Today we’d like to introduce you to Raja Marhaba.
Raja, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Over twenty years ago, I had no idea I would be embarking upon a journey with an extremely broken special education system. I took on the second-largest school district in the nation, thinking I was going to get justice and fight for my special need’s children. Instead, they decided to take me to 9th Circuit Federal Court.
Prior to the lawsuit, I was faced with a tremendous amount of block walls, lack of information and support for a novice mom. I have never heard of special education, dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, twice exceptional, learning disabled, executive functioning, auditory processing, and the list goes on. Not understanding my own children and trying to keep a marriage together, learn about what deficits and/or strengths my children had was a tall order. Back then, we had no google search engines where you can put keywords and obtain a multitude of information at your fingertips. I asked the district to connect me with other parents in special education for support and resources. I was told due to confidentiality they could not do that. I felt so alone and at despair as my children were struggling, my marriage commenced failing, and our construction business was heavily impacted by the astronomical cost to fight a broken special education system. I had no idea there were special education advocates and attorneys that can help and provide guidance. I learned about them through my children’s private psychologist. I did not understand what psychoeducational assessments were or what the scoring means in these reports. I asked a lot of questions and there was not one stone I did not turn over in desperate search for answers. There were several times I would wake up in the middle of the night and sit on my son’s bed crying my heart out. I felt it was my fault that both sons were born with learning disabilities and resources were scarce. Somehow throughout the eight years of hell fighting the system, my family prevailed, but what a cost.
I guess trials and tribulations lead us to our destiny because it was through the eyes of both my sons that enabled me to see and learn about special education. Families should not have to go through the extreme financial and emotional hardship my family did. Children should not be sacrificed and placed on hold until there is resolve between the school district and the parents. My sons paid the highest price possible for a Free and Appropriate Public Education. When a family is given the gift of a special needs child – that gift is priceless! These children are gifts from God. There is a reason HE gave them to us. My purpose is The Jonathan Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities (and beyond). It was through my journey that helped me to realize what my purpose in life is. If we can turn our hardships from a negative to a positive – imagine the changes we can make in this world!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It absolutely has not been a smooth road. Operating a nonprofit is very similar to operating a for profit organization. It has to run as a business in order for there to be success. Just as every nonprofit struggle to raise funds yearly for the cause The Jonathan Foundation has the same challenges. I am very blessed to have an active Board with a passion for the cause. We work very hard throughout the year supporting/advocating for families. We have established an Assessment Scholarship Program that funds psychoeducational assessments in the areas of social, emotional, behavioral, academic and cognitive testing. We believe that all the answers can be found within the confinements of the brain as to what is happening internally with the child. These assessments are administered by highly credentialed professionals.
Due to COVID, we had to reschedule our 2020 Fundraiser to June 19, 2021. Our fundraisers are where the majority of our money is raised to help these families. It is unfortunate that some Districts are not administering Psychoeducational evaluations due to COVID. There children waiting to be evaluated by Districts in order to see if they qualify for special education. In addition, there are children who have outdated assessments that need to be updated, and/or approaching their triennial IEP review in their Individual Education Plan meetings (IEPs). It is required by IDEA 2004 ACT (special education law) that school Districts provide a complete and comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation. IDEA 2004 ACT does not correlate with District’s budget to provide various assessments, services and placement for our special needs children– this is a huge problem (has been for decades). Services are provided for these children via an IEP meeting – assessments drive IEPs. Without these assessments it will be difficult to see how the child is doing cognitively, academically, emotional, behaviorally and socially. In addition to parents applying for a psychoeducational assessment request on our website, I have private schools contacting me to see if we can fund assessments for their student population. Without the financial means, this will be difficult to do. It breaks my heart that so many children are on hold until Districts figure out what to do about this situation. The other thing that comes to my mind is if Districts assess children then they have to provide services for deficits noted in the psychoeducational report. Virtual therapy and learning are a huge challenge for Districts and students these days. Districts have to reimagine how to administer and implement these assessments and services so that our special needs children do not fall further behind regressing, while being in compliance with IDEA 2004 ACT. The Jonathan Foundation has been able to locate psychologists who are willing to administer these assessments in parts virtually and with CDC Protocol in-person. Administering these assessments can be done with some adjustments, but the question is will Districts step up to help these families? This is the time for both families and Districts to unite against COVID, not each other in the hopes of coming up with a strategy that will facilitate student’s learning and provide services accordingly. It is my belief that the general education population will also need assessments administered when school reopens due to possible loss of education. Districts need to see exactly what grade level the student is at, and can that student access grade level curriculum?
I predict the system will be overwhelmed with the need for assessments. It is time for Districts to collaborate and/or partner up with various organizations so that our special needs children are not left behind vs. going to Due Process for loss of education. Parents will need to continuously document written progress and/or regress on a daily basis of their children’s virtual education so that they can present their concerns to the IEP team. Parents should request a 30-day emergency IEP when school commences to present any concerns they may have since they are now “technically” their children’s educators.
Please tell us about The Jonathan Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities.
The Jonathan Foundation provides advocacy support to families who have children with special needs. Our advocacy is not limited to learning disabilities. I am very proud of our success rate with the families. I have advocated for over 300 families since 2013 that I have a record of. All the families are success stories where they were able to obtain the much-needed services and/or placement for their children. It is not a perfect world, but one that requires the hunger to never give up no matter what.
In addition to advocating for these families, we have put a program in place to assess children and learn how their brains are wired – since every child learns differently. The Jonathan Foundation’s trademark is “How Are You Wired?” Our assessment scholarship program has proved to be a significant resource for our families. They use the final report and diagnosis of what is happening with their children in Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. These meetings are where all the advocacy takes place, the report is presented by the evaluator and services are negotiated with the District on behave of the family.
What sets me apart from others is that every child that I personally advocate for becomes mine, and I advocate for that child as if he/she was my own blood. These families become part of The Jonathan Foundation Family. For those families that qualify for low income the advocacy is pro-bono. I am only able to advocate 30 students per year but hope to increase this number as we grow and obtain more support. I am a parent that walked the walk with second-largest school district in the nation. I have a thorough understanding of the political red tape involved in trying to obtain services. I started my journey over twenty years ago, and twenty years later, as I advocate for families it has become extremely evident that I am still fighting the same fight I fought for my own two sons. The National Special Education System is still broken.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Determination to succeed and passion for the cause. I have endured eight years of hell fighting for my own children. There were many times I wanted to throw in the towel because the mountain I was climbing became more steep as I was struggling to reach the top. Never giving up was the answer.
- Each assessment costs between $4,000-$6,500. Funding for these assessments are raised during our fundraisers.
- If families and/or corporations have the ability to donate to our cause they will be saving lives.
- Address: 10732 White Oak Avenue, Granada Hills, CA 91344
- Website: http://thejonathanfoundation.org/en-us/
- Phone: 818-368-2600
- Email: [email protected]
- Other: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-for-parents-with-special-needs-children-and-ieps-during-the-covid-19-crisis/