by the professionals in Blacksburg, Virginia and Lombard, Illinois, he would not be functioning in the integrated post school settings in which he is functioning now. This also begs the question, "Where do the children with autism who were segregated in Loudoun county function after they exit school?" My suspicion is they stay at home all day or are segregated in post school life. All IEP team members both operative and in training should read this book for two important reasons. First, because they will realize that if you are competent, flexible and open to new ideas, you can arrange for your students with significant disabilities to function effectively in integrated school and nonschool settings. Second, because you will develop moral responsibilities that will prevent you from doing to the families you are involved with what the outdated, insensitive, inflexible and myopic professionals in Loudoun County did to the Hartmanns. All parents of children with disabilities should read this book for three important reasons. First, because they will realize that it is fair, reasonable and better if their children receive individually appropriate educational and related services in integrated settings. Second, because far too many segregationists still determine that their children will function in settings that prevent them from learning to live, work and play effectively in integrated society at school exit. Third, they will realize that integration is worth fighting for and that every demonstration of successful integration is another nail in the coffin of segregation. During the past forty years I have interacted with many individuals who have been given the label "autistic." Some of the important lessons I have learned are that no two persons with that label are alike; that each does best when honored and respected as a unique human being; that each was able to imitate and thus was deserving of being in the presence of the best possible models; that we know how to make them fail and we know how to make them succeed; and, that the vast majority of "autism experts" are segregationists. Loudoun County professionals, including their lawyer, premeditatively dumped Mark Hartmann in an integrated classroom without professionally responsible individually appropriate supportive services and predicted, watched and carefully documented his deterioration. In wonderful contrast, professionals in Lombard, Illinois and Blacksburg, Virginia wanted him to succeed in integrated classrooms, acted accordingly and he did so. His autism did not determine his remarkably rich integrated quality of life at school exit; his family and the integrated education he received did.

Lou Brown, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, College of Education, University of Wisconsin

"Controversy...a dispute characterized especially by the expression of opposing views." (Webster, p. 246). The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mandate has been the subject of considerable controversy and debate over the years since IDEA was enacted. In working with doctoral students preparing for positions as special education leaders, it has been my goal to facilitate a critical examination of the legislative basis of LRE as well as a thorough review of the major legal cases that interpret the LRE. It was during one of these scholarly conversations about the Hartmann v. Loudoun County Board of Education (1997) case that questions were raised about whether just the analysis of the outcomes of a case provided sufficient insight into how the matter being debated affected a family. For several years, Joe and Roxana Hartmann and more recently, Mark, have been guest lecturers in one of my classes to provide a family perspective of their journey in educating Mark. Their presentations have been thought provoking and have provided balance to our conversations about ethical decision-making regarding justice and care. This book allows them to share their views on interactions with school districts as seen through the eyes of a family. It has promise of being a valuable tool - for students in education at all levels to assist in understanding the rights of parents in pursuing what they perceive to be an appropriate education for their child.

Brenda Williams, Ph.D., Department of Education, the College of William and Mary

Inclusive schools are where all staff members believe that it is their responsibility to support all students in their learning. The Hartmann's story shows the value of educators and parents working together to support students in a school community.

Martha Ann Stallings, Third grade teacher in the 1992 short and acclaimed documentary "Educating Peter"

A Live Controversy is a journey relived by the parents of Mark Hartmann. Roxana and Joseph Hartmann never refused to give up on their son who was diagnosed with Autism. Once Roxana found out about Mark's Autism, she reacted to the 'straightforward, clean and unambiguous' diagnosis with fear of the unknown, but later, with a realistic approach – thanking the doctor for her frankness. Many parents can identify with this moment. Roxana stayed focused on Mark by being involved with his schools, volunteering in his classrooms, trying to find and make suitable classroom environments, and finally seeing Mark's progress. They never hesitated - even to go through legal battles for Mark. The book is filled with Mark's wonderful Philosophical insights, his family's challenges and detailed descriptions of the IEP process. It is a very useful guidebook for any parent who wishes to see success in their children with Autism.

