The Real Purpose of Special Education

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The expressed purpose of the IDEA funding law is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living”

Learning reading, writing and arithmatic are not the only goals we have for our children with special needs. They are important, but the goal is also to get them independent and productive members of society.

So when districts say that poviding opportunities for students with disabilities to, say, learn to walk better even with a walker, or providing adequate after school exercise programs so that students with disabilities can enjoy good health and fitness in their adult lives, is not therir responsibility, they are full-of-it.

I have heard schools say that these activities, and others like them, are not educationally relevant because they are not academic. So, I remind Mr. Special Education Director of the PURPOSE of the IDEA.

Education is so much more, and for kids with special needs, it can be crucial to spend extra time and care in developing their abilities that will make them independent, productive, healthy, and ultimately, more happy.

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Eliminate Nay-sayers From Your Child’s Team

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I have no patience with nay-sayers. During my adventures in Special Education Advocacy, I hear special education advocates, attorneys and other parents say things like “well that is the decision the school has made, so you are just going to have to make the best of it.” Or, “Yes, all parents have to pay for their child in the interim, that’s just the way it is.” Or “There are no exceptions to this rule.” Or “You can’t take your child out of school two hours early regularly, he will be truant.” Or “Our school doesn’t have a program for people like your daughter to swim every day – the swim team uses the pool every afternoon and there is no room for her.”

These are actual statements I have heard people, with supposed authority, like advocates, attorneys, say to parents as valid reasons for denial of services or assistance. The knee-jerk certainty that makes these nay-sayers declare that because something that hasn’t been done in the past can never can be done. Just because some authorities cite something is “the rules” or “policy” doesn’t make it so.

With a little digging and investigation, some “rules accepted as “the way it is” are invalid.  Often with some critical thinking and questioning things that seem unreasonable, I have found that proclamations that things are “Just that way” is bullsh*t.

Whenever I hear people dismissing possibilities as “the way things are” without questioning the possibility of something different, I dismiss the person from the team. We special education parents have enough roadblocks, we don’t need to hear them from someone who is on our team.

I question everything! Why can’t it be done for this child? Where is it carved in stone, or stated specifically in any regulations, that certain things, out-of-the-box things, that may benefit a child or family of a special needs child, can’t be done.

I choose advocates and persons with fiduciary responsibilities for special needs kids to have a “can do” and “let’s find a way to” approach. More often than not, people who question and pursue alternatives to the “way it has always been done” accomplish parent’s goals, and get the job done.

That is definitely the tactic I take. I am not saying that I make promises I can’t keep, but I will say, “let’s see if this really is the end of the road – or if we can open new doors that have been artificially closed.

Why Does the School Wait Until the PPT Meeting to Give Parents Relevant Information?

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Do you think it is an accident that you receive all evaluation results, prospective IEP Goals and Objectives, and progress reports at your child’s PPT? Every one of us parents has wondered “how the hell am I supposed to understand, digest, and make decisions on this information right here and now.”

This is the school’s “ambush” technique. They do this because it confuses and overwhelms parents. This approach effectively neutralizes the parents ability to be an equal member of the team. Making intelligent decisions is nearly impossible under these circumstances, because parents are kept in the dark until the PPT itself.

Schools keep parents from thoroughly questioning information presented at the meeting, and understanding it fully. Parents feel insecure about their lack of knowledge of the meanings of the reports and other information. Because of this they are more likely to trust and just go along with the school team. The school knows a disempowered parent is less of a threat to them.

Also, the team probably has just completed the evaluations and reports at the 11th hour.

Every parent I have worked with complains about this disempowering behavior from the school.

But is the school disobeying the law by waiting until the meeting itself to give you relevant information? No. Do parents have the right to request all information several days prior to the PPT? Yes.

The law is silent on whether-or-not the school is obliged to give you the reports of their own volition – which means they are not obliged if parents don’t request them specifically.

However, it does specify that parents may request reports and all information be given them prior to PPT meetings. If parents make such requests (in writing) the school must to provide them.

Unfortunately, “what parents don’t know can hurt them.”

This is why it is imperative that parents know the law to advocate effectively for their children. Or bring someone who does know the law.

Due Process Open to the Public

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Request a Public Due Process Hearing if you ever get that far. Why? Because it is ugly. School districts, especially wealthy ones here in Connecticut, hire hard-nosed attorneys who torture parents in cross examination, are purposely intimidating and mean to parent’s witnesses, and groom the school’s own witnesses to, at best, stretch the truth beyond recognition. They make it a traumatic experience for families.

With  public sunshine on the proceedings, these attorneys must behave much better – which diminishes their power. Usually, they will settle the case rather than expose themselves to the public.

Public hearings can be a powerful defense for parents. Unfortunately, parents often have to badger and insist that their own attorneys be willing to hold a hearing in public. It seems that no attorneys like  to be exposed to the public.  I wonder why?

I can’t stress the power of having a hearing open to the public enough. At best, you will force the district to settle quickly in your favor. At worst, you will be dealing more subdued opposing attorney.

One last piece of advice. If your own attorney openly opposes a public hearing, consider finding another attorney.