First Special Education Advocacy Webinar

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I have amassed so much knowledge and experience in dealing with school districts to get the best special education programs and services for my clients – and my own daughter – I want to shout it from the rooftops. But I will settle for hosting a free Webinar on the subject. These will be held, October 18 (Wed.) at 1:00 p.m., and October 19 (Thurs.) at 7:00 p.m.

When I meet parents who are having a terrible time trying to advocate for their child who is floundering and underachieving in school, I just want to jump in their skin and go to their child’s PPT meetings for them. Parents are often so exhausted and frustrated, it is hard for them to even hear what I have to say to them.

It’s too much. Too overwhelming. I know the feeling.

If I am able to help even one child by offering this free seminar, I will have succeeded. But, I am hoping to be able to help a lot more.

The Joys of Counter Arguments

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My first years advocating for my daughter were some of the most difficult and frustrating of my life. Every time I made, what I was certain, was a valid, reasonable point about my daughter’s education, I would get push back in some form or another. It was really like a nightmare. I was trying to help my daughter, and it felt like they were purposely stymying  all my requests and suggestions.

It took a couple of years and studying the IDEA and ADA law before I realized that two can play that game. So, when they gave their rote nos and used their delay tactics, I would turn around and ask them about their actions’s compliance with IDEA law and show the folly in their arguments.

Here are just some that I remember: Me “I would like to go into my daughter’s class to observe.”  School: “No sorry, we don’t allow parents into the class”  What I wish I had said (in writing) “In order to be a full and equal participant in my daughter’s PPT, I need to observe her in class, as all the other members of her team have been able to. Are you saying I am not considered an equal member of her team?”

School “We can’t hire this service provider to do your daughter’s Independent Evaulation. The provider has a history of advocating against school districts.” Me: “What policy states that you have the authority to refuse an evaluator because of a history of advocating for a child with special needs. Where can I find this policy?”

School “We can’t provide physical therapy to the extent that you are asking – to help your daughter be able to walk. That is a medical issue, not a school/educational issue.” Me: “Are you saying that walking is not educationally relevant? It is my understanding that one of the expressed purposes of IDEA is to help a child become an independantant and productive member of society. Is it the team’s opinion that walking would not increase my daughter’s independence?”

I hope you get the point. Almost any bogus excuse for denying your child can be dismantled in this way. I have to say, this is actually fun when a district is behaving badly.

A Great IEP Starts With Accurate “Present Levels” Pages

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PLEASE FOLLOW, LIKE, MAKE A COMMENT, OR ASK A QUESTION. I LIKE INTERACTION!

Always keep in mind the importance of the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) pages of your child’s IEP. These are the pages from which the IEP is developed. It is VITAL that your child’s PLAAFP pages are accurate. The US Department of Education’s view is that children with disabilities have IEPs designed to hold high expectations of the child and that his/her IEP give him/her meaningful access to a State’s academic content standards for the child’s grade.

It is great news that the US Government has openly stated that expectations should be as high for children with special needs as they are for their non-disabled peers. However, this can only be achieved if the child’s PLAAFP pages on his IEP give an accurate picture of the child’s abilities, learning style, and disabilities.

Unfortunately, unless parents are paying close attention, it can be easy, and perhaps even tempting, for districts to misstate the child’s abilities to the lower side. This is because lower expectations usually mean less need for additional supports. Additional supports, services, and service providers are expensive, so there is an incentive to keep expectations on the lower side.

Here is an example of the importance of accurate PLAAFP pages. A child I advocated for tested very low on the standardized tests (IQ test). The scores were well below the “Intellectually Disabled” range. As a result, the child’s school had very low expectations for her. We requested an Independent Educational Evaluation for the child. The evaluator came up with the same low scores as the school; however, it was the evaluator’s strong opinion that the child should not be considered and treated as “intellectually disabled”. Apparently, the child’s constellation of disabilities made it difficult for the child to obtain an accurate score on the standardized tests. She was, according to the Independent Evaluator, much smarter than her test scores indicated.

We insisted that the evaluator’s statement – that the child not be considered “intellectually disabled”) – be noted on the PLAAFP pages. The result was an IEP for this child that was MUCH more challenging and stimulating for the child to achieve ever increasing IEP Goals and Objectives. The student is happy and thriving – and performing mostly on grade level!!

This only happened because of our paying close attention to the true Present Levels of the child.

 

Expressing Undisputable Priorities

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Sometimes you just have to remind the school district of priorities – and put them in perspective.

I had a client who had cystic fibrosis. It was serious enough that her doctor recommended she not attend school at all, as the population of viruses and illnesses that float around high schools could infect her and that infection could cause death.

The family was, therefore, looking for home bound instruction as the only feasible form of FAPE (free appropriate public education) for the girl. The district did offer some home bound instruction, and also that the student come in a few days a week for a couple of hours for specific classes. The family did not think that that was appropriate, and they had a doctor’s letter clearly stating that exposing the student to germs in the school could be fatal for her.

The school district did not want to provide home bound instruction for the child’s entire curriculum. Citing the need for socialization and spending time with peers as the priority for the student, the school dug in their heels on providing only partial home bound instruction.

So I read the doctor’s letter aloud at the PPT meeting – even though the staff had already read it. I underscored the portion where the doctor states clearly that the child should not be exposed to germs or viruses as it could be fatal.

I explained clearly and concisely to the school staff and administrators that the family’s number one priority was to keep their daughter alive. Their second was to educate their daughter with the same curriculum as other young people her age. And the distant third was socializing their daughter with other children her age. The school staff could not argue with those priorities.

They agreed to provide home-bound instruction for the entirety of her schooling – at least until the doctor gives the ok for her to attend school again.

Is Your Child’s IEP Fully Implemented?

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How do you know that your child’s IEP is being followed? There are ways to check.

Every day I ask my daughter if she had her Physical Therapy, or Occupational Therapy or whatever service she was supposed to have that day. If she says “no” (which does happen) I will send an email to the administrator in charge of her case and tell her that “my daughter told me she did not have PT today, can you tell me when the session will be made up?”

I recommend that all my clients follow up with their children in this manner and then send an email to the school if something is not the way it should be.  I know this will not win friends with the school staff, but it will keep our children from being denied the full program and services that are promised in their IEPs.

It is hard enough just getting the services into the IEP. It is vital to be sure they are being implemented.

I call myself a “hornet” because I, figuratively, swarm the school do be sure my child is taken care of. I am sure it makes me unpopular – but – I know my daughter is being taken care of.

Record It All

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Everything that happens between a member of school staff and parents (or their child) must be written down and documented for the record. I know it is an onerous task, but necessary if parents want to succeed in obtaining the best education possible for their special needs child.

To that end, I strongly recommend audio-recording (on a digital recorder for easy transferring onto disc, or into an email) everything. Definitely PPT meetings – but let them know you are recording it beforehand, All formal and informal meetings with staff. I don’t tell them that I am recording. The purpose of recording is being able to listen to them later to transcribe the important information.  Most of us can’t remember it all, so this tool helps to remember and document everything significant.

Since my purpose is NOT to use the recording for legal purposes, there are no legal repercussions in recording.

Once you have transcribed the important information (important to you). You must organize it into a memo to the school to “recap the substance of our meeting, for the record.” It will annoy the school that you have such a great memory of the meetings.

It really is imperative to keep documentation of your side of the story at all times. This is excellent ammunition to keep the district from daring to go to due process with you, and crucial if there is a due process hearing.

In order to win, you must have a winning case before a hearing.