Turning the Tables on the School

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If you are a special education parent, you have probably noticed that the school administrators are masterful at delaying and diverting responsibility for educational services that your child needs to succeed in school. Once you understand how they work; however, you can turn the tables around on them – essentially pointing the responsibility back on them and with a sense of urgency. A couple of examples:

 
1. Parents whose child is being offered ESY (extended school year, or summer school). Administrators would rather not pay to transport your child to school – even though they are obligated to do so. In the hopes that parents will just drive their children, the school may say “We are not offering bus service for your child this summer”. My answer is something like, “oh no, I am unable to drive my child to school this summer, so I guess you will have to send someone to our house to give my child services.” They will suddenly “offer” transportation.

2. Parents wanted their son to walk in his walker in school were told it wasn’t appropriate because he accesses the school best in his wheelchair. I told the school that the boy wanted to be able to walk in the school halls with his non-disabled peers. They came back with, “but he does not access the school as well in his walker – it is slower and takes more time and energy.” Parents I came back with “so you are telling us that you will not allow John to walk in school with his peers? Isn’t walking a basic right of students – even if they require the use of a walker?” No district wants the bad publicity of a discrimination lawsuit – so they will probably acquiesce.

 
Remember, for every “reason” they can come up with to deny your requests, there are equally or more compelling reasons why they should honor your request.

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Higher Expectations for Special Ed. Students Says US Supreme Court

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I have seen many students’ goals and objectives remain very low – and would have stayed there without strong parent intervention. In March of 2017 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a specified higher standard of education for children with special education needs. This was a big win for special needs students and their parents. It states that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

Prior to this ruling, the legal expectation of a student’s progress was permitted to be little more than “de minimus” meaning, little more than an amount so trivial as to be hardly with considering.

Higher expectations must show up as challenging goals and objectives in a student’s IEP. If the goals remain low, there is no compelling reason to help the student keep up with peers to the greatest extent possible. Unfortunately, too many (but not all) districts, for the sake of budgets and teacher/professional availability, have been  happy just to move the special needs child along until their 21st birthday.

Now with this new case law, parents are empowered to insist upon goals and objectives designed to help their child make meaningful progress in his/her curriculum commensurate with his/her true potential.

But beware, even when a parent succeeds at elevating the goals and objectives for their child, there are myriad ways that the school can reduce their responsibility to expect the child to Master the goal . One way is in the percentage of the number of trials the child is expected to correctly do the goal. Sometimes the goals are cleverly written that the child doesn’t even have to do the goal correctly, sometimes it is just expected that the child makes an attempt.

Like I said, there are myriad ways schools can fudge the urgency of meeting the goals and objectives in a child’s IEP.

Parents need to know how challenging their child’s IEP really is and whether or not the IEP is truly being carried out in a meaningful way.

The Mouse is Guarding the Cheese!

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Every district is required to have a compliance officer who oversee that the district is complying with the federal laws, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The funny thing is that most districts designate the director of special education as the compliance officer.

That was certainly the case with our district. But the kicker was that it was the director of special education who was breaking these laws in the first place!! The mouse was guarding the cheese! I decided, at some point, that I would try to file a compliance complaint, for one of the dozens of times our district’s director of special education violated IDEA. I asked the director who the district’s designated compliance officer was. He said it was himself.

So, I had to file a complaint about him to him! It really was a joke. Of course he didn’t consider his actions in my complaint to be non-compliant. No surprise there.

I did it just to rattle him. But, if you are experiencing school administrators who are violating IDEA , ADA or 504, ask the director of special education who the designated compliance officer is. If (or when)  they answer that it is him/herself, forward the email on to other parents of special needs kids in your district and be sure to cc the director himself. Exposing the absurdity weakens their position against your child.

You Can Call a PPT Anytime

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I have had clients who have not been happy, going into the summer with the proposed IEP for their child’s upcoming fall. I ask them if they have contacted the school to tell them that they have serious concerns about their child’s upcoming school year.

Most parents will say that the school told them that they would be on vacation and can’t meet until the following fall – in the new school year. Of course, by that time, the year has started with your child being given the IEP that you had serious concerns with.

The school is not allowed to deny a PPT prior to the new year, if a parent rejects the proposed IEP and requests a PPT early in the summer. Whether or not the team is on vacation is irrelevant. If you request it, and give a reasonable time frame to them (like a month) they must honor your request in order for your child to start the school year with an IEP you can approve.

Never take “no” for an answer if you feel your child does not have what he or she needs to thrive in school.

 

You Must Put Everything in Writing

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One of my first blog posts was about this same subject. It is so important for winning in special education for your children that I am posting about this topic again.

Putting everything in writing documents your side of the story, and that’s why it’s so vital. This means every conversation with school staff, every meeting, telephone calls, even your perspective of what was decided in your child’s PPT must be written.

This is a lot of work, and frustrating that it’s so necessary. But that is the world of special education. Your don’t have to be grammatically perfect when documenting things with the school. A quick email to whomever you are following up with, and a CC to an administrator, is fine.

The sole purpose is to put your understanding and perspective of conversations and events in writing so your side is documented for the record. I usually just use bullet points to get the point across with as little need for writing structure possible.

For instance:

Dear Ms. Special Ed:

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me in the school hallway this afternoon.

Per our discussion:

  1. You were going to look into getting my son swimming in the High School Pool two days a week.
  2. You were going to set up a meeting with his social studies teacher to discuss whether or not he might benefit from extra help one day a week.
  3. I will let you know which day my son will be available for the field trip.

Best, Special Ed Mom

Unfortunately, it is true that “if it is not in writing, it never happened”. So it is absolutely necessary to document every conversation with school staff if you want to have the ammunition to get the education your child is entitled to and deserves. This is why many parents just give up or hire an attorney.

Giving up does not help your child, and hiring an attorney is very expensive. In my experience attorneys not will treat your child’s case with the vigor and passion that you alone can give.

Get in the habit of writing every relevant communication you have had with the school about your special needs child. Pay specific attention to the portions that are important to you and your child. The effort is well worth it.

Getting Related Services

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Is there a service that you think your child needs in school that he or she is not getting? Has a professional outside of school told you the same thing?

There are several ways to get the school to provide a specific service for your child. The “right’ way is to go back to the PLAAFP pages (Present Levels of Performance) and be sure the disability that you think requires the special service is mentioned clearly.  For instance, if your child has severe challenges just holding a pencil, he would likely require Occupational Therapy (OT) in school to learn.

The PLAAFP pages should mention this deficiency in the Fine/Gross Motor section and describe how the problem affects his ability to learn. If it is there, you should be able to easily justify and get this service for your child. If it is not mentioned, call a PPT meeting (parents can do this any time). At the meeting, have his teacher describe how he holds a pencil, and, if she is truthful, the team should be able to see that your child needs OT to learn basic educational skills like holding a pencil.

Sometimes the deficit is purposefully missing from the PLAAFP pages because they know it would mean your child needs OT, and they are being stingy with the services (usually because of expense, and/or lack of access to a professional in this field.)

Bring in a note from an outside professional who agrees that this service is needed. If necessary, video tape your child struggling to hold a pencil and bring it in to the PPT. Concrete evidence such as a video is hard to ignore.