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!

 

 

 

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!

Wait for Open House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How To Request the Cumulative File

Parents need to know what is in their child’s cumulative file.  It doesn’t matter how often you talk to school staff about your child–you NEED to know what is in the cumulative file.  Information there will help you understand why the school does what it does with/for/to your child, may contain information about future plans for your child, and will have information about and copies of evaluations and evaluatio reports.  You truly NEED this information.

If you’re thinking you can just make a request for a copy of your child’s cumulative file by phone, stop. That’s fantasy. You can request that way, but if the district you’re in is the least bit lax about listening to parents, if it is a tad unwilling to share its records, if it is the honkin’ biggest discriminator around, you could be waiting a very, very long time for absolutely nothing to happen. Verbal requests are worth what they’re written on–air. School staff are busy, and verbal requests frequently are overlooked, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes gleefully intentionally. The rule is this: if you want your school district to do something for your child or your child’s case, make your request in writing and keep a copy in your home file.

When you write a request for a cumulative file, you need to identify your child seven ways from Sunday:
name, age, birth date, address, school district, school, grade, teacher’s name (for elementary students), student ID number. To make it easy on school staff, make a standardized letterhead for your school correspondence that includes your child’s data. Like this:

date

your return address

re: Child’s Name, Age
Date of Birth
Residing at: (address)
School District, School
Grade, Teacher’s Name

Next, put another Re: line, this time stating in 10 words or so what is the topic of the letter–Parent Request for Copy of Cumulative File.

In the first paragraph, identify your child. “My child is (name, age, birth date) who resides with me at (address) and attends (teacher’s name)’s class in (grade) at (school name) in (school district), (county name), (state).”

Then make your request. No extra words needed.

“This letter is to request a parent copy of (child’s name)’s cumulative file. I will stop by to pick it up on (give a date about 3-5 business days in the future to give time for copying). Thank you.”

If you can afford to pay for copies, you can stop writing and sign off here. If you can’t afford to pay for copies, here’s what you need to know.
1. Schools must make the cumulative file available for parents.

2. They may offer you access on school property, where you may decide to copy only certain pages if you wish and the school might or might not make those copies for you free of charge. They may not stand over you while you look it over. They may not withhold parts of it from you. (If they say there are other children’s names in the file, you will say, “We need to see all the cum, so please redact those pages for us.” That means black out the names to maintain other students’ confidentiality. They should not blacken out anything else–not teachers’ names, not events, not titles, etc.)  Cum files should contain medical information/records that schools must keep for children who take meds, vaccination record, etc., attendance records, teacher’s notes, samples of work, copies of IEPs/504 Plans, correspondence (all that is about your child),

3. The school may make a copy for you for free. YAY!

4. The school may exercise its right to charge a REASONABLE fee for copies. “Reasonable” has been interpreted by Supreme Court to mean no more than teachers are being charged to make their copies.

5. Schools may not charge “research fee,” staff time, filing fee, replacement fee or any other fee.

6. You may request the school to waive the fees for copies by writing, “We can’t afford to pay for copies, so we are asking that (school, district) waive the copying fee for us.” Most will do it. If not, go to the superintendent of the district (in a letter) stating that you have requested a copy of the cum so you can give informed consent at the next IEP meeting and your request to waive copying fees was denied. Then if it is true, you can say, “It imposes unreasonable hardship for either of us to take time from work to come to school to view the cum on site. For us to have equal knowledge of (child’s name)’s educational needs and to act as equal partners in the IEP/504 process, we need to have a copy of the cum. Please assist (school name) in waiving the cost of copies so we can perform our duties at the IEP/504 meeting as equal partners and give informed consent as (child’s name)’s parents.”

In your last paragraph, give your phone number for contact in case there are questions, state the date you will be there to pick up the file, and say thank you.

If you can’t pick up the file and don’t trust another adult to pick it up for you, DO NOT LET THE SCHOOL GIVE IT TO YOUR CHILD TO BRING HOME. Children are curious, and some things that are in cums can be devastating to children if they read them. If the school mails it, request it be mailed in a way that it can be traced and requires a signature for receipt. This guards against loss and offers proof as to whether or not you actually got your copy. DO NOT ASK FOR CUM FILES TO BE SENT TO A P.O. BOX. These files are often too large for these boxes, and some delivery companies will leave it on a doorstep where anyone, including other people’s children, can take it. Figure out where this mail can be delivered safely so YOU are the one who ultimately receives it. Then close with a thank you.

