Evidence In Cum Files

Hello, Parents and Advocates, Teachers, and Kid-Helpers everywhere,

Today is in that odd block of days when some school districts have not yet begun school and others are in full swing.  It is the busy time of the year for teachers who suddenly have a new crop of students they don’t know and about whom they know nothing.  It’s all learning all the time for all the people in a classroom these days!

Teachers, you are busy, but you really, really, REALLY need to take a few moments to listen to parents of your special education students, especially if you are a non-SpEd teacher.  What parents can tell you can relieve headaches, speed your paperwork, and improve your classroom management.  Not kidding, here.  Parents know things your peer from last year knew, used, and appreciated.  To ease their child’s way, they want to pass that information on to you and they should not be asked to wait until you’re dying of exhaustion 6 weeks later at Open House.

As a teacher, you don’t want to pick up on someone else’s biases about a child, but you need to proceed knowledgeably–and without information from the cum, the IEP or 504 plan and the parents, you are not exactly educated in what you need to know to be an effective teacher for these children.  The IEPs and 504 plans are available only on a need-to-know basis, and as a special education child’s teacher, you are THE ONE who needs to know what is on that IEP or 504 plan.  You do NOT need anyone’s permission to see it.

Parents, I know we all want to talk endlessly about last year and this new year and our children and their accomplishments, but busy teachers need the Condensed Book–the Comic Book–well, really at first maybe the Comic Strip is enough for starters.

For behavioral issues, concentrate on the most important issues and let little things wait for a couple of weeks. “Johnny has this, it makes him do that, and the best way to handle it at school has been….” “Annie is obsessive, and if you don’t give her time to…. she simply shuts down.  Then she agitates until you can’t do anything with anyone else until she gets settled again.”  “Oli doesn’t always pick up on general instructions to the class.  He needs you to speak directly to him if you see that he’s not on track.  It’s not that he’s unwilling–it’s that he doesn’t always focus enough to know general instructions are for him, too.”  No further discussion is necessary unless the teacher invites it.

If dealing with chronic illness and medication needs, bring a current doctor’s note about how medication and symptoms should be managed during school hours and give copies to each teacher, the principal, the school nurse, and give one specifically for inclusion in the cum.   Tell the principal that you’ll be following your child’s progress closely– both medically and academically.  Make sure everyone who needs it has information about how to contact you in an emergency.

Advocates, we’ll soon be getting complaints about how last year’s IEP doesn’t work anymore or inappropriate placements, so be ready.  Do you have your school directory handouts about school hierarchy and staff updated and ready to copy or e-mail or have you updated your general parents’ e-mail about this? Have you met the new administrators you’re most likely to deal with in the upcoming year?  Are you up-to-date with how the school administration plans to deal with bullying, drugs or guns on campus, teacher abuse of students, students’ physical contact with teachers, etc. and where are the policy and procedures for these located so you can refer parents to them?  What about staff cuts due to budget cuts–duties and responsibilities move all over the place.  Do you know who is handling what in SpEd these days?  Here’s where buddying with someone in administration is helpful.  If you don’t have such a “buddy”, find one.  Even if the general administration tone toward advocates and parents is unfriendly, individuals in the system can be very helpful and glad to be of service. (Parents, you can do this, too.)

Everyone–whoever has access to the cums–have you checked it for progress, obstacles to progress, triggers to trouble, avoidance strategies, patterns that cause concern, etc?  There is a wealth of information in cums beyond just the forms.

Forms will tell you:

if there is a pattern of student behavior that indicates the time of medication administration isn’t right

if a certain person is always involved in conflicts, and sometimes how that happens

if a child’s behaviors function to promote learning or don’t

if a child is avoiding something critical

if a teacher is trying to move mountains to find your child’s key to learning

if an administrator is diligent or lax about keeping documentation in order

if certain staff members appear to “have it in” for a student

if a student seems to be “going after” a staff member

if a student is or is not successful in presentations done in certain learning styles

if a student is being treated unfairly

if staff members need training

if administration members need training

If school staff review cums at the beginning of every school year to pick up on what worked at the end of the previous year and listen even briefly to parents of SpED students, opening days and weeks will go more smoothly. (Yes, I know, it’s about accommodations and FAPE, too, but we tend to overlook what works when it gets frantic–and it trips us up and makes things worse!)

If parents review cums at the beginning of every school year to assure that all the information that should be there IS there, the school will have the resources it needs.

If advocates have “oiled” their relationships with school staff and administration so the “gears” will be ready to move when needed, then we are good to go.