Soma Mukhopadhyay, Mother of Tito Mukhopadhyay, Director of Education of Helping Autism Through Learning and Outreach (HALO), Austin Texas

The day will come when it is obvious to everyone that children who experience disabilities belong in their neighborhood schools, educated in the same classrooms as kids who are 'typical' in their development. The separate classrooms so widespread today will be viewed as relics of an uninformed and unimaginative past. One day, educators will argue about the best ways to include all children, rather than argue about whether all children should be included. In the meantime, while history is righting itself, we can learn a great deal from pioneers like Roxana and Joseph Hartmann and their son Mark. Over a five-year period they battled a school system over Mark's right to be included. While school officials lined up 'experts' and lawyers to make a case against their eight year old boy, the Hartmanns organized a thoughtful and inspired strategy that eventually led to a landmark court decision on behalf of children and their families everywhere. What you will find here is a careful and objective rendering of their journey. It is packed with news you can use, a road map for anyone who finds themselves fighting the philosophical opponents of inclusion. A Live Controversy begins in Northern Virginia when school officials tell the Hartmanns that Mark must be educated in a separate classroom. It ends in rural southwest Virginia where school officials tell the Hartmanns what will one day be obvious to everyone, everywhere – "Yes. Of course your child belongs."

David Pitonyak, Ph.D.

People have been telling stories since the dawn of time. It is how we learn and create our cultures. Some stories entertain, others teach, and some challenge. This is an important story about our culture – and how much we have still to learn. It is unusual for a family to have the capacity to 'tell it all,' but that is why this is important. They have laid bare their struggle to achieve basic human rights for Mark, when many fought to exclude him. Mark’s struggle will be life long, but partly because of these pioneering advocates for full citizenship, the lives of others are and will be less painful. And, Mark is clear that his family is with him on this journey which at this stage, is beginning to show rewards for the decades of intense pain, struggle and love.

Jack Pearpoint - Inclusion Press
Website: InclusionPress.com

Inclusion isn't just about including a child with a disability; it is also about including a family. The Hartmann's taught my fellow educators and me lessons from their expertise on Mark, as the two most critically important individuals in Mark's life. It takes a team to include a child!

Kenna M. Colley, Ph.D., Ed.D. Assistant Professor, Radford University

This book is a straightforward, clearly written account of the experiences of and the lessons learned by Roxana and Joseph Hartmann as they fought for Mark’s right to be included in the general education setting—the least restrictive educational environment for him. The Hartmanns share their own story, but it is a story that can speak to other families, friends, and professionals surrounding students with autism spectrum disorder. This book reflects the best instincts of parents who learned through their own research, reading, trial, and error how best to educate Mark to ensure that he would graduate from high school with a standard diploma—his ticket to more successful post-secondary experiences. Not everyone could separate their family, go through multiple lawsuits, and face the antagonism that Roxana and Joseph did. This book allows others of us invaluable insight into the workings of school divisions and the judicial system. Heartfelt thanks go to Roxana, Joseph, and Mark for the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

Leslie Daniel – Director, TTAC, Virginia Tech

Attorneys - Special Education Law

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Courageous and persistent parents have been the force that has transformed public education for children with substantial disabilities. A Live Controversy, the story of the Hartmann's decade long struggle to fully include their son Mark in classes with non-disabled students from kindergarten through high school, provides us an in depth understanding of parent power and the challenges parents like the Hartmann’s must confront. In the 70s, after parents fought to end complete exclusion of "handicapped" children from the public schools, they had to contend with segregated play school and bogus mainstreaming. In the early 90's came the biggest challenge – full inclusion. The Hartmann's write a highly detailed account of the how they took on that challenge in all its complexity and how Mark succeeded despite the adversity. In the telling of their tale they have given us a valuable reality based tutorial on the both the substance of inclusive education and the legal process that entwines parents and schools. Starting with successful inclusion at the Butterfield School in Illinois, the Hartmann's take the reader step by step by step through how the most sophisticated school systems in Virginia rejected their son; how the Loudoun County schools took the family into due process and a legal battle in the federal courts up to the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their equally important parallel narrative describes the extraordinary efforts the Hartmann’s made to protect Mark, to keep his educational interests paramount and ensure he made progress in an inclusive setting in Montgomery County. While Roxana and Joe Hartmann sought to survive their legal struggle, they made sure Mark would thrive in school.

