Yes, School Districts Do Hold IEP/504 Meetings and Do Evaluations During Summer

Well, summer is flying by, and if your child doesn’t have an appropriate placement at school, don’t lose hope. If the IEP/504 Plan isn’t right, many school districts seek to “protect their staff” from the instrusions of working with parents and administrative issues during summer because they are working with reduced staff. No school district is exempt from this tactic, to my knowledge. They all seem to say, “It can wait until Fall.”

Well, the first day of school with an inappropriate IEP is not an It-Can-Wait item, is it? So let’s get with it and see what we can do.

First, moderate to large school districts don’t shut down their administrative offices, and it is in these administrative offices that anything can be done for an IEP change and evaluations that might be done during school months at local schools.

How do we get that done? Letters. Phone calls. Find out who is in charge of special education at your child’s school during summer months and make it clear by phone, personal visits, and writing that your child’s issues can’t wait. Explain on the phone that your child’s access to education doesn’t exist with an inappropriate IEP or without adequate evaluations to know what is really needed. On paper, write the district that your child’s IEP is inappropriate and this is denial of equal access to his education under both IDEA and Section 504. Go ahead and use the law to back up what you say. It’s what makes them move during summer. Write that without an immediate evaluation, no appropriate IEP could be drawn up because the data doesn’t exist to make placement decisions correctly.

If your child is one who learns slowly and will have great difficulty catching up after missing months of appropriate instruction, say so bluntly. “My child will suffer a loss of opportunity to learn and will require months of remedial efforts to catch up. This does not represent equal access to learning, equal opportunity to learn, nor equal effectiveness in education.”

One of my clients went so far as to say, “Andy is not receiving FAPE with his current IEP. Continuing with this inappropriate IEP isn’t exactly child abuse, but it is mentally and emotionally abusive to keep a child in a regimen of demands he can’t cope with until he becomes emotionally ill. This is what I see happening to my child and I will use every social, administrative and legal means I can find to stop it, including complaints to the State DOE and the Office for Civil Rights.” Her child was being damaged emotionally by a do-nothing administration that had put off evaluations and appropriate IEP provisions for two years. The month she wrote this letter, there was action.

A complaint to Office for Civil Rights involves vast amounts of data collection and proof of appropriate action or justification of why no action was taken. Hundreds of man hours, hundreds of papers, forms, etc. take man hours away from their daily duties in the school district. When that threat exists, many school districts take another, harder look at what needs to be done for the child, and it is often cheaper to serve appropriately in education than to defend against a complaint to Office for Civil Rights.

I’m NOT recommending you automatically throw out such threats. If they are warranted, don’t delay. But put your self in the district’s shoes. Your child’s needs must be presented to them in such a way that it is impossible to deny what is needed. Use the law and regulations. Get your district’s procedures and quote their own rules and procedures at them. These must comply with federal and state laws, so what you need will be there. Find it and use it.

The fact that it is summer does not justify delaying implementation of special education policy and procedures.

Tell them simply: “Jason’s education is negatively impacted every day he goes to school with an inappropriate IEP. Jason is entitled an appropriate IEP every day that he goes to school, including the first day of school in September, 2014.” Then tell them when you will be in their office to sign the consent for evaluation (give them 3 or 4 business days to prepare it for you) or give them 2 options when you can be available for IEP meetings in 7 to 10 business days. Give your contact information and then mail the letter so someone must sign for its receipt–certified or registered. Or hand carry it with a notation on YOUR copy that this letter was “Hand delivered to _____ on (date)” to be signed by the person who accepts it from you.

School districts do function in the summer. If you don’t know whether your district is open in summertime and no one answers the phone, call your state’s Department of Education special education office. They will tell you if it is open for business. If it is, you just have to put your child’s case on their list of priorities.

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Coaching for College Prep – ACHIEVE COACH

On January 15, 2014, I will be starting ACHIEVE COACH, presenting online College Prep/College Readiness webinars for parents of  students with disabilities in grades 6-12. Currently 80% of these students are destined to start college but never get the degree no matter how high their grades or SAT/ACT scores.

I am a parent of 2 disabled children with a total of 11 different diagnoses. I have 25 years of education and disability consultation/advocacy experience. I KNOW children with disabilities can obtain college degrees from all kinds of schools. After working in the disability services center of Florida International University and finding out what made it possible for those students to succeed, I know it is far MORE THAN ACCOMMODATIONS or IEPs or 504 plans and it should begin in 6th grade.  Success for college students with disabilities began with informed and determined parents.

While writing a book on the subject, I found out why we parents have never had a place to go to learn what we need. We need to know 34 things other parents don’t and all that “stuff” comes out of 8 professional fields.

I will be coaching, offering professional speakers, resources, sample letters and advocacy skills and parent training. We will cover the rights and roles of parents in providing FAPE for a child.  I don’t care how many people are around a computer at school or at home while you do this. I will coach families and their professional support team (doctors, therapists, teachers, etc.) so children with the potential to become college students can also become college graduates.

