Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 1

Hello, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

It’s April 22, which means it’s almost May.  May means IEP reviews and 504 Plan reviews.  (For this series, IEP will also mean 504 Plan since 504 plans meet the same academic needs as IEP Plans.)  Whether you think your child’s IEP is fine as it is and can just take a rubber-stamp to keep things going well or you think your child’s current IEP stinks like yesterday’s fish wrappers, there are a few things to consider.

A.  Some students will be changing to bigger, more challenging schools – middle school, high school and may need help with the transition.  We will address this issue today.

B.  The sheer number of special education students in some districts can make it nearly impossible to review all IEPs in May.  However, many school districts will do it anyway and may use methods that violate your child’s and your family’s right to privacy under Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  That’s for tomorrow.

C.  What should be done to address academic failure?  Social promotion is NOT acceptable, and neither is retention.  So….what to do?

D.  Is your child one who needs success is something at school to prevent him or her from giving up altogether?  Is that something a non-academic activity such as sports or drama/theater which require grades better than your child can get with an inappropriate IEP?  Or just better grades?  There IS a way to use IEPs and 504 plans to make these activities available to special education students despite lower grades than required by The Almighty Rules.

The topic for today is that bumpy ride between two levels of academics–elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school.  At this point in life, the majority of students are making huge strides in personal development and learning school that make such large changes reasonable and necessary.  Is your child ready for such momentous changes?

1.  Is your child at the transition point between academic levels–moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school?  If so, arrange a conference with your child’s teachers before scheduling the IEP/504 Plan meeting.  Ask if teachers and/or staff see anything about your child, the effect your child’s disability has on his/her education, and your child’s maturity that should be taken into account on the IEP for the next academic level.  What should you be considering?

a.  Many children with disabilities lag behind their peers in social or personal development. Middle school students are beginning to socialize more away from home and the pressure to fit in somewhere becomes intense.  Students who can’t succeed socially are at risk for depression and ostracism – two main ingredients of Columbine and similar events.  Students who are not ready for the leap in greater academic demands are at risk for failure without prevention of failure or immediate remediation.

b.  Middle school brings a change of classroom along with change of subjects AND a change of teacher.  Some children may not really be quite ready for that many changes all at once in September.

c.  In high school, those changes are in place, but the academic intensity increases.  Homework demands soar.  The building is larger, and there will be lost children at first.

d.  Sports and clubs loom large in the social atmosphere and a teenager’s life can become a constant popularity contest if a teen doesn’t perceive his individual value outside that context.

There is an answer when we ask how we can help with this transition.  Summer school.  (Eyes rolling, sighs, OMG, someone says.)  Summer school is held with far fewer students, so hallways are not jammed, classes are small, almost intimate, and students have a chance to start school with new friends already in place.  They already know their way around the building, so they don’t get lost and panicked in crowds.  They already know some of the teachers.  They already know the cafeteria, its rules, its perks.  This is an item for the child’s IEP that will give a jumpstart to what could have been a rocky transition full of potential failure.

If your child does not handle change well,

If your child is somewhat or very socially immature,

If your child is directionally challenged even in a space the size of a lunch bag,

If your child has fears of the bigger, new environment that is coming,

If you think these aspects of your child may interfere with his or her ability to succeed academically during the Fall semester or the entire first year, then summer school is a very reasonable and needed accommodation to request for your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.

If your school denies summer school for reasons that have nothing to do with your child, such as

–we reserve it only for children who failed the academics this year;

–we aren’t babysitters for immature children, find a club for him/her;

–we don’t have the funding for it; or

–there’s a waiting list. . .

grab your local education advocates and make some school administrators realize your child truly NEEDS summer school as a foundation for academic success in the Fall.  You can find advocates at your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) http://www.copaa.net.

There are no excuses for denial of FAPE for a child with disabilities.  Legislators with pet projects in mind for campaign money donors have cut our education budgets to unreasonably low levels, but there is money to meet special education needs when the alternative is to fill out about a thousand pages of paperwork to respond to a legitimate formal complaint to OCR or to lose all special education funding in the district for refusal to serve.  Sometimes services are not provided just because parents don’t know how to insist or because administrators can deny them.  Summer school does cost money–plenty of it.  It’s a convenient item to cut from the budget if no one complains loud enough. None of these reasons to deny summer school is permissible.

Don’t feel guilty because your child’s education costs more and don’t let anyone make you or your child feel “inferior.”  Don’t let anyone dismiss your child’s needs by saying his/her costs take money away from others.  (Our legislators do that just fine, thank you.)  We don’t flip out OCR complaints every 90 days, only that one time that something absolutely critical was denied and there was no other path to peace.

Because we only get to live each day once and learning is the most important work anyone does for the first 18 years of life, it’s important to give each child appropriate support to achieve success.

 

 

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!

New Soft Skills Training Help From Dept. of Labor

Dear Parents and Guardians,

When our children graduate from high school with a lot of special education assistance, many of them have not had the good fortune to be able to hold part time jobs in addition to schoolwork. This means that when they have to compete with students who have had work experience, they are lacking in some work skills that many employers consider crucial. Soft skills. As opposed to “hard skills”, such as keyboarding speed, experience with the Office Suite, some carpentry or plumbing skills, or some car mechanic knowledge, which would open doors for many people, soft skills are what everyone must have–how to listen to instructions and apply them accurately, ability to understand how what you do fits with what others do, teamwork, cooperation, communication, proper manners for the situation or setting, workplace manners, etc. People skills are soft skills.

The majority of us pick most of it up just by being alive with tips from others here and there. When disabilities interfere with social skills or socialization, these skills are slow to develop or the student may require specific instruction to learn them.

At last, the Department of Labor has recognized this need and has put together a program of activities to address it. If your child will need to start working after graduation this Spring or is already bouncing from job to job due to lack of these skills, this program may be just what is needed.

Here is the announcement from the Department of Labor:

The U.S. Department of Labor has released “Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” a collection of career development exercises and activities to help sharpen the communication and other “soft skills” of young workers, including those with disabilities. The curriculum covers communication, networking, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and professionalism. It was based on a survey of businesses to figure out the most important skills for young workers.

For more resources on youth employment visit http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/Resources.pdf.

This announcement does not say where we can get this collection, so I will drag that out of them for you. Watch for it in my next posting–tomorrow.

I wish your child happy lEARNING!