Educators and parents may think they already know parts of this story: the vision of inclusion, the IEP dance, the stigma and banality of separate special education, the joy of competent teachers and the agony of indifferent and callous school officials, due process appeals and the outcome of highly visible court cases. But A Live Controversy takes us below the surface, beyond winners and losers to an in-depth exploration of all the multi-layered educational, advocacy and legal processes. Much of the instructional value of A Live Controversy comes from the wise and liberal use of primary source materials that reveal the perspectives and real time thinking of the teachers, experts, lawyers and various school officials. While the Hartmann's are passionate advocates, and there is much to be gained by studying their creative and common sense advocacy approaches, their reporting is detailed and objective. A Live Controversy is a rich, comprehensive study with national significance for inclusive education; it is also an inspirational tale of what it takes for parents, schools and communities to do right for all children.

Frank Laski, Esq., Past President, TASH, Attorney in landmark 'Oberti Case'

A Live Controversy has it all, for the parent, the educator, and the related service provider for children with autism. It is a 'must read' if you work with or represent children with disabilities. It contains incredible detail of events, in a moving, emotional chronological story about Mark and his parent's quest for his inclusion with other students. The journey begins from the point the parents learned that Mark, at 27 months, has autism. It concludes at his 2007 High School Graduation with a full academic diploma. Mark was successfully included in an Illinois public school. "In less than one year" after the Hartmanns moved to Virginia "we entered a period in our lives that would become our worst nightmare." The school district took them to Due Process trying to remove Mark from a fully included setting to self-contained. The case was appealed to a Review Officer, then to the U. S. District Court, and then to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The five-year legal struggle was featured in many national newspapers, magazines and televisions newscasts. You will learn about the victories and losses. A Live Controversy contains the full text of critical legal pleadings and the full text of the judicial decisions. You will learn about collusion between school districts. After Mark and his mother moved to a jurisdiction which had full inclusion, they were sued by that new school district. On the same day that the Hartmanns won that case, the former school district filed criminal truancy charges against the parents! At one point when Mark was fully included in a classroom, his future teacher for the following year, in an effort to forestall placement in her class, wrote a letter to the school superintendent. She asserted that Mark needed to be in a self-contained setting and should not be in a regular education class. You will read her letter and her subsequent letter, a year later. She reversed herself completely explaining, "Mark's presence has been a very positive influence on his classmates." In April 2001, Mark wrote in an essay that the road he is traveling "is long and difficult - so the ones who are helping me along the way are much respected and loved by me. I know that together we can all overcome the problems I face and strive to overcome." By reading this book, if you are a parent of a child with autism, you will learn how to help the other "Mark's" out there and avoid the roadblocks and problems encountered by the Hartmanns. If you are an educator, your eyes will be opened to the mistakes, and in some instances, the abuse, perpetrated on the parents. You will learn how to avoid becoming part of the problem, and instead become part of the solution.

Peter W. D. Wright, Esq.,
PO Box 1008, Deltaville, Virginia 23043
Co-author Wrightslaw: Special Education Law
Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy
Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind
Adjunct Faculty, Special Education Law and Advocacy,
College of William and Mary School of Law

Autism Organizations/Research

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Roxana and Joseph Hartmann’s personal journey with autism, from the initial diagnosis of their son to their dealings with the educational system, will be an eye-opener for many people, including school administrators and teachers, government officials, medical professionals, and, of course, parents. The Hartmann's battle for full-inclusion happened when the autism epidemic was just beginning. Unfortunately, many more families are also fighting similar battles. In a perfect world, teachers should work closely with parents to develop the best strategies to teach the students. When this happens, everyone wins. Wouldn't it be great if this book became a catalyst for change. All children are entitled to an appropriate education. In the past and in the present, parents are fighting for their child's rights; and this can be clearly viewed as a human rights violation. Every child is wonderful, unique, and important, whether or not he/she has autism. Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder and former director of the Autism Research Institute, and I have always stressed the importance of appropriate educational placement. Each student's individual educational needs must be properly assessed rather than assumed. Unfortunately, students with autism are often placed in a segregated classroom simply because the teachers do not understand and are not properly trained on how best to teach those with autism. Mark Hartmann uses facilitated communication (FC) to interact with people. Although research does not support the use of FC, there are many individual differences among people with autism. There must be some form of objective validation, on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether or not FC is valid appropriate for that particular person.