Parents, not all of us are wealthy, but when we need to get a teacher’s attention at this time of year, if you get it, use a little money to show your appreciation for the effort that requires.  If you can only spare a dollar, buy a few stickers the teacher can use for the students, a few pencils or pens, or anything usable in class.  Teachers spend a lot of their own money on our students’ needs and if you can give the smallest thing, your teacher will notice and remember that you might be an ally and therefore merit her attention. Then do nothing to spoil that impression!  And don’t forget to use your magic Thank You words–teachers need to hear them.  You could also write thank you notes to those who help you–to be included in the cum.  Can you imagine the different it makes when someone who is grumpy and upset about a lousy day is going through yet another set of troubles and finds a thank you?  Evidence of appreciation should be liberally spread around, even as a note in cum files.

Teachers, too few parents become involved with their children’s education, their teachers, the school.  No day is ever too busy to say “Thank you for thinking of me (the class, the school, etc.)” Our children are the tough ones, and too many of us don’t get many rewards from non-family members for being their parents, trust me!

Advocates, we owe as much thanks as anyone else, and because it isn’t our child, we might forget to say the words out loud.  Here’s my shortest story.  Once I almost walked out of a tough IEP meeting without actually saying thanks.  I stopped by the door and turned around.  “OUT LOUD,” I said rather loudly.  People stopped talking and looked at me like I was a bit crazy (they’re probably right).  “Out loud.  I was walking out of here thinking how thankful I am to all of you for caring about these children, your work, what we do, but I didn’t say it.  So now I’m saying it.  OUT LOUD.  Thank you.  Thank you for caring.”

You will never know how bright the rainbow of smiles was that went around that room.  It was the best-received thank you ever.  And I could joyously be seeking another like it for the rest of my life.  You look for it too.  I hope you find it soon!

 

 

Understanding and Using Cum Files – Attendance and Medication Administration

Hello, Parents!

When parents get their copy of the cumulative file for a child with disabilities, it is a pile of paper filled with words and phrases we don’t understand, forms that seem to mean nothing but we know they are important or they wouldn’t be there, etc.  And there are things we do understand–immunization records, attendance records, things we sent in ourselves.  But with a file that can grow to 4” or 5” thick by 3rd grade for some children, there’s a lot that needs explanations.  Or just some determined examination.  So what is all this?  This post will stick strictly to issues involving special education papers in your child’s cum.

Attendance:  If your child’s attendance is at issue, use your own calendar at home to double-check the school’s records.  At the end of the school year, districts count the days of absence and may tell parents the student has missed too many days of school and will not be promoted to the next grade.  

I’ve seen times where the student was an honor roll student and the form letter goes out anyway.  It’s a big mess, lots of yelling and howling, finger-pointing and all that.  In the end, a good student gets a common-sense over-ride and advances.

But what if your child is a borderline case, one day makes a difference, and you can prove your case that the school is wrong because your calendar says so?  Your calendar can win the day.

What about behavior problems in a district where principals or school staff are allowed to call parents and say, “Joey isn’t behaving appropriately today so we need you to come pick him up and take him home for the rest of the day.”  And it’s still morning.  It’s wrong, but it’s done all the time.

What’s wrong about this strategy?

School staff are not teaching Joey when they send him home. He’s being denied access to his education.  Not just equal access, but any access, is denied.

Joey isn’t learning skills and strategies for learning or appropriate behaviors that permit learning, so his Free, Appropriate Public Education is denied.

Joey is being removed from very setting he most needs to be in so he can learn how to behave properly in it!

If parents don’t know that IDEA requires schools to develop behavior modification plans and class management plans that give teachers ways to help Joey learn better school behavior and participate in learning, Joey will eventually miss so much school he can’t progress.  He is a future dropout at best.

Parent Advocacy Skill:

“I’m sorry, Ms. Principal, but Joey won’t be coming home with us today.  He needs to be at school to learn, and we need to hold an IEP meeting to develop an appropriate behavior modification plan so he can learn good learning behaviors.  I’m available Thursday at 10 a.m. and Friday at 3 p.m.  next week.”

Ms. Principal will find your written IEP meeting request on her desk tomorrow morning.  “The school continues to request that we bring Joey home before the end of the school day because he is unable to perform good learning behaviors.  I am requesting an IEP meeting to plan appropriate behavior management strategies for his IEP so he can begin to learn appropriate school behavior.  Please let me know within three working days when this IEP meeting will be held.”

If your principal responds that there must be some observations and/or evaluations done before an IEP meeting, this is good news.  IF these are done and done in a timely manner, it is good news.  It should mean that a school counselor or psychologist is checking what triggers inappropriate behaviors from your child and how to avoid them or teach your child how to manage himself.  This evaluation period should not take more than a week or two, but in larger districts, staff time allocation may take up to 30 days.  Check in periodically (not more than weekly) to see how things are going and to say thank you.

