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Fear and Loathing in Lebanon (1986)

Fear and Loathing in Lebanon (1986)

©1986, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1986, 19 April). Fear and loathing in Lebanon or My Introduction to the Due-Process Process. Graduate paper for Dr. Sid Levy, Special Education 3936, George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.




I wrote this paper while in a graduate program in special education at George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. I was asked by The Association for Retarded Citizens—Tennessee to testify at a due process education hearing in Lebanon, a town 30 miles east of Nashville. I rode there and back with ARC’s resident attorney. I was astonished at the facility with which school personnel misrepresented facts—let’s just call it lying—and their antagonism toward their student and his mother.

I had read and was impressed with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and borrowed heavily from it in writing this story. I have to say, it was great to attend a university where I could get away with that!


Fear and Loathing in Lebanon

Or My Introduction to the Due-Process Process


The giant bat whooshed by low overhead, screaming its rage that it was going to miss us. My attorney swerved the Red Shark violently to the right, nearly impaling us on the hood ornament of a Mercedes. The driver of the Mercedes snarled savagely, but did not try to retaliate. “Relax,” I told my attorney, “it’s only The Hub. The American Airlines Hub, It went into effect yesterday.” He just grunted and appeared to go back to sleep. I turned the radio up to full volume. The twisted voice of James Taylor emerged eerily from the twin tinny four-inch speakers. “You’re my only one. You’re my only one.” My attorney sat bolt upright and swerved the car again to the right. The driver of the Mercedes, his face red with rage, started searching frantically through his glove compartment for his .357. “Save your shots,” I yelled through my open window. “You’ll need them for the bats!”

My attorney leaned past me and thrust a copy of P.L. 94-142 at the Mercedes. “Free and appropriate public education for all handicapped,” he screeched. “In the least restrictive goddamned environment!” It was too much for the Mercedes. The driver slowed and took the Stewart’s Ferry exit. My attorney looked at me. “I think that was the Superintendent of Clover Bottom,” he said.

 This week I attended my first due process hearing under Public Law 94—142. I testified as an expert witness (psychology) for the parent of the child. The hearing took place in Lebanon, Tennessee. My involvement in the hearing came about in the following way:

 Several weeks ago I received a telephone call from Gary Buchanan, the staff attorney for the state office of the Association for Retarded Citizens. He told me he was involved in a due process proceeding and asked if, for a fee, I would be willing to examine the child in question and testify at the hearing. After talking for a few minutes about the case, I told him I would. We made arrangements to go to see the child on Wednesday afternoon of the next week.

 The child in question, Mike B., is a fifteen—year—old. His mother is a single parent with no other children. Mike is mildly mentally retarded and seriously mentally disturbed. His specific psychiatric diagnosis is pervasive developmental disorder, a rare condition that at one time was called childhood schizophrenia. Mike is a management problem, not because of his mental retardation, but because he has always exhibited a large number of inappropriate behaviors. Examples of his past behaviors include threatening and aggressing toward others, repeatedly telephoning the fire and police departments and directing them to his house, breaking windshields out of automobiles, and taking a pistol to school. On the occasion when Mike took the gun to school, he put it to the head of another child and said, “Come on, punk. Make my day.”

Mike is socially inept; for example, he knows his taking the gun to school generated a great deal of excitement and still talks about that day, but he doesn’t seem to understand why that was an inappropriate thing to do. He is nevertheless quite friendly, and will talk to complete strangers as if he had known them all his life, holdling nothing back from them. He ignores social cues; for example, last summer he reportedly didn’t respond to cues from a stranger to whom he had been talking that she wished to terminate the conversation, and followed her into her house without being invited. She subsequently became quite frightened.

The parent and the school system are in agreement that Mike is mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. The dispute arises from disagreement over placement. The single parent is unable to cope with Mike during non-school hours. He requires 24—hour supervision, something no single person can provide. The school system has suggested she seek foster care placement, but she doesn’t want to do so. She has sought the help of the state office of the Association for Retarded Citizens, and has been represented by the ARC-TN staff attorney, Gary Buchanan.

There was a due process hearing two years ago in which the parent argued that Mike needed a twenty-four hour educational program. The school system argued that they could provide for his educational needs (the record shows they had been doing a poor job of meeting Mike’s educational needs). The hearing officer found in favor of the parent and ordered the school system to pay for a residential program. For the past two years. Mike has attended a 24-hour residential program at Kings Daughters School in Columbia

Recently, the school system initiated a second due process. They contend the Lebanon 10th District School System can provide for Mike’s educational needs as well or better than the Kings Daughters program, and they argue they can do so without 24-hour residential care.