If you want online coaching to help you become a stronger, positive and successful advocate and case manager for your child, if you want to know how to teach your child to be his own case manager — (successful, YES!),  leave your e-mail address in a comment for this post.  Your privacy will be respected.  No post with an e-mail address in it will be published unless the writer specifically requests it.  Space will be limited, so sign up now!

Shutting Down a Nation – What Chance Does a Child Have?

Dear Everyone,

Today our elected Republicans played Dirty. They wanted to eliminate funding for our new “Obamacare” healthcare program, so they refused to authorize funding for essential governmental functions because the two authorizations are together. It is an awesome show of power, a grand display of how ignorance can be used to hurt an entire nation, how personal self-aggrandizement and ego and raise itself up above an entire nation to seek fulfillment. It makes me sick at my stomach.

Our children are the most dependent of all. Their education depends upon funds from various governmental levels to be sufficient to pay for meeting their needs. For years IDEA has been clarifying what must be done to provide FAPE for our children with disabilities, and for all those same years, legislators with more ego than brains have been cutting funding until some school districts can offer only 4 days of school per week, students must share books and therefore can do only half the learning and homework. Parents do NOT agree with this level of funding or kind of educational services, but our legislators’ children usually attend private schools and they don’t have a clue what goes on in public schools. When parents vote, it is their prayer for appropriate education, but it is getting harder and harder to achieve that.

Today we see that there are elected representatives who represent only themselves and not their constituency. The reality is that they want what they want so badly they are willing to shoot an entire nation of people down the toilet rather than compromise. There probably is a word for that kind of person in the English language, but I am a Christian and I’ve never heard it. At least I’ve never heard a word that describes my shock and horror that anyone – or any group of people – would care so little about their fellow humans that they would treat us this way. I don’t have words to describe the depth of loathing, the despair for our future, the futility of belief their actions make me feel. It just doesn’t seem human to behave in such a manner.

Seeing that there are legislators who think nothing of actively working against what the nation needs, how do our children with disabilities stand a chance? How does an individual child stand a chance?

Nobody stands a chance unless we all SPEAK UP. We can’t afford to roll over and let it happen around us. It will take us down with it. Now we have to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND SPEAK UP.

WRITE AND CALL your representatives and senators and let them know you support them if they fought this shutdown and let the others know they can’t be so smug about getting your vote in the next election. I’m going to ask my Republican naysayers to give me the procedures for their impeachment. (They have to do it–or they won’t get my vote.) What are you going to ask your elected representatives and senators?

Call. Write. Join the efforts of your local groups that are protesting. Make some noise. What would happen if we all drew a bullseye on our foreheads to represent how they’ve shot us all down? What if we wore that bullseye until that funding is given?

Our public officials have publicly shown us they don’t care much about their public supporters, and it’s time we publicly show them we don’t care much for their public failure to do the job. It wouldn’t hurt to say it once for yourself and repeat it in your child’s name.

Be Your Child’s Voice–And Be Heard

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-769273

Dear Parents,

Today I learned of a remarkable ten-year old boy with autism who is speaking out about it and making a great effort to help people know about autism and the problems around it.  He is Sam.  Please go to http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-769273 and see a sample of what Sam does that will indeed make a difference in how people in his area view autism.

Then think to yourself, if this is a ten-year old child who is able to have this kind of impact, what kind of impact might I have as an adult?  If I were part of a group of people who create awareness around our children?

This is a reality:  each of us can do what Sam does.  It is a matter of making the time and the appointments to visit organizations and important people who can influence what happens in our lives and our children’s lives.  We should all be Sam for our children and their disabilities.  Imagine what a different world this would be if so many of us were out there doing as Sam does, giving information and asking the tough questions–what are we doing for these children and their families, and why aren’t we doing more?  As Autism appears to be becoming equal in incidence to learning disabilities, we certainly cannot afford to close our eyes to any avenue or option that helps our children become more independent and more functional.

We are the parents and we may be the only voice our child has.  Sam is not silent.  We should not be silent either.

Here’s how to speak out.

Talk to school classes.  Don’t be afraid of kids.  They’re kids–and they’re eager to learn.  Difference intrigues them.  Present your what your child has in common with them and the differences in his needs in a reasonable way and they will be less likely to bully or pick on your child and more likely to make him their friend. Their teachers will be educated at the same time.  Go to MOM – Not Otherwise Specified and see how one mom has presented her son’s differences to his class.

Talk to community leaders.  Our elected officials often determine how and where and what community services will be.  It’s important to let them know what community services are truly needed.  If you think a place for children in wheelchairs to play in a park is important and needed by enough families, speak up.  If you think schools need more funding for special education, speak up.  If you know there is a need for an organization that provides special services in your community, speak up and tell your leaders who needs the services and who might provide them–and that you only need the place and funding.

Talk to legislators.  Legislators on budget committees control where the money goes.  Get your legislators to propose legislation and projects/programs and meet the needs of families with needs like your own.  Get to know legislators in important cabinet positions and who control money–let them get to know your children through letters, e-mail messages and photos, introductions at the legislators’ town hall meetings and political events.  Make your face and voice familiar to them so they know there is a need for someone THEY know.

