Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 2

Note: As in Part 1 of this series, mentions of IEP will also include Sec. 504 and Section 504 plans.

Part 2 of Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May will ask parents and guardians to think of some things that are NOT on the IEP or 504 Plan but which contribute to the quality and confidentiality.  Special education law requires that an IEP be “up to date” so that a student is receiving services and accommodations that will allow equal access to and equal opportunity for a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Many students need few services or accommodations beyond what is in a standard special education program, and when this is the case, reviewing or changing an IEP every year is a matter that schools and even parents may take for granted.  But sometimes school staff are given the task of keeping IEPs updated with a nearly impossible condition–do virtually all IEP reviews in MAY so the education plan is freshly prepared for the Fall semester.  If your school has only 90 students in special education, that can work.  For larger schools and larger districts, it doesn’t.  Here’s why.

1.  IEPs are “living” documents that should change as a child’s growth and maturation occur so that development of new skills and abilities as well as failure to meet developmental milestones is taken into account.  An IEP that stays the same year after year is rarely appropriate if it is rubber-stamped annually by staff who fail to evaluate and convey to parents what changes are occurring and what that means to a child’s education.

Students who grow bored and frustrated with programs that don’t work and keep them from any realistic academic success are potential dropouts.  Schools that write them off know this; to parents it’s a hit in the head when it happens because all they know is that school was always hard for their child.  They don’t know there are programs for dyslexia and central auditory processing disorder the school didn’t use, things that work, like Lindamood-Bell, Fast ForWord, Wilson, and other language therapy-based learning programs that are very costly but which are very effective.  They don’t know that when their child was faced with math, he simply shut down and scribbled on paper whatever came to mind just to be occupied while other students wrote down what they actually had learned.  They couldn’t know that every day their child went to school it was a supreme act of obedience and respect for their wishes because inside there was no reward or benefit other than seeing friends between classes and for a few minutes before and after school.  The rest was one long desert.  When such a student drops out at last, it is an effort to remain whole before a world of people who judge him or her as “deficient,” “dumb” or slow, as second-class and not worth a real effort.  Valueless.  Worthless.  A waste of space and skin.  This happens because a school district determined to “save money” left a child unable to function academically to grow up without efficient learning skills and a future of frequent or chronic unemployment.  Some students are lucky and find success in non-academic areas; there are not promises or guarantees that any student written off in this manner will achieve this.  They are the exception, not the rule.

The Point:  If your child’s IEP meeting is so short and so lacking in information that all you remember is where you were asked to sign the IEP, you need to double-check your child’s progress and achievement to be sure everything is in place that should be.  If it isn’t, find your local education advocate hat and work with him/her to make sure your child’s education is appropriate.  Hint:  15 minutes or less is NOT enough time to discuss a year’s worth of progress or failure or any combination of those or to plan effective remedies and accommodations for any child’s deficits and weaknesses.

2.  When hundreds of IEPs must be done in such a short time, some schools look for ways to speed things up.  My son’s school district chose to notify all parents by mail that their IEP review would be in the school library on X date at Y time.  When we arrived, we discovered hundreds of other families were already there waiting for their 15 minutes.  At every table in the biggest library room was one special education teacher.  The principal and special education assistant principal were “roaming”, going to the various tables as a teacher raised her hand to indicate it was time for one of them to sign that they had “attended” this IEP meeting.

Think about it.  Inadequate time for individualized planning for a child’s entire year of education.  A public setting for a confidential event.  School administrators signing off on documents that indicated they had attended the IEP meeting when in fact they had only been within 100 feet of a hurried, low-pitched request to “sign here.”  Violations?  Yes, indeed.  Violations of IDEA, Section 504, FERPA, and common sense.  Office for Civil Rights did not look kindly upon that behavior and demanded that all the IEPs be done individually and in confidential settings from the date of that correction letter forward.  Don’t let the size of your school district push you to let them railroad your child’s IEP into a circus event or another rubber-stamping of the education plan.

3.  “Sign here.”  One school in our district actually called parents in for an “office visit” at which time a school secretary handed the parent the signature page of an IEP plan and said, “Sign here.”  The parent began to examine the page and the secretary took it back.  “It’s just a school document that needs your signature.”  Again she pointed to the line.  “Sign here, please.”  NO IEP IS VALID IF IT DOESN’T REFLECT A STUDENT’S INDIVIDUAL NEEDS.  NO IEP MEETING IS ADEQUATE IF PARENTS ARE NOT PRESENT AND PARTICIPATING.

In this case, the school held a meeting and decided UNILATERALLY and without parental input or consent what should be on the students’ IEPs.  This is, quite simply, illegal.  Then they used the pages parents were asked to sign in complete ignorance.  So much for INFORMED consent!  Don’t sign anything about an IEP if you are not involved in the planning process.  Make your formal complaint to the superintendent of the district with a copy to the State Department of Education.