Make a list of behaviors and triggers that happen at home that school staff can discuss in this meeting with you that will help them further understand your child’s needs.

Medication Logs (Individual and school):  If your child’s grades are not what you believe she is capable of, look at medication logs, especially if medications are to help with behavior, focus and concentration, or compulsion.

Medications must be given to children at the proper time for them to be effective.  Watch out for these errors:

A.  given too early — may create an overdosing effect that temporarily impairs your child’s ability to stay awake, focus, concentrate, or participate fully in class

B.  given too late — creates a gap where lack of medication is when behavior deteriorates and learning is no longer possible; and

–worse, creates the possibility that the late dosing causes an overlap with the next dose that then becomes the overdose situation

C.  not given at all

Is it just once or is it a recurring pattern of sloppy administration?  If it’s a pattern of lax management, document it in a list of times and dates or on a calendar.   Write directly to the principal.  “Jenny’s medications were administered inappropriately as follows:  (list the times, dates and medications not done correctly).   Jenny’s medications must be given according to the following schedule:   (then give that schedule).”

Your child’s file doesn’t have any medication administration records in it?  Then you need to see the school’s medication administration log.  By law they must record every medication administered to a student, when (by date and time), and by whom.

If staff tell you they can’t let you see it for confidentiality reasons, tell them you know they can redact a copy of the log so you can see what you need to see for your child’s case.  School staff will have to black out other student’s names, but they must allow you to see that record.

If you find medication administration is sloppy, look for evidence of how your child might be affected by it, talk to teachers for their impressions, etc.  If it’s clear or even possible that your child’s education is being impaired by sloppy medication management, it’s time for another letter and phone call to your principal.

“I’ve noticed Jenny’s medications are not being administered according to the schedule the doctor has requested and it is impairing Jenny’s ability to learn and participate fully in class.  Jenny’s medications must be given according to the following schedule:   (then give that schedule).”   Don’t forget to close with a thank you for helping Jenny succeed at school.

After two weeks, ask for copies of the last two weeks of medication logs.  (No excuses about confidentiality allowed.)  Once they understand you are looking over their shoulder frequently to monitor your child’s medication administration, it should improve.  If it doesn’t improve within two weeks, call and write to the supervisor of your school’s principal.  After two weeks, if there is no improvement, go up another level.  Give each level two weeks to improve.

Consider also that if the schedule for your child’s medications is not in the IEP, it might help to put it in there–so call for an IEP meeting to do that.

However, if lax medication administration is health- or life-threatening, don’t wait–just start with a call to the principal.  If the principal is not immediately supportive, call the next level above and write if they ask you to do so.  If you can’t get better medication management, call your state’s special education monitors in your Department of Education and ask for assistance.  You WILL get help.  Nobody gets to fool around with meds.

If your child has a 504 plan, all of this post applies to your child’s case.  Just substitute 504 for IEP, and there you have it.

This is all for now.  In the next post we’ll be looking at how to use minutes of meetings about your child, behavioral records, teacher referrals, teacher/staff notes, observation records and/or anecdotes to help your child.

How To Request the Cumulative File

Parents need to know what is in their child’s cumulative file.  It doesn’t matter how often you talk to school staff about your child–you NEED to know what is in the cumulative file.  Information there will help you understand why the school does what it does with/for/to your child, may contain information about future plans for your child, and will have information about and copies of evaluations and evaluatio reports.  You truly NEED this information.

If you’re thinking you can just make a request for a copy of your child’s cumulative file by phone, stop. That’s fantasy. You can request that way, but if the district you’re in is the least bit lax about listening to parents, if it is a tad unwilling to share its records, if it is the honkin’ biggest discriminator around, you could be waiting a very, very long time for absolutely nothing to happen. Verbal requests are worth what they’re written on–air. School staff are busy, and verbal requests frequently are overlooked, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes gleefully intentionally. The rule is this: if you want your school district to do something for your child or your child’s case, make your request in writing and keep a copy in your home file.

When you write a request for a cumulative file, you need to identify your child seven ways from Sunday:
name, age, birth date, address, school district, school, grade, teacher’s name (for elementary students), student ID number. To make it easy on school staff, make a standardized letterhead for your school correspondence that includes your child’s data. Like this:

date

your return address

re: Child’s Name, Age
Date of Birth
Residing at: (address)
School District, School
Grade, Teacher’s Name

Next, put another Re: line, this time stating in 10 words or so what is the topic of the letter–Parent Request for Copy of Cumulative File.