Increase the wallop of the above.  Never go alone–make sure you’re always introducing someone new to these people so they know you’re not just a voice in the wilderness but a voice with a group or mass of people who also need what you’re requesting.  NUMBERS COUNT.

Make your presence and activities known on the Internet.  Everyone knows somebody who is internet savvy who can help us do the social media thing that makes what we do so much more powerful through Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.  Please don’t think you can’t do this.  I’m a rookie and a techno-boob, and I am going to be learning right beside you.  Believe me, if I can do this, a 5-year old can do this.  USE the people you know who have this talent.  Someone you know will be immensely pleased to help you and won’t feel it’s an imposition at all.  Find that person and feed him/her all the information needed to make it work.

Shy?  Think you can’t speak publicly or to strangers?  Write.  Get on blogs, get into chats where you’re anonymous but your information sharing is powerful.  Do a telephone radio interview for a talk show where you’d basically just answer questions that YOU’ve written in advance for the show host to ask you.  The key to confidence during these events is this:  People are out there who NEED what you have to share and they won’t get it if you won’t share.  Your voice will improve some family’s life and some child’s entire future.  How can you remain silent when you can be so powerful?

Your child is not the only one who has his disability, nor his symptoms, nor the possibility of a better future if we speak up.  Let that be a fire within you, that you help your child and your family and hundreds more by giving voice to what so many people need to hear.

Then use this blog to tell us what you’re doing so others will be inspired to do the same!

Wait for Open House

Now we’re in the time of the school year when schools have Open House. Many districts suggest that teachers don’t have individual conferences with parents until Open House. This is because the beginning of a school year is the most hectic time of the year and teacher conferences are very inconvenient at this time. However, good-hearted people who see a child’s needs will make time–and districts sometimes attempt to “protect” their staff from such inconvenient “intrusions.” When you have a child with unique and pressing needs, this is hard to hear and harder to live with. There are children whose needs simply cannot wait. If you can’t get anyone to listen to you or accommodate your child’s urgent needs, here’s a way to get noticed now.

1. Call for an IEP meeting to be held immediately. These meetings are costly and if there is a way to take are of problems without the expense, it makes sense for administrators to listen and work with you. Call for the meeting and claim, “XYZ School is not providing FAPE for my child and an immediate IEP meeting is required.”

2. When an administrator tries to make you wait, explain the danger to your child. “My child’s emotional status is deteriorating, and he needs help immediately. Neglect is tantamount to abuse at this point, and I really don’t think you mean to be abusive. I’d be willing to skip the full IEP meeting for now if we can just talk and get something in place to get us through this time period.”

This strategy tells them you are serious about your child’s needs, that your child is in serious need of accommodation, and that you know you can call for the full IEP meeting. If it is really bad, you can call for an emergency IEP meeting. They will know you know this, too. So, it should get things moving.

If they only provide lip service, you can go to the school office to ask for the principal’s full name–including middle name–to put on your complaint to the superintendent–or if you are already dealing at that level, it would be for your complaint to Office for Civil Rights. You don’t have to make the complaint if knowing you would do this moves them.

Be nice. You don’t really want to have to make a complaint, and you don’t want to make bad blood where there has been none. But you do want them to move to help your child, and if this is what it takes, so be it. But as you get the job done, explain to them that you did ask when there was nothing “threatening” in the picture, and they ignored you. You really wish that hadn’t happened, because we “can’t ignore what can’t be ignored if it is for a child who is missing his educational opportunity and can’t rush to make it up later.”

Be generous with your thanks, “especially when you are so busy with this time of year,” and follow it up with thank you notes that you request to be placed in each participant’s personnel file.

Next time they will hear you the first time and understand the urgency of your request. Because the result is a good thing in their personnel file, there should be no resentment even if they don’t agree with your feelings of urgency. If you are quick, direct, in and out, the interruption will be minimal and the results will be satisfying.

Now you can do it. Go advocate for your child!

Vocabulary Can Cause Stress

Hello, Parents!

It is not easy to learn the vocabulary of other professions or vocational fields when you don’t work in them.  The stress comes because when you’re in school meetings and doctors’ offices, people are using words you don’t know and you don’t understand what professionals are saying about your child.  You know now that ignorance is NOT bliss! As a parent, you must learn these words and terms in order to use them so you will know what education and medical professionals are trying to tell you and so these professionals will know what you want to say to them.

This is where the Internet becomes incredibly useful.  Parents can go online and do research about their child’s disability in the fields of medicine and education and learn a large part of the vocabulary the professionals will be using.  Other parents you meet at school and in support groups will share what they know with you, so ask them what some of these words and terms mean.  The words we don’t understand in a meeting can be explained if we ask, “I’m sorry, you just used a word that went over my head.  What does XXX mean?”  The more often you ask this in a meeting, the more it signals the professionals that you intend to understand what is going on as well as they do.  This is exactly what parents need to do and exactly what most parents don’t do because they are embarrassed.

However, if you do ask, there will be a day when you no longer have to ask and you will be talking with these professionals as a member of a team where all parties are informed and therefore are capable of making real progress in helping your child become a more independent, more functional adult.  On that day, give yourself ten gold stars for doing a great job of being a GREAT parent!