4.  It’s been a difficult year and the school staff tell you your child will be going to a different program in a different school next year.  STOP RIGHT THERE.  If you were not informed along the way of the difficulties and why the school staff want to consider a different placement, they are not keeping your informed and you do NOT have to consent to their one-sided decision to move your child away from the school he/she knows.  You should have been informed, given options and alternatives, and you should visit other schools before such a decision is made.  That’s IF you agree a different school is necessary.  If you do NOT agree, the district will have to take the case to Due Process before such a move can be made.  That could take 6 months or so.  Meanwhile, your child stays where he/she is.

5.  Bullying is NOT a natural behavior.  It is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.  If your child is the target of bullying, use the current emphasis on anti-bullying programs to insist the school tackle the problem head-on instead of ignoring it.  No school staff should ever look the other way when bullying is going on, and they should not be participating in it, either.

You can use an IEP to move your child to another school if bullying is a problem.  Or you can use the IEP to force school staff to counsel your child to learn to be strong and defend himself/herself against bullying; and an IEP may contain something like this:  Jimmy’s teachers will be trained in anti-bullying strategies so they can help teach Jimmy and his classmates how to end bullying.”

6.  Is your child finishing 5th grade this year?  Are you aware that 6th grade is the year when pre-college curriculums begin?  Students who are not in college-prep courses now may not be able to catch up later.  If your child has the intellectual potential to attend college but has grades that don’t even come close to showing that, the problems must be addressed with an IEP that gets right up close to everyone’s nose and in effect, says, “THIS CHILD IS COLLEGE BOUND AND NEEDS THE COURSE WORK AND SUPPORT TO GET HIM/HER THERE.”

Don’t let anyone tell you a child whose grades are A’s through F’s aren’t college stuff.  You tell them, “He’s capable of A’s and B’s most of the time if he’s getting what he needs to learn.  That’s your job.”  Of course you have to supervise the homework process and do your part to make sure he learns how to commit himself to the college goal.

There is a difference of a minimum of $800,000 in earning power between a high school diploma and a college degree.  Many post-secondary certification programs are for careers with similar wages/salaries.  Just tell yourself, “NOBODY WRITES OFF MY CHILD!”  Then work in a non-adversarial way as much as possible to push for the services and accommodations that will make college possibility a reality.

So what if he can’t read now.  He should have been reading long ago and would be if the district were doing its job properly.  This is the year you will fight to get that expensive reading therapy with a speech pathologist or a skilled specialist.  This is the year you’ll tell the school that your child can’t learn math if there are more than 4 (or whatever that number is) students in the room or in his group.  This is the year you’ll be telling them about social skills that sabotage his learning options and the need for social skills training is not to be ignored.  (By the way, your child isn’t the only one who needs this and they all know that.)  If you think your child’s IEP isn’t strong enough to get started on college prep and you KNOW your child is capable, here’s what to do.

A.  This year you’ll find an education advocate online or locally through your parent training organization (PTI, go to http://nichcy.org/families-community/help/parentgroups  or go to Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates COPAA at www.copaa.net).

B.  You’ll ask for training in advocacy skills through the PTI and you’ll find a new confidence that touches many areas of your life.  You’ll read IDEA Part B and you’ll read Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and know your child’s rights and yours.

C.  You’ll find friends who don’t judge your lack of knowledge and who applaud your commitment to your child and your determination to get the education he should have.  You’ll find your nearest Parent to Parent group (go to http://www.p2pusa.org).  You’ll gather people from these groups and who know your child and you’ll never go to another IEP meeting alone.

D.  You’ll watch your child’s skills and abilities grow and increase as the IEP guides everything toward college readiness.  If you’ve never been to college, don’t worry about it.  Lots of people have never been to Kansas City or Albuquerque or Manhattan, but there are maps.  We can get there.  The IEP is the map for your child’s college readiness.

E.  You’ll realize this isn’t a job any family does alone–indeed it truly takes a village.  So you’ll do what your child must do.  You’ll ask for help when you need it and you’ll share when others need what you know or can do.

We didn’t ask for a child with disabilities, but now that we have one, we find the challenge isn’t just to our child.  The challenge is for the entire family, for the people who work with your child.  You are your child’s cheerleader, parent, case manager.

And who is cheering for YOU?  I AM!  YOU CAN DO THIS.  WE CAN DO THIS.  ONE STEP AT A TIME.

It’s April, and May is coming.  Figure out what your child needs for the next academic year; find your helpers.  Post your success here in comments.  We’re looking for them!

 

 

 

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Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 1

Hello, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

It’s April 22, which means it’s almost May.  May means IEP reviews and 504 Plan reviews.  (For this series, IEP will also mean 504 Plan since 504 plans meet the same academic needs as IEP Plans.)  Whether you think your child’s IEP is fine as it is and can just take a rubber-stamp to keep things going well or you think your child’s current IEP stinks like yesterday’s fish wrappers, there are a few things to consider.

