Summer and Summer School (or not)

Well, you’ve probably noticed that the last post was the last post for a while. Maybe you fell asleep waiting for the next one. Well, you’ve had time for a nice nap. Time to wake up–and the kids are out of school for the summer, so you can’t sleep in now, anyway! Summer. It just isn’t the same for many children with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities who forget so much during summer that they spend months of the new school year re-learning rather than keeping pace with peers. What should summer be for those children?

As a parent of two children with disabilities, I had to decide the summer school issue for one of them, and until he was 16, he never had a summer at home. He didn’t know what a lazy summer week was like because he was always chasing the learning objectives and goals, even if we were on vacation trips. We just folded everything educational about trips (the only kind we ever did because it’s what we love) into what he was learning at school and off we went. At 16 he had a stomach ulcer due to the stress of learning and we felt he needed a break, so he got his first summer off. He refused to go to summer school again. He didn’t get the regular high school diploma, and he’ll have to get the GED if he wants to get more education, but he can do it if he chooses. He knows what he has to do to learn. That was a major point of all the extra time spent in school…just for him to know what it takes and how he has to do it so he can do it on demand.

Too many parents don’t want to fight with schools to get extended school year on the IEPs because budgets in school districts are so tight that the fight has gotten worse than it ever was. Summer school, if it isn’t all regular classes, might be an option. At the same time, ADA is clearer than ever on that point, and using it and Section 504 in addition to IDEA will make your struggle easier. If a child can’t learn in the fall because he didn’t retain enough over summer, he needs summer school or the extended school year based on implementation of his IEP, not based on whatever programming the district wants to provide for every student this year.

If your child has already shown signs of forgetting too much, it is not too late to call for an IEP meeting to place your child in an extended year program. It might not happen before this summer is over, but when the longer school breaks occur, such as at Christmas and between semesters, your child will be in school retaining and learning rather than forgetting, and for next summer, there will be no large gaps forming in his memory bank. Start that process now if you believe your child needs the extended school year on his IEP.

What can you do in the meantime? You’re using a computer to read this blog, and your child can use the computer to access summer learning (and retention-boosting) activities. The internet is full of games based on math and other learning opportunities, and you can find many of them by searching for “math games, social studies games, spelling games, etc. Electronic stores such as Best Buy, Tiger Direct carry educational software you can use to boost memory and retention during the summer.

Here are some links you may find useful to maintain learning levels during this summer.

Apples 4 the Teacher http://www.apples4theteacher.com
Covers all core content subjects, K-12

SoftSchools.com
http://www.softschools.com/
covers K-12, incudes geometry, French, Spanish

many subjects for k-12
http://www.mrnussbaum.com/
includes games that respond to student answers to create new learning opportunities
Social Studies
http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/subjects/funandgames.htm
http://classroom.jc-schools.net/basic/socst.html

Gameaquarium.com
http://www.gamequarium.com/languagearts.htm K-6 with resources for teachers, parents

Language Arts
K-8, great resource
http://games.pppst.com/languagearts.html

Language arts, middle & high school with great links to resources
http://www.internet4classrooms.com/lang_mid.htm

Math
Vedic math, game-based, ancient math based on different methods more easily learned and remembered
http://www.mathmonkey.com

CoolMath4Kids.com
Pure games and learning
http://www.coolmath4kids.com/math_puzzles/index.html

Social Studies
Multiple disciplines
http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/

You get the idea. You search for the topic and grade level you want and poof! the internet finds it and delivers it to your screen for your child’s entertainment and learning.

Now, be fair and give your child a turn!

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Advocacy Tips: 2-Focus On The Facts

Hello, Parents!

Sometimes when we need to advocate for our child’s FAPE, we are doing so because schools are not doing all they could or should be doing.  In that case, we parents feel a deep sense of betrayal.  We expect that people who take a job working with children will do what those children need without being asked, told, or forced.  The bureaucracy of a school system sometimes prevents that, not all school staff are as generous as we would like them to be, and not all school staff know what our children need.  The sense of betrayal is often accompanied by a lot of anger and a desire to blame someone.  Perhaps those are a natural response to our unmet expectations, but we can’t allow ourselves to be caught in the trap of our emotions.  Emotions don’t think, reason, or plan, and they can wreck our case if we don’t manage ourselves properly.

When advocating for your child’s FAPE, FOCUS ON THE FACTS.  Your best and most effective advocacy statements will start like this.  “My child needs….”  Follow this with a statement of facts about what your child needs in order to access and benefit from his education.  Here is why this works.

First, schools are not there to give parents what they want, so statements like, “I want my child to have ….” are ineffective.  IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 say nothing about granting parents’ wishes.

Second, schools do not have to give the cadillac version of anything.  If a skate will get your child where he needs to go, in the eyes of the law, a skate will be sufficient.  We have to get brutal with ourselves and admit that sometimes a skate really is all that is needed.  There are strategies to use if more than a skate is needed, but stick to the facts and use them as your tools.  You may know that your child needs something more than a skate, but you must present that fact along with solid evidence (more facts), not with emotionality.

Third, even if there has been wrongdoing in your child’s case, dwelling on it will not advance your child’s education or get the IEP corrected.  Facts will.  Facts will tell what your child needs, and IDEA, Section 504 and ADA all support meeting a child’s educational needs.

The most powerful thing you can do is to say, “My child needs…” because it triggers everything in the law to give your child an equal opportunity to learn and equal access to his education.

It is enough to focus on the facts and use them for your child’s advantage because you have some of our nation’s best laws to back you up.

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