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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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!

 

 

 

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.

Coming to NEW IEP Time

Dear Parents,

For this blog entry, IEP plan and IEP will also mean Section 504 plans.  It isn’t even Easter yet and here I am talking about the new IEPs and Section 504 Plans that will be generated by the thousands at the end of the school year.  There must be a reason for that.  Actually, there are a few reasons.
1.  It is time to make your own evaluation of whether there is a need to make any major changes in the IEP.  If your child is in transition between K-6 and middle school or middle school and high school, it is time to start checking how the next school serves children like yours.  Do they have the teachers with appropriate training for mainstream, inclusion, or special education classrooms?  If your child’s disability is truly unique or has outstanding medical needs, now is the time to start figuring out where and how your child will best be served for FAPE.  If you wait for the school to do it, your child will simply go to the neighborhood school in most cases, and if that isn’t right, it’s harder to change it and extremely more difficult for your child to try to cope with inappropriate placement while adults scratch their heads.  My advice:  start scratching now and get it over with!
2.  Other changes in the IEP to consider at K-6 to middle school is whether your child is college-capable.  Even the under-achiever can be college-capable if we do the next 6 years right.  Even the child who is carrying a list of grades from A to F with total inconsistency may be college-capable IF we do it right now.  Currently 80% of our children with disabilities never finish college because we parents never get what we need to know to help our children become independent learners at the college level.    If you have a child who can do everything well except school, you may have a college-capable child who has never had a way to understand how his teachers are teaching, or he may not have had his attention focused sufficiently, or he may not have been given an IEP that really covered all the bases.  Do your own evaluation of your child and remember that the coursework toward college begins in 6th grade.  If your child can build a model without the instructions, build a dog house without plans, grafitti an entire wall (or a good part of it) with a mural that makes sense and actually has composition and style, understand the workings under the hood of a car or truck, find out anything HE wants to know using libraries and/or computers, you have a child who is more than likely capable of getting through college IF he gets what he needs to learn now.
3.  Now is the time to consider whether a summer course to catch up in a subject where he has fallen behind is in order–or a summer course to introduce an upcoming subject he’s interested in.
4.  If you and your child think college is simply out of the question, then consider whether putting some vocational goals into the IEP would give a boost toward becoming a wage-earner or an entrepreneur.  I know several students who started their own small “trading companies” in 6th grade who are now business owners, two are internetpreneuers, and one has just made a microloan to somebody to help her get started in her own business.  NEVER discount what your child might be capable of if we assume the best and support the development of everything possible to bring the best right up front.  Ask yourself, what would be the IEP items that do this for the upcoming year?  You’ll need to call your school district’s admins to find out what they offer and whether your child is eligible at his own school or at another school where some special program might be just his cup of tea.
5.  There are differences between elementary and middle school that are obvious–now instead of 2 or 3 teachers, your child will have 6-9 teachers, and will move between classes.  I want you to take a moment to think about that.  Is your child ready for this?  There are developmental things that have to happen before a child can even think of handling this mix, and if your child isn’t ready, it will spell disaster.
First, if your child has difficulty with social skills, being thrown into a setting with a new group of people every hour will be extremely confusing and overwhelming.
Second, if mobility is an issue, it will take time to work it all out.
Third, if your child is disorganized, this is a freight train coming down the tunnel and the light is shining right into his eyes.  IF you are also disorganized, think about getting a coach to help both of you put those skills in place.
Fourth, learning takes a big jump in the classroom and homework takes a big jump at home.  If homework has been the Battle of the Ages at your house, the IEP must take into consideration whether it is reasonable to ask a child’s family to be held hostage on the Homework Train.  It also isn’t reasonable to think a child will spend so much time on homework that he can’t be a child and learn how people live when they’re not doing homework.  This will require some heavy-duty advocacy skills because it means you may be asking for reduced homework for a child who requires drill (a bit more work) to learn.  Maybe we haven’t really determined this child’s most effective learning style/strategies, and the IEP needs to make that happen.
6.  If your child gets lost easily, a bigger middle or high school will invite more getting lost and confusion between classes, costing your child the peace of mind he needs to use for learning when he finally finds his classroom.  If your child does not handle change well, you can imagine what 6 or 7 class changes per day will do to his mood/emotional stability/learning ability during the day.  He needs time to accommodate these changes.  These are the perfect reasons for summer school at the new school–and don’t let anyone convince you that the ONLY way a child can attend summer school in your district is if he’s failing.  Remind them that the IEP is the tool invented by legislators and educators for the purpose of bending the rules and making necessary accommodations for disability.
7.  Here’s another rule-bender:  if your child’s mobility is slow, super slow, or if pushing/shoving from other students is dangerous to him, he can be released from his classroom early to avoid crowds.  Homework assignments are given and explained at the end of class, which means your child may miss a critical part of each class. There are ways to deal with this: a) Arrange for a daily e-mail or phone call to take its place, b) get a weekly assignment sheet with instructions, or c) arrange for a class buddy (two actually, in case of absence) who will brief your child daily.  Just make some arrangment so your child has the same information the other students have so he can do his homework.
8.  DO NOT ALLOW A MASS IEP MEETING SETTING.  My children went to school in the 4th largest school district in the nation, and some of our school principals caved to the numbers and went mass production on IEPs.  In May, every SpEd parent received a letter about an IEP meeting to be held for 15 minutes in the library or the gymnasium.  I thought to myself that these are very strange places for an IEP meeting for a small group of people to be held, and 15 minutes was in no way long enough for what always took us at least an hour.  When I called to check, I was told we’d be given extra time if we needed it.
When we arrived for the IEP meeting, there was no parking for a full block away.  The hallways were full of parents, all headed for the same two rooms.  When we got into the room, there was a “traffic director” lining parents up according to some teacher’s name and appointment time.  Lines of people were told to keep an eye on the table where their meeting would be held and move to it as the family before them vacated it.  (This is confidentiality?  Privacy?  Don’t think so.  What do the people at the next table, only 3 feet away hear from your child’s case?)
When it was our turn, we were handed an IEP that had been filled out already.  It didn’t have half what our child needed on it.  Was this individualized planning?  Not at all.  Was it one-sided? Of course it was.  Where was our equal partnership in this?  In the toilet next door.  When we objected, it took 20 minutes for an assistant principal to respond because she was on another floor dealing with another IEP (or several).  People in line behind us began to chafe and get angry at us.  (Again, is this confidentiality?)  Only one of our child’s teachers was present at the beginning of the meeting.  We were told each teacher was at a table and couldn’t come to this IEP meeting–now where is that compliance with the representation of each class at the IEP meeting?  When the assistant principal showed up, someone I had considered a friend, I informed her that this meeting was over and that my complaint would be mailed to our state’s Department of Education in the morning.  There would be no stop at the Region level, no stop at the District level.  If they were holding IEP meetings like this, it was because they had DISTRICT APPROVAL to do so.  This was one of the most blatant violations of IDEA I have ever encountered, and it had to end immediately.  Students were being railroaded into inappropriate IEPs by the hundreds and it needed to end.
Now it got ugly.  The district didn’t like my complaint, but they LOVED our state’s response to it.  “You can only complain about the procedures at your own child’s IEP meeting or the others you witnessed at your child’s school.  We cannot assume this was done at any other school.”  (It was done elsewhere, too.  I just didn’t have the families as clients to make the complaint formal.)  So, while the state now knew what the district was doing, it dealt with only one school.  And my son’s school staff were angry with me because now they had to sit down with each family individually and take the time for appropriate IEPs.  And  they had to submit random samplings of IEPs for the next two years to prove they all had different times and dates, full teacher attendance, etc.
I had to settle for “Let them be upset.  It’s the law–for good reasons–and they, like the rest of us–are supposed to comply with the laws, rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.”  If that’s inconvenient, hey!  Disability is very inconvenient, and we just have to figure out how we’re going to live with it.
That’s enough for now.  If you start planning and doing your research now, your child’s transition to the next level can be much smoother and happier for everyone involved.
Happy IEP’ing!