A.  Some students will be changing to bigger, more challenging schools – middle school, high school and may need help with the transition.  We will address this issue today.

B.  The sheer number of special education students in some districts can make it nearly impossible to review all IEPs in May.  However, many school districts will do it anyway and may use methods that violate your child’s and your family’s right to privacy under Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  That’s for tomorrow.

C.  What should be done to address academic failure?  Social promotion is NOT acceptable, and neither is retention.  So….what to do?

D.  Is your child one who needs success is something at school to prevent him or her from giving up altogether?  Is that something a non-academic activity such as sports or drama/theater which require grades better than your child can get with an inappropriate IEP?  Or just better grades?  There IS a way to use IEPs and 504 plans to make these activities available to special education students despite lower grades than required by The Almighty Rules.

The topic for today is that bumpy ride between two levels of academics–elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school.  At this point in life, the majority of students are making huge strides in personal development and learning school that make such large changes reasonable and necessary.  Is your child ready for such momentous changes?

1.  Is your child at the transition point between academic levels–moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school?  If so, arrange a conference with your child’s teachers before scheduling the IEP/504 Plan meeting.  Ask if teachers and/or staff see anything about your child, the effect your child’s disability has on his/her education, and your child’s maturity that should be taken into account on the IEP for the next academic level.  What should you be considering?

a.  Many children with disabilities lag behind their peers in social or personal development. Middle school students are beginning to socialize more away from home and the pressure to fit in somewhere becomes intense.  Students who can’t succeed socially are at risk for depression and ostracism – two main ingredients of Columbine and similar events.  Students who are not ready for the leap in greater academic demands are at risk for failure without prevention of failure or immediate remediation.

b.  Middle school brings a change of classroom along with change of subjects AND a change of teacher.  Some children may not really be quite ready for that many changes all at once in September.

c.  In high school, those changes are in place, but the academic intensity increases.  Homework demands soar.  The building is larger, and there will be lost children at first.

d.  Sports and clubs loom large in the social atmosphere and a teenager’s life can become a constant popularity contest if a teen doesn’t perceive his individual value outside that context.

There is an answer when we ask how we can help with this transition.  Summer school.  (Eyes rolling, sighs, OMG, someone says.)  Summer school is held with far fewer students, so hallways are not jammed, classes are small, almost intimate, and students have a chance to start school with new friends already in place.  They already know their way around the building, so they don’t get lost and panicked in crowds.  They already know some of the teachers.  They already know the cafeteria, its rules, its perks.  This is an item for the child’s IEP that will give a jumpstart to what could have been a rocky transition full of potential failure.

If your child does not handle change well,

If your child is somewhat or very socially immature,

If your child is directionally challenged even in a space the size of a lunch bag,

If your child has fears of the bigger, new environment that is coming,

If you think these aspects of your child may interfere with his or her ability to succeed academically during the Fall semester or the entire first year, then summer school is a very reasonable and needed accommodation to request for your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.

If your school denies summer school for reasons that have nothing to do with your child, such as

–we reserve it only for children who failed the academics this year;

–we aren’t babysitters for immature children, find a club for him/her;

–we don’t have the funding for it; or

–there’s a waiting list. . .

grab your local education advocates and make some school administrators realize your child truly NEEDS summer school as a foundation for academic success in the Fall.  You can find advocates at your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) http://www.copaa.net.

There are no excuses for denial of FAPE for a child with disabilities.  Legislators with pet projects in mind for campaign money donors have cut our education budgets to unreasonably low levels, but there is money to meet special education needs when the alternative is to fill out about a thousand pages of paperwork to respond to a legitimate formal complaint to OCR or to lose all special education funding in the district for refusal to serve.  Sometimes services are not provided just because parents don’t know how to insist or because administrators can deny them.  Summer school does cost money–plenty of it.  It’s a convenient item to cut from the budget if no one complains loud enough. None of these reasons to deny summer school is permissible.

Don’t feel guilty because your child’s education costs more and don’t let anyone make you or your child feel “inferior.”  Don’t let anyone dismiss your child’s needs by saying his/her costs take money away from others.  (Our legislators do that just fine, thank you.)  We don’t flip out OCR complaints every 90 days, only that one time that something absolutely critical was denied and there was no other path to peace.

Because we only get to live each day once and learning is the most important work anyone does for the first 18 years of life, it’s important to give each child appropriate support to achieve success.

 

 

Advocacy Tips: 1–Educate Yourself

Hello, Parents!

This week I want to discuss some tips for how to advocate for your child’s educational needs.  We’ll use 5 topics:

1. Educate yourself.
2. Focus only on the facts.
3. Leave emotions at home.
4. Don’t make things go personal.
5. Be realistic.