Dr. Steve Edelson, Director of the Autism Research Institute, San Diego, California


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An amazing story of adversity and victory against impossible odds. Provides much needed inspiration for parents to move ahead in advocacy and to provide a quality of life for all of their children. It is clear these parents deeply love their child.

Thomas McKean, Partner in Policymaking, Colonel, HOKC
Author, Soon Will Come the Light: A View From Inside the Autism Puzzle
Author, Light On the Horizon: A Deeper View From Inside the Autism Puzzle

As an individual with autism, I understand the benefits for students within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to have the right to an education that is inclusive. I grew up attending various private schools. I came from a situation where, after the first grade, my parents refrained from disclosing my diagnosis for fear that I would be displaced from these schools. So I was always placed in "normal classrooms." Academically, I performed just fine. The greatest challenge I experienced growing up was developing social skills that were on the same level as my peers. After a lot of hard work and effort on my part, however, I was able to blend into my "normal classrooms." I graduated on time from high school and 4-1/2 years later received my B.A. in Music Technology. A Live Controversy is one such example that strengthens this point: those of us with ASD can achieve great personal successes in educational settings that do not isolate us from neuro-typical society. This is the story of a family who has made a positive impact to the autism community. The emotions enclosed inside are raw, powerful, and driven with no sign of giving in. And the subject material is beautifully executed. I met the Hartmann family in 2005, and I consider them to be dear friends of mine. I can tell you that Roxana and Joseph are brave warriors in embracing their optimism and their hearts are solid as gold. I also have had the opportunity to meet Mark and he is a brilliant young man. I am convinced that he will continue to amaze those who admire and respect him in many years to come. A Live Controversy is a highly recommended read!

Lindsey Nebeker, Autism Self-Advocate/Speaker

A must-read for parents and educators alike. For students of education, it offers all the essential ingredients of a case study on inclusion for a child on the autism spectrum. As parent to a young adult, this book haunted me with the reality of barriers faced in pursuing true inclusion for our son. But the reader will also be reminded that there are people who do grasp the importance of collaboration in addressing individualized needs of students with autism. Kudos to these parents, who were trailblazers and had the courage and fortitude to hang in there and tell their story to benefit others.

Lisa A Lieberman, MSW, national speaker and author of A Stranger Among Us: Hiring In-Home Support for a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorders

This astonishing book is not only part of the history of the disabilities rights movement; for many families, it still reflects present reality. Anyone who cares about the education of diverse learners in our schools – and that should be all of us – will want to know about the Hartmann family's long struggle to secure the inclusion of their son, Mark, in the general curriculum with his peers. Mark's family spoke truth to power at great personal price; their story is an enduring reminder of what families and children with disabilities value most, and an uncomfortable reminder of how far we still have to go.

Pat Amos, M.A., parent advocate, Past President of the Autism National Committee; TASH Board member.

It has been a great privilege to know the Hartmann family for 20 years now! Being a person with autism, I was in special education classes through fourth grade, and their son, Mark Hartmann, was in the same special education program with me in Hampton, Virginia. This was during the late 1980s and the first half of 1990, before I transferred to a regular elementary school in Williamsburg, Virginia. We had a strong family friendship going by that time and still have that friendship going strong today.

Through the years, I have witnessed the Hartmanns go through many hurdles in finding the best educational environment for Mark. Joseph has worked at several different locations while Mark was young, and this meant moving from one school system to another. The biggest challenge came to them when they were living in Northern Virginia during the early to mid 1990s. It was very important to them to ensure that Mark received his education in a regular classroom setting, as opposed to a special education classroom where interaction with other peers would be significantly reduced. This book does a great job at explaining how the school system in Northern Virginia failed to meet the needs of the Hartmann family and the legal battle that followed. One of the main goals of this book is to explain the importance of inclusion for people with disabilities, including autism, in a regular classroom setting, and how it has been proven to work!

Dave Hamrick, Meteorologist, weatheringautism@aol.com, Self-Advocate