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!

 

 

Protect Those Cums!

Hurricane season is in full force, and in Miami, where Hurricane Andrew blew thousands of buildings to bits and trashed one of the region offices where special education offices kept thousands of students’ IEPs and 504 plans, we learned a very important lesson.

PARENTS MUST ASK FOR AND KEEP UPDATED CUMULATIVE FILES AND IEPS/504 PLANS FOR THEMSELVES.

We learned here that so many parents had no copies of anything that when a storm destroyed a major storage area, it took over a year to re-evaluate, re-IEP and get those students back on track. Those of us who had our copies at home and protected got back on track immediately (or as soon as a school was available for our children).

Here’s how:

1. Request a complete copy of the cumulative file. I’ll post some sample requests in a couple of days.
2. Make a copy of your copy. Put it in a safety deposit box, send it out of town to a friend or family member to keep for you.
3. Keep your copy easily accessible during storm seasons so you can quickly double-wrap it in plastic and keep it the way you keep property deeds, bank records, etc. (Don’t tell me you don’t do this!!!)
4. Keep this file updated every 6 months.

This year we’ve had floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and no hurricanes, but the year isn’t over. My clients, if they’ve done what I suggest, have all their important records in one place in a water-proof, fireproof storage container. When you evacuate, that container goes with you, wherever you go. It is your lifeline to starting over, and for your children, if you have to move, it is instant FAPE in any other location without having to start over in the IEP process.

I wish you calm weather, solid earth beneath your feet, and much happy laughter in your homes.

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!