Come back soon and we’ll talk about what you do when you get that cum. You won’t believe how much information you can get from those papers that isn’t even on those papers! And you can do so much to support your child with what is in the cum that you won’t want to miss what’s coming up.

Till then, laughter and smiles, enjoy what’s left of summer!

Advocacy Tips: 3-Leave the Emotions At Home

This will be a short item.  The logic of it is simple.  Doing it is harder.  MUCH harder.  When you go to school meetings, whether it is a teacher/parent conference or an IEP meeting, remember that the only thing that helps make progress toward FAPE for your child is facts.  Gathering facts and presenting them in an organized way is the most important thing you can do.

Your credibility is on the line, and it’s nerve-wracking.  Your child is important to you and every moment lost to inappropriate education hurts; denial of services feels like outright betrayal of everything American schools are supposed to stand for.  For your credibility you have to pack all those emotions in a secure place and don’t let them out when meeting with school folks.

People are distracted by the emotions of other people.  Your emotions can sabotage everything you want to achieve for your child if you

1.  blame people,

2.  claim someone (or several) is incompetent,

3.  criticize in a non-constructive way, or

4.  threaten complaints or lawsuits.

Rather than blame someone or point out incompetence, offer to help them find the training they need to know how to serve your child well.  If your child’s disability is a common one, such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, suggest that you’d like to help improve the school’s ability to serve all students with that disability by getting the state Department of Education to help uncover more resources and training.

There are other venues for pointing out incompetence that will be more effective than destroying your credibility in your child’s meetings.

Offer your criticism outside these meetings where the focus can be on improvement of services for your child.  (And again, focus on the facts to be more effective.)

Do not threaten complaints or lawsuits.  If you are going to make a complaint or file a lawsuit, consider it carefully, get an advocate or attorney’s advice, and don’t “poison” your school relationships with threats you may never fulfill.  Be aware that in some cases, if school staff think you are filing formal complaints or lawsuits, their stance becomes defensive, some become bitter and more critical of you and your child, and some may take their frustrations out on your child.  Not all–perhaps one or two…maybe.  But one of those is more than enough, so keep your thoughts of complaints or lawsuits private until you know what you are going to do.  Then your attorney or advocate will advise you how to proceed with that information.  (And just so you know, even in this, the advice is…do it unemotionally so people will focus on the words and ideas, not on the tears, hysteria, tone of voice, level of upset, etc.)

Cooperation and support for school staff are often more effective than blame or criticism because they foster forward progress.  If you can’t make forward progress, you still need the relationship to be as good as it can be so your child doesn’t have to go to school with people who view him and you as a problem larger than just the disability issue.

We may see a lot of emotional outbursts on reality TV…but remember that those shows make their money by attracting viewers however they can get them.  The sensationalism of viewing other people’s emotions often hides a lot of the facts of what is going on–you’ve seen it over and over on reality TV.  But that is the fact.  Emotions often hide reality and make it more difficult to get to the achievement we need.

We need our emotions.  But we don’t need them in our school meetings.  Leave the emotions at home so you can be your most effective self in your advocacy for your child’s FAPE.

I’ll talk to you about what you need to learn…

“Johnny will do 75% as much drill as the other students.  Teacher will select which problems will be deleted to assure that remaining problems cover material taught and will show content mastery.”  Sometimes when we are in an IEP meeting and we propose something rather unique for a student, teachers protest about “fairness to other students,” and “How can I defend that to the others?”  Here’s what I advise them to tell these other students.  Tell nothing unless asked directly.  Then respond:

“If you want to talk to me about what you need to learn, I’ll make an appointment to talk with you privately.  But I will not discuss anything about anyone else’s learning or anyone else’s homework being more or less or any difference in due dates because it is private.  Do you want an appointment?”

Students will push for concessions because it is their job to find the limits on everything, and because they are in a hurry to get back to their video games, they don’t want to do the whole assignment if they can get out of it.  So we then say, “If you want to get the best grade in class, I can give you some extra credit work to do…”  That’s usually the end of discussion for that moment, and about 3 repetitions of those lines ends ALL discussion.  Word will get around to others who might want to push the limits that the “class representative” got shot down or something to that effect, and Johnny’s differences will become the status quo.

You can tell Johnny that pigs actually learn faster than dogs, so being the fastest learner may not be all it’s cracked up to be.