Each day I’ll elaborate on each topic so you can start applying information to your child’s case in useful ways.

Educate yourself.  Schools provide special education according to:
special education laws, regulations, and procedures,
civil rights laws that help prevent discrimination,
privacy and confidentiality laws, and
accountability laws.

You can’t use a system effectively if you don’t know its rules.  These laws are the “rules of the game” for special education.  I know it looks massive that there are five different sets of law we must know and use, and we are not attorneys.  However, these laws were all written so private individuals like ourselves could read, understand and use them.  You don’t need to learn it all overnight. Just read through it now so you know what is in there.  Learn those parts that you will need for your most current issues in advocacy.  Eventually you’ll know it thoroughly.

Study the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Act that started special education in public schools.

Learn Family Rights in Education and Privacy Act (FERPA) so you will know the rules about confidentiality of all the documentation and services for children in public schools.  This is a short piece of law, and it isn’t hard to follow.

Take a look at No Child Left Behind (NCLB) so you have an idea how this act benefits children with disabilities.  The whole point of this law was to create new levels of accountability to assure that schools/school districts don’t ignore children whose education is difficult.

Know Section 504 of the Rehabilitation of the Handicapped Act of 1973, now renamed Rehabilitation Act.  This is where we get the phrase “equal access” and the concept that there must also be equal effectiveness and equal opportunity.

Know the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) well enough that you know how to back up what you say about IDEA and Section 504 with ADA clout.

All these laws were written in non-attorney language so average citizens can read and understand them.  Your nearest Parent-To-Parent group conducts training sessions or workshops on these laws, and even if you can’t go to one of those, they can help you.

Go to your state’s Department of Education website or telephone their offices of special education and ask for copies of the Board of Education Rules/Regulations about special education and the matching policies and procedures.  Don’t forget to specify that you want the ones related to special education or you will only get the package for regular education.

Get and know your state’s laws regarding special education.  Every state must have laws for how it plans to follow the federal laws and there will be matching laws for each part of IDEA.  (This is easier because often these laws are very similar to the federal laws.  But there will be differences, and you need to know them.)

Your ultimate power in IEP meetings will come when you carry these books with you with all your bookmarks showing, highlighting on the pages for the clauses that concern your child’s case, and you can refer to them on the spot whenever you encounter resistance to what you know your child must have in order to learn.

The website at http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor65610 contains summaries of these laws and resources for where to call for help.

Tomorrow:  Focus on Facts

Resources for Parents and Schools on Bullying

Hello Parents and Guardians,

This information is valuable for parents and school staff alike.  Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is involved in issues such as bullying when the bullying is directed at someone with disabilities.  Go to http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/index.html?src=rt for the latest of OCR’s policy letters about bullying in our nation’s schools.

This letter is to “Dear Colleagues”–the governors and authority figures in the states’ education departments.  The information about resources on bullying is universally of value, so OCR included links to some good resources.  It is up to each state to determine what its laws and regulations regarding bullying will be, but as this letter makes clear, bullying is not acceptable behavior, it can destroy good learning environments, and it should not be tolerated.  Local school districts are expected to follow the laws and regulations made by the state.  If that doesn’t happen, sometimes acting locally will get the change needed.  If it doesn’t, a formal complaint to OCR might help.

Yes, there are bullies of all ages at our nation’s public schools.  This includes students AND staff!

Yes, bullying affects the person at whom it is directed, but it doesn’t end there.  Other students are equally terrorized by the meanness and the threat and come to feel threatened as well.

Yes, we can all learn appropriate ways of responding to bullying being done to those around us.

Yes, you have been bullied at some time, and don’t you roll your eyes at me–if you have a sibling, it happened.  If you didn’t have a sibling, it happened somewhere, and that’s final.  The only question is how severe the bullying got and how long it lasted.  (So little?  No wonder you forgot.)  Do you still hurt at the memory of it?

Yes, bullying can leave permanent emotional damage.

Yes, bullying can be stopped.

Go to http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/101215.html for a free, valuable bullying resource.  While you’re there, print a copy of that page and take it to your child’s school principal as an FYI item.  When you hand it to your principal, thank him/her for everything he does today to help our students with disabilities.  You can gently suggest “This might be another resource for you about bullying and schools.  It has some good information and links, and I thought you might like to be aware of it.”

The truth is that when these policy letters come out, they are sent everywhere–to the 50 states.  Few private individuals ever receive them.  Now you have.

Read it.  If your school falls short of what is described there, call and ask to talk with special education staff or regular education staff who are supervising this experience and share the letter with them.  In this way you are a resource, not the adversary, but you have expressed your desire for change.  If you want to become active in helping bring change, say so.  (If you’re just griping, don’t say so.  The letter is enough.)