Strong Advocacy Changes Kid’s Lives

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When my daughter was in second grade, she was virtually non-verbal. She made sounds, but could not speak intelligibly. Most people couldn’t understand her at all. Our family understood her minimally because we kind of understood her “code”.

Westport schools had her using a little device, called a “dynavox” which would say rote phrases in a robotic voice like “my name is Jenny” and “I am hungry”. It was not very helpful, and she seldom used it. I had requested that the school spend more time teaching my daughter to talk, and less time teaching her to use the dynavox device.

They insisted they were experts and the speech language pathologist had a doctorate in speech and language etc. They knew what was best, and teaching my daughter to use this device was the “right” thing to do. They insisted that she has so much to say, and the device was the way to give her a voice

I wasn’t convinced. So, we hired a private speech pathologist to work with Jenny. After the private speech pathologist met with my daughter a couple of times, she was certain that my daughter would be able to talk on her own. She noted that she had all the sounds, she just needs to use them correctly.

Within four months, my daughter was speaking on her own and most people could understand her about 80% of the time. This was a huge gain. At that point, we had a PPT meeting at which Westport schools finally realized that the dynavox was not appropriate and Jenny should be given speech and language to continue to help her speak.

The private speech pathologist we hired helped and encouraged my daughter to speak and be fully communicative with others. If we had left it to Westport, she very likely would have remained unable to talk and dependent on a speech box.

This is why strong advocacy and action for our kids is vital.

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IDEA Special Education Law – A Funding Law

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The IDEA (special education law) is a funding law. States receive federal funds for special education each fiscal year as long as the state can prove to the Secretary of the US Department of Education that the State has in effect policies and procedures to provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to all children with disabilities who meet the criteria set forth in the IDEA. The state’s policies and procedures may not be more restrictive than the federal law, IDEA.

A Free appropriate public education must be available to all children residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21.

As each state is obliged to make FAPE available to each eligible child residing in the State, an IEP or IFSP (Individucal Family Service Plan) must be in effect for the child by the date of his/her third birthday. IEPs are created with the child’s school district, while an IFSP is provided by birth to three (in CT).

A child’s eligibility for special ed and related services is determined on an individual basis by a team specifically put together by the Local Education Agency (LEA) qualified to determine eligibility for such services.

Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or stayed-back in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.

It is  not true that the child must be failing out of school or classes in order to qualify for special education services.

When a school district violates a special education law, it is putting its qualification to receive federal funding at risk.  Each state is given ample opportunity to make good on a finding of neglect or non-compliance; however.

Unfortunately, it generally works in the district’s favor to push noncompliance as far as it can go, in order to avoid having to pay large amounts to give some disabled children services. If they get caught, they can back-peddle, usually with not much more than a slap on the wrist. Too often, they don’t get caught due to parent’s ignorance of the law.

This is the unfortunate truth. But one we must deal with. And we can deal with it effectively if we educate ourselves.

 

 

 

The Buck Stops With the Board of Ed

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Ultimately, bad choices by Directors of Special Education in any district impact the elected officials trying to do good by their town – the Board of Education.

When a special education due process hearing is filed, it is filed as “Student v. Our Town Board of Education.” This usually isn’t too embarrassing for the BOE because the hearings are often shrouded in secrecy. Attorneys for students and for the Boards of Education don’t want the general public to know what is going on behind the doors. This would expose how really ineffectual, time-wasting and expensive the whole process is.

When ignorant administrators deny Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) they must file due process immediately to prove that their own evaluations were adequate. When administrators are stupid and arrogant enough to do this, I immediately send letters to the district’s Board of Education telling them that because of a decision by their underlings – usually a special education administrator – asking them if they are aware that they have just filed a due process against a disabled child in the district.

Of course, they have no idea. The administrators stay insular so to save themselves exposure of their bad choices. But the wonderful response from BOE members is almost always that of shock and embarrassment.

Guess who they get mad at?  The administrator who made the bad decision. To top it off,  I add that the hearing will be public, and held on public property to add the extra measure of embarrassment. Not that I really want to embarrass these elected officials, but to let the administrators realize that their actions directly affect their ultimate bosses – the town’s elected officials.

Help Prepare Your Child For Life After High School

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Ultimately, a child with special needs is going to have to transition into the real world on or before his/her 21st birthday. The IDEA puts the onus on the local education agency (your school district) to prepare the child for life after high school until the s/he turns 21.

It is vital that, as a student with special needs approaches the time s/he leaves high school, preparations for adult life are well underway.
Some school districts will let any meaningful preparation fall by the wayside – just moving the child along to graduation, or to some glorified day care program. This is true especially if the parents of the child have not been educating themselves on the IDEA law, and not been fiercely advocating for their child throughout  his or her primary and secondary schooling.
Research indicates that a robust and rigorous academicac program provided during the high school years, better prepares students, including those with lower achievement levels as compared to “typical” peers, to move on and achieve in postsecondary education (i.e. college, community college, or vocational schools). The reverse is true: students who are provided less challenging courses of study are significantly less prepared.
Parents must educate themselves and be active, strong participants in their children’s educational programming in order to give your kids the best chance for a successful and productive adult life.

Show Me the Policy

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School districts expect and (dare I say) hope that parents don’t really know their rights under the IDEA.

For instance, they so often site “policy” as a reason to deny a request from parents. If parents verbally ask for a PPT meeting soon after a previous PPT, shool may say “it is not our policy to have a PPT meeting so soon after another one.” Unwitting parents usually will accept the answer without following up with the vital question “please tell me where I can find a copy of that policy”

Or, a parent asks for more testing because she thinks her son may have an additional fine motor disability that hasn’t been identified. The  staff member may say “we don’t do that until the third grade.” Parents should ask ” where does it state that your practice is to wait until a child is in third grade to identify and provide intervention for a child with fine motor disabilities?”

Or when a parent requests a specific person to evaluate their child when granted an Independent Educational Evaluation, the school may say “Dr. Smith does not meet our criteria for an Independent Evaluator.” Parents should respond “Please show me a copy of the district’s ‘criteria’ and tell me exactly how Dr Smith doesn’t meet standards.”

Schools are public agencies and must be transparent with their rules, regulations and policies (among many other things). Never accept a “policy” that is in any way detrimental to your child getting all the services he or she needs.