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!

 

 

 

Advocacy Skills: 5-Be Realistic

Hello, Parents!

Here is where the rubber meets the road, as they say in Cliche-Town.  We know what our child needs, and the school district has a budget that doesn’t quite match.  Or the school staff doesn’t have the specialist title on its list of employees.  We wonder how our child’s needs will be met without enough money being thrown around or the exact program being given, or the precise professional being on staff.  Is it time to sue?  NO!

Forgive your school district for being like every other one.  And give the staff credit for their originality and ability to look at the total resource picture to find solutions.  We parents don’t know what professional training for the various professions might include, but people who supervise them do.  Often school staff can do things that fall under several professional titles.  They have programs available that can be taken apart and re-assembled to do many different jobs and meet many other sets of requirements.

Did you know your school’s occupational therapist can do about 50% of a developmental optometrist’s therapy for a child who has double vision or amblyopia?  WHOA!  That will save YOU money while it develops the school district’s knowledge that it can now serve an entirely new segment of needs.  The district isn’t required to pay for vision therapy, but it can help in this way.  This is just one example of why being realistic in our thinking allows us to scrounge around in the resource box to find alternatives.

Here is another sample.  There are so many reading programs available, but people know Lindamood-Bell works in specific ways to solve specific problems.  Someone who knows Lindamood-Bell and other programs can use other programs to create a lot of the same training for a child who needs what the Lindamood-Bell program provides, and that could be enough.  If it isn’t, then a parent could make a stronger demand for Lindamood-Bell and only Lindamood-Bell.   It’s like buying a car–the state doesn’t have to give a Cadillac when a Kia would do the same job.

If we are realistic, we can approve an IEP plan that gives our child FAPE even if it isn’t a “brand name” plan.

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.

Advocacy Tips: 2-Focus On The Facts

Hello, Parents!

Sometimes when we need to advocate for our child’s FAPE, we are doing so because schools are not doing all they could or should be doing.  In that case, we parents feel a deep sense of betrayal.  We expect that people who take a job working with children will do what those children need without being asked, told, or forced.  The bureaucracy of a school system sometimes prevents that, not all school staff are as generous as we would like them to be, and not all school staff know what our children need.  The sense of betrayal is often accompanied by a lot of anger and a desire to blame someone.  Perhaps those are a natural response to our unmet expectations, but we can’t allow ourselves to be caught in the trap of our emotions.  Emotions don’t think, reason, or plan, and they can wreck our case if we don’t manage ourselves properly.

When advocating for your child’s FAPE, FOCUS ON THE FACTS.  Your best and most effective advocacy statements will start like this.  “My child needs….”  Follow this with a statement of facts about what your child needs in order to access and benefit from his education.  Here is why this works.

First, schools are not there to give parents what they want, so statements like, “I want my child to have ….” are ineffective.  IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 say nothing about granting parents’ wishes.

Second, schools do not have to give the cadillac version of anything.  If a skate will get your child where he needs to go, in the eyes of the law, a skate will be sufficient.  We have to get brutal with ourselves and admit that sometimes a skate really is all that is needed.  There are strategies to use if more than a skate is needed, but stick to the facts and use them as your tools.  You may know that your child needs something more than a skate, but you must present that fact along with solid evidence (more facts), not with emotionality.

Third, even if there has been wrongdoing in your child’s case, dwelling on it will not advance your child’s education or get the IEP corrected.  Facts will.  Facts will tell what your child needs, and IDEA, Section 504 and ADA all support meeting a child’s educational needs.

The most powerful thing you can do is to say, “My child needs…” because it triggers everything in the law to give your child an equal opportunity to learn and equal access to his education.

It is enough to focus on the facts and use them for your child’s advantage because you have some of our nation’s best laws to back you up.