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.

The Homework Organizer, a Very Good Friend

I do not normally endorse a product for which parents must pay. However, there is one planner which is so effective that people will even buy them used if they cannot afford them new. (There are some available through Amazon.com right now.)

Dr. Gail Mengel, Ph.D. is a public school psychologist who designed a planner called “The Homework Organizer” that addresses many of the issues I have brought to your attention. It contains a master copy page of a Grade Saver where students can record the grades for class assignments and tests to help them realize how their course of study is working for them (or not). I have examined and evaluated many organizers and this is my favorite.

You can examine it for yourself at http://www.homework-organizer.com to decide if it fits your student’s needs. While you’re there, read all of it for a good lesson in executive functioning and why we must address the development of this crucial skill set. Many disabilities that affect learning also impair a student’s ability to set priorities and achieve goals. Doing homework with the guidance of this tool helps reinforce organization, time management, and goal-setting with every small step that must be taken to arrive at academic success.

Here’s to our student with the most improvement!

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!

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.