I rode to Columbia with Gary to examine Mike. While Gary reviewed Mike’s chart, I met with Minter Williams, who is primarily responsible for Mike during the evening hours. Minter acted as respondent for the American Association of Mental Deficiency’s Adaptive Behavior Scale, an instrument which was designed to measure the abilities and maladaptive behaviors of mentally retarded individuals. Three of Mike’s teachers also served as respondents. The Adaptive Behavior Scale revealed that Mike can provide for his own needs in a number of ways, but still has a high frequency and number of inappropriate behaviors. The results weren’t significantly different from results of previous administrations of the Adaptive Behavior Scale. For comparison purposes, I obtained the results of an administration which was given two years ago.

I then saw Mike briefly. He was brought in from basketball practice. He was friendly and talked enthusiastically about many things. He acted toward me as if I were a long lost friend, despite the fact that the only time we had met was three years ago, when I was a Psychological Examiner at Clover Bottom Developmental Center; I had seen Mike for purposes of an intellectual evaluation.

After seeing Mike, I reviewed his chart; then Gary and I drove back to Nashville. As we drove through Spring Hill, we speculated about the future location of the General Motors Saturn plant.

 The hearing room was the office of the Superintendent of Schools. It was a nondescript room-— a calm place which belied the ugliness about to happen there. The ugliness didn’t take long to happen. The school system’s attorney took a short, savage kick at me as he passed. Your ass is mine, he sneered. I hurled an ash tray at him. After narrowly missing him, it smashed against the wall. The Superintendent of Schools glowered at me. And a Free and Appropriate Public Education to you, to, I snarled. The hearing began.

I met with Gary before the hearing to go over my testimony. We were ready to go. Then, at the school district’s request, the hearing date was postponed. On the next scheduled date, we drove to Lebanon; when we got there, the hearing was again postponed. The hearing officer, who had driven up from Knoxville, had to drive all the way back. We all returned the next day. The hearing was set in the office of the Superintendent of Schools. He sat there all day, totally, uninvolved.

I was one of the first witnesses. My testimony consisted of (1) stating my name, educational background, and work history; (2) my relationship with Mike; (3) my recent contact with Mike and the tests administered; (4) the significance of Mike’s psychiatric diagnosis; and (5) my conclusions. Gary Buchanan asked me the questions. Then I was cross-examined by the opposing attorney, State Senator Rochelle. I had read the transcript of the previous due process hearing, so I was prepared for his tactics. His cross-examination consisted of his usual strategy for expert witnesses—an inept attempt to discredit me. His weak attack had four prongs—(1) that I had seen Mike only briefly and therefore must know nothing about him; (2) that since I had received financial renumeration I could not be unbiased; (3) that since I had not generated a written report, I must be unprofessional; and (4) that since I had once worked with Gary Buchanan on a similar case. I must be a stooge for the Association for Retarded Citizens.

The rest of the hearing was similarly ugly. The school system people were elusive and untruthful. They misstated facts and made claims which they couldn’t substantiate. They made allegations that the single parent was a poor parent (she wasn’t), that she hadn’t followed up on promises she had made (there was no documentation the promises had ever been made, and testimony from other parties made it clear they indeed hadn’t been made), that she had not cooperated with the school system (she had), that foster home placement was available (it wasn’t), that the school system’s proposed program would adequately meet Mike’s educational needs (it wouldn’t), and that the previous hearing officer had obviously not meant what she wrote in her report of the last due process hearing. The school system people said a lot of things like “As conscientious educators, we feel we can best provide for this child’s needs.

Although the Special Education Supervisor said finances were “absolutely not” a consideration in the case, the matter of finances arose on a number of occasions. Gary lost his temper several times. “I forgot.” he told me later, “that those people have no shame.”

No evidence was introduced to suggest that Mike has changed sufficiently to justify a new hearing. The school system introduced no new witnesses or new evidence to suggest anything was different than before. Gary Buchanan introduced considerable evidence that the situation has indeed not changed.

There is nevertheless, Gary told me later, a good chance that the finding of the hearing officer will go in favor of the school system.

Throughout the hearing the hearing officer maintained decorum. At the end of the hearing (it lasted from 11:00 AM until 6:30 PM), he drove back to East Tennessee. A transcript of the hearing will be sent to him within three weeks, and he will then render a decision within five days. The decision will decide the placement of Mike for at least the next year. Either he will remain at Kings Daughters with 24 hour supervision, or he will return home and attend Wilson County Public Schools. A free and appropriate public education. In the least restrictive environment.

My attorney pulled the Red Shark onto the northbound lane of the interstate, narrowly missing the No Hitchhikers” sign. He hurled his Coke can at a hitchhiker. “The bastards!” he snarled. “I hate ‘em!” “Take a good look around,” sighed Bruce Springsteen on the radio, “at your home town.”