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!

 

 

 

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.