In the first paragraph, identify your child. “My child is (name, age, birth date) who resides with me at (address) and attends (teacher’s name)’s class in (grade) at (school name) in (school district), (county name), (state).”

Then make your request. No extra words needed.

“This letter is to request a parent copy of (child’s name)’s cumulative file. I will stop by to pick it up on (give a date about 3-5 business days in the future to give time for copying). Thank you.”

If you can afford to pay for copies, you can stop writing and sign off here. If you can’t afford to pay for copies, here’s what you need to know.
1. Schools must make the cumulative file available for parents.

2. They may offer you access on school property, where you may decide to copy only certain pages if you wish and the school might or might not make those copies for you free of charge. They may not stand over you while you look it over. They may not withhold parts of it from you. (If they say there are other children’s names in the file, you will say, “We need to see all the cum, so please redact those pages for us.” That means black out the names to maintain other students’ confidentiality. They should not blacken out anything else–not teachers’ names, not events, not titles, etc.)  Cum files should contain medical information/records that schools must keep for children who take meds, vaccination record, etc., attendance records, teacher’s notes, samples of work, copies of IEPs/504 Plans, correspondence (all that is about your child),

3. The school may make a copy for you for free. YAY!

4. The school may exercise its right to charge a REASONABLE fee for copies. “Reasonable” has been interpreted by Supreme Court to mean no more than teachers are being charged to make their copies.

5. Schools may not charge “research fee,” staff time, filing fee, replacement fee or any other fee.

6. You may request the school to waive the fees for copies by writing, “We can’t afford to pay for copies, so we are asking that (school, district) waive the copying fee for us.” Most will do it. If not, go to the superintendent of the district (in a letter) stating that you have requested a copy of the cum so you can give informed consent at the next IEP meeting and your request to waive copying fees was denied. Then if it is true, you can say, “It imposes unreasonable hardship for either of us to take time from work to come to school to view the cum on site. For us to have equal knowledge of (child’s name)’s educational needs and to act as equal partners in the IEP/504 process, we need to have a copy of the cum. Please assist (school name) in waiving the cost of copies so we can perform our duties at the IEP/504 meeting as equal partners and give informed consent as (child’s name)’s parents.”

In your last paragraph, give your phone number for contact in case there are questions, state the date you will be there to pick up the file, and say thank you.

If you can’t pick up the file and don’t trust another adult to pick it up for you, DO NOT LET THE SCHOOL GIVE IT TO YOUR CHILD TO BRING HOME. Children are curious, and some things that are in cums can be devastating to children if they read them. If the school mails it, request it be mailed in a way that it can be traced and requires a signature for receipt. This guards against loss and offers proof as to whether or not you actually got your copy. DO NOT ASK FOR CUM FILES TO BE SENT TO A P.O. BOX. These files are often too large for these boxes, and some delivery companies will leave it on a doorstep where anyone, including other people’s children, can take it. Figure out where this mail can be delivered safely so YOU are the one who ultimately receives it. Then close with a thank you.

Come back soon and we’ll talk about what you do when you get that cum. You won’t believe how much information you can get from those papers that isn’t even on those papers! And you can do so much to support your child with what is in the cum that you won’t want to miss what’s coming up.

Till then, laughter and smiles, enjoy what’s left of summer!

Protect Those Cums!

Hurricane season is in full force, and in Miami, where Hurricane Andrew blew thousands of buildings to bits and trashed one of the region offices where special education offices kept thousands of students’ IEPs and 504 plans, we learned a very important lesson.

PARENTS MUST ASK FOR AND KEEP UPDATED CUMULATIVE FILES AND IEPS/504 PLANS FOR THEMSELVES.

We learned here that so many parents had no copies of anything that when a storm destroyed a major storage area, it took over a year to re-evaluate, re-IEP and get those students back on track. Those of us who had our copies at home and protected got back on track immediately (or as soon as a school was available for our children).

Here’s how:

1. Request a complete copy of the cumulative file. I’ll post some sample requests in a couple of days.
2. Make a copy of your copy. Put it in a safety deposit box, send it out of town to a friend or family member to keep for you.
3. Keep your copy easily accessible during storm seasons so you can quickly double-wrap it in plastic and keep it the way you keep property deeds, bank records, etc. (Don’t tell me you don’t do this!!!)
4. Keep this file updated every 6 months.

This year we’ve had floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and no hurricanes, but the year isn’t over. My clients, if they’ve done what I suggest, have all their important records in one place in a water-proof, fireproof storage container. When you evacuate, that container goes with you, wherever you go. It is your lifeline to starting over, and for your children, if you have to move, it is instant FAPE in any other location without having to start over in the IEP process.

I wish you calm weather, solid earth beneath your feet, and much happy laughter in your homes.