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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Holiday Joy, Goodbye, Holiday Stress

Happy Holidays!  Sounds nice, but for those of us who have children who need routine and don’t handle change well, it’s a sentence to Whimper & Whine Purgatory.  STRESS!

When we think that our holidays will be like everyone else’s, we are inviting stress.  When we break a rigid child’s routine, we can’t expect joy–we can expect resistance and stress.  Parties are major non-routine items and if your family is a partying one, expect stress.  But don’t just cave in to expecting misery with stress.  Do something about it — get proactive for yourself and your family to predict where the problems will arise.  Prepare preventive measures or figure out a way to reduce the impact.  If stress is in the flow, you don’t have to go with it.

We are the families that live with different expectations.  We don’t expect great behavior from children unable to produce it spontaneously.  We still have to coach and remind and (sigh) timeout.  But we can’t overwhelm them with demands to be perfect when visitors are around and our visitors should have some coaching to know what to expect and what they could do to help things go smoothly.

Noise affects many neurologically-different children during these days of festivity.  So avoid the noise–stop briefly at a party, leave a gift, goodbye, and everyone is still in good humor.  I always knew the daily schedule of subjects at school, and we took time during our day to bring some “study” and reading from school into play.  We didn’t suffer as much in lost skills and we still had some of the school routine to balance the unease of several days of unscheduled time.  When a child is not yet overwhelmed but you’re seeing the signs, offer a choice of two ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed.  “It’s getting noisy in here.  Shall we go out in the yard for a while or shall we go for a little walk?”

The riotous moments of breaking a pinata can send the hyperactive child straight into “We can’t stop being excited.”  You know it’s going to happen, so don’t plan the punishment. Instead, let your child take a few swings at the beginning and then take him out of the room until the pinata has broken.  He will get excited again, but he won’t be skyrocketed out of control.

We know not to expect an autistic child to give instant hugs and kisses for grandparents who haven’t been here since last year.  We know the child in the wheelchair is used to the dimensions of the house, but it’s harder to navigate with several people around who don’t know how much space to give a turning wheelchair.  (Sorry Aunt Peggy’s shin, Sorry Uncle Frank’s toes…)  We know what the impulsive child who just learned about spitballs is going to do, and while we warn him, we also warn guests.

And we do NOT back down on consequences even if guests plead,”But it’s a holiday, Mom.”  We remind the guests, “With this child, consistency is critical.  No consequences today because of a Holiday will mean several days of Helliday afterward.  Impulsivity will demand he repeat the undesired behavior as many times as it takes to get us to give in–after all, we already gave in, so why shouldn’t he think it’s going to work out that way again?”  If there is further pleading for mercy for your child, you can mischievously ask, “If you want to support him, how about sharing in his consequences?”  Then deal with your child on the spot–no waiting for later.

Your children are special, more unique because of their disabilities.  There will be bright moments, happy times during holidays.  We just love our children as they are and try to smooth the way for them.  In defense of our parenting skills, if anyone disparages our child, just invite them to walk in your shoes or the child’s shoes for a while and then smile smugly.  “I will forgive that comment if you’ll forgive my child for not being what you think of as normal.  He didn’t choose it, you know.”

Now, what do you foresee as rough patches in the next few days?  How about sitting down with a couple of cookies and egg nog while you plan your potential escapes from stress?

By the way, cookies eaten while planning to avoid stress have NO CALORIES.

 

 

Freebie

i can cheerfully report that my broken shoulder has not prevented my computer use nor  my  blogging, though both are MUCH slower. Today
i want to direct parents of children with ADD/ADHD to Dr. Charles Parker’s website. He is giving away an article about how to get away from the inconsistent results of meds for ADD/ADHD. He’s a psychiatrist whose concerns extend from correct diagnosis to why we don’t give better evaluations of both patients and medications so the two can be more accurately matched and correct doses given on a correct schedule. Go to http://about.me/drcharlesparker and download Predictable Solutions For ADHD Meds. I hope it brings some good results to those of you who struggle with behavioral and attention issues.

(First posted in July, 2012; 6 typos edited & corrected on 9/20/2013)

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.

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.)