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.

 

 

New School Year and Still No Reading Success?

Many school districts open for classes in August, and by mid-September, many teachers have started the new year’s instruction. For students with good memory, times have been good because much of the day was spent in review with only a little new material added. By the end of September, all the material will be new. Is your child’s IEP ready? Today’s example deals with reading and phonological awareness.

If your child is not reading properly but is not reversing letters or words in a dyslexic way, you might have heard the phrase “phonological deficits” during an IEP meeting or evaluation discussion. This phrase means a child is struggling to understand the meanings and patterns of spoken words and may find it too difficult to link poorly- understood sound to written symbols.

Trying harder is 100% an ineffective disaster strategy for these children. They are trying their best every time they look at print. If trying were the key, they’d be reading encyclopedias. These children need a kind of language therapy that has been incorporated into the Lindamood-Bell program and Fast ForWord program. These programs present sound information in ways that allow these students to develop the neurological pathways for interpreting sounds and learning to read. Children can sometimes gain years’ worth of skills in a matter of months. Some are able to exit special education when finished if reading was their only learning disability.

Lindamood-Bell and Fast ForWord are both expensive and school districts don’t provide them easily or upon request. When my child needed such therapy, it took an entire semester of meetings, letters, and finally an offer to write to Office for Civil Rights to get their opinion on the matter before our school district consented to try just 12 weeks. In that time, he gained 2 years of skills; today my son’s favorite activity is reading law and case histories–for fun.

Today, 10 years later, I attended an IEP as advocate for a child whose psychological evaluation report contained recommendations for Lindamood-Bell or Fast ForWord. Neither is in the IEP. Why? The school offers neither, and while there are discussions and/or negotiations underway to buy/use a similar program, the issue is not settled yet. Instead of a fully appropriate IEP, there is a request for the parent to allow the school time to see if the student can make progress with only being identified and placed as an SLD student. Staff asked the parent to wait until January “to see if”. That is half the school year! Is this adequate? It is not FAPE, surely.

It is “enough” because the parent is willing to wait and see. But not half the year. One month. That is time enough to see if behaviors are beginning to improve, if academics are starting to advance. If not, what is the remedy?

In cases like this, the school district has no choice. Its own evaluation report recommends one of these two programs or one like them. All are costly. A school district will only buy one of these if it is determined that there are enough students to benefit from it AND justify the expense. If there are no parents insisting that their child’s education requires this, a district can put off buying a program every year for years. Here is another fact: If a student must have one of these programs in order to learn, one of them must be provided. If FAPE cannot be provided without using some program to develop phonological awareness and skills, then such a program must be provided. Period.  The expense is justified by the child’s need.

There are at least 4 ways to provide for this need:

1. School district must buy a an appropriate program that remedies phonological deficits and provide it to students who need it. This takes time, especially if school speech pathologists and/or other staff must then be trained to teach the program.**

2. Transfer the student to a public school that has the program.

3. Transfer the student to a private school that has the program (and at district expense).

4. District arranges and pays for after-school services. (And pays for or provides transportation to and from if parents can’t.)

There will be a trial period before seeking to enforce this for today’s case because we truly don’t know if the change to special education will be enough to provide sufficient advancement and progress. We don’t really think it will take half a school year to know if progress is being made, but close monitoring will tell us what we need to know.

Parents, if a school evaluation makes a recommendation and then the district does nothing to address it, you should insist the appropriate service be provided by whatever means the school district can arrange. Your child’s access to an appropriate education is at stake. Go for it!

** If a decision has NOT been made to purchase and the district is just “shopping”, do not accept a recommendation to wait until there is a purchase because it may never happen. Also, if you are told it will be a semester or more before your child’s services could begin, don’t agree to wait that long, especially if your child is in a year of school in which a standardized test will mandate retention if your child’s scores are too low. A lifetime of being behind is too high a price for your child to pay just because the district doesn’t want to pay for individual services.