For the past two years, Tony Brandenburg — lead singer of seminal Fullerton punk band The Adolescents — and his wife have been caught in a struggle with their community school board and parents from Sierra Madre School in Sierra Madre (part of Pasadena Unified School District), whom they claim discriminated against their Autistic son.
On Tuesday night the Brandenburgs rallied several dozen friends and supporters together at the Pasadena School District's public board meeting, many holding signs and some in ski masks. They called for a censure of Board of Education Vice President Edward Honowitz, who they believe violated policy and conspired with other parents at their son's school, resulting in his removal from his first grade classroom last year, and again this term for second grade. Their son suffers from sensory processing disorder, a neurological problem associated with Autism, that results in confusion and distress in those afflicted when overstimulated.
Earlier this year the couple called, in vain, for an investigation of Honowitz, whom they also believe held secret meetings with parents of their son's classmates. They say he has also altered and withheld documents relating to their son's education, including a petition signed by other parents citing him as a classroom distraction and requesting his removal. The Brandenburgs allege that no one worked with them to learn about his disorder or how to deal with it, and that their son has been bullied by other kids at the urging of their parents and with the approval of Honowitz.
Honowitz maintains that he has not violated protocol; as he told the Sierra Madre Patch in January:
Every action that I took was certainly in accordance with ensuring the confidentially that all parents are accorded under law and was appropriate in relation to the issues that were at the school site.
Though it remains to be seen what the board will do next, the Brandenbergs' protest has helped publicize some complex issues pertaining to special needs kids. Autism websites have been covering the story closely and the family has garnered a great deal of support on Facebook. Kelly's Army, the protest group that sprang up after the Fullerton Police beat and killed homeless Fullerton man Kelly Thomas, were at yesterday's protest and have pledged to help the family's cause.
Meanwhile Mary Brandenburg says her son, now 8, continues to be ostracized. “Because of these parents and the pressure they've exerted, my son was isolated in the special classroom all of last year. He couldn't go to recess with his age peers, nor was he ever mainstreamed into the general classes,” she says. She adds that she plans to work with the school's principal to get him back into a general ed class.
The other parents involved in this conflict have voiced their concerns about the situation — using words like “mainstreaming” and “meltdowns” — on the Sierra Madre Patch, where the Brendenburgs blog regularly. The back and forth…
…in the comments section there contains more vitriol than any slam pit at an Adolescents show.
“The events that have taken place over the last two years have taught my child directly the price of discrimination and bigotry that takes place when a large group of ignorant people hold the power,” writes Tony Brandenburg in an email to us. (He also goes by Tony Cadena.) “All we have ever sought were the names of the bullies and a confirmation from [Honowitz] that the events, which are documented, would be acknowledged by him with an apology — and the names of the people that conspired with him.”
“Complacency has taken center stage,” he continues. “It's only through direct action by activists and advocates for all children that their civil rights and their right to a fair and equitable education can be protected from these elitists who only look out for their self interests, and the interests of the empowered. This is a government for all, not just the elite.”