I Make Schools Put Their Bad Decisions in Writing

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In my previous post, I told how I like to make districts expand on their prior written notice. The important thing is to get in writing all their reasons for a decision they make which goes against my client’s wishes (and best interests).

Dear Ms. Special Education Director,

At last week’s PPT, you refused my client’s request for additional resource room time for small group special education instruction, even though we all agreed that she learns better in smaller group settings. You specified reasons, besides the fact that it is not, in your opinion, the Least Restrictive Environment. Your additional reasons are not noted on the Prior Written Notice pages of her IEP, and not specified in the minutes.

Please explain to me why you refused to allow my client more time in resource room. Please be specific as I do not recall your reasons and am still unsure as to why you made the refusal.

It is often like pulling teeth trying to get case managers, or administrators to provide their reasons. Often they will write back something like “. . . I have already given my reasons at the PPT,  please check your notes.”  I refuse to let them off the hook.

I will pursue “. . . I am very sorry that I didn’t write down the reasons – maybe because they didn’t make any sense to me. I do not have the information. Your prior written notice does not give specific reasons except to say ‘student’s progress  indicates that there is no need for additional services.’ If you truly feel that is your full and true answer, then your refusal obviously did not take the child’s unique circumstances and needs into account. I am asking you again to please explain to me the specific reasons you refused the request.”

I will not allow them to circumvent answering.  Parents are entitled to a full and forthcoming answer to their questions regarding their children’s special education. I will not let an administrator off the hook until they have given the information parents are entitled to.

Once I have the information, I find the weak points, and exploit them.

 

 

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Winning Your Case Before Going to Hearing

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The surest way to get what you want for your child’s special education is to make a compelling, winning case in writing, before you ever go to hearing.

This is why I treat every communication with a school district as an opportunity to document my client’s case. Letters and emails to administrators are written from the perspective that they will be read by a hearing officer.

Here in Connecticut, parents must present their case first before a hearing officer. So, even though, in CT the burden of proof (that an IEP is appropriate for a child) supposedly rests on the school district, in reality, parents present their entire case first. This puts the district at an advantage as they can prepare their side of the story to directly oppose and overcome each parent concerns presented at the hearing first.

So, I force school district to present their case before even filing a due process demand. It is easy. When the district opposes a parent’s request, I make the district give us an answer in writing. This is supposed to be done on the “Prior Written Notice” pages on the IEP, but the information they document is always scant. I will ask them to clarify – giving them ample opportunity to “make their case.”

For instance, if a parent formally requests additional speech and language therapy and the district refuses the request, I will, after I have gotten a copy of the IEP, ask them to clarify their reason and expand on the negligible PWN supplied in the IEP. Usually the reason they give is something pithy and virtually meaningless like “student performance does not support additional services”. Once I have it in writing, I save it.

When and if the parents go to due process, I will dispute the districts written reasons directly, and present our own case refuting every reason the school gives. When it is their turn to present their side, I will not allow them to expand on their PWN and give additional reasons. I will object to anything the school tries to add outside of the reasons they provided because they were never presented to parents prior to the hearing. They don’t get a second bite of the apple.

Always Make it Formal

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So many parents are utterly frustrated that their child’s school district won’t listen to their requests for changes in the child’s IEP, or for additional services, or for outplacement, etc. The school doesn’t come out and say “no,” they just deflect the request with “he is making good progress with his current IEP” or “she is making excellent progress on her goals and objectives, so we see no need for additional services” or “the program here at the public school is working so well for your child, I would hate to see him outplaced”.

Here is how you get your request truly addressed: You make it a “formal request”. Instead of saying “I think my son needs to go to a different school where they know how to meet his needs” you must say “I am making a formal request that my son be outplaced at a school that is appropriate to meet his needs.”  Then be sure to get an answer. It will be a “no” or a ‘yes” or something in between like “lets put in place the recommendations in this IEP and see how he does.” The latter is still a “no” and you must call them out on it. “So you are refusing my request at this time.”

Here is why that is important. The school is obliged to give “Prior Written Notice” whenever they propose a change in the IEP or refuse a request for a !change in the IEP.  Most schools try to avoid this by ignoring requests. Some simply don’t do it because they know the parents don’t know any better.

Prior written notice is an important safeguard for parents. Schools aren’t supposed to just be able to say “no” without giving a reason. They often do, but they do so in violation of the IDEA.

When I make an important request; one that I am willing to fight for, I make it formal. The school usually gives a pathetic reason on the prior written notice page like: “educational performance supports proposed action”. I refuse to accept that as an answer. So, I will ask the highest administrator in attendance to elaborate fully. They usually come back with more pathetic answers.

In the event of a due process hearing, I will object to any further elaboration on the subject as having been withheld from the parents prior to the due process.

This is how to use the law to win.

Don’t Take It Personally

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When a parent realizes that their child’s school district has not been forthcoming, has been delaying services, and is purposely misleading, we get mad. And understandably so.

That is what I did once I realized that my child’s school administrators were “handling” me. I was furious. How could they be so deceitful and make my life so difficult when I am the one who has a child with special needs! Life is hard enough, and the school is supposed to be here to support us. Not make things worse.

I found that anger was detrimental to my child’s case though. As natural as it is to feel that way, it is always detrimental to let anger fester. It becomes too tempting to treat the school with disrespect and disdain. What I found it does is close our minds to any good ideas and suggestions they may have to help our kids.

The fight easily becomes between “us” and “them” and not about how to get the best education for our kids. We need to check our egos and righteousness at the door – even if the school administrators do not. We have to be bigger than them for our kid’s sake.

 

Comparing Goals and Objectives Year to Year

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Does your child’s IEP look the same to you over the years? That is not a good sign and should be investigated. You want to be sure your child is receiving new and challenging Goals and Objectives that build on each other from year to year.

IEP’s are not really designed to easily track your child’s progress on Goals and Objectives.  It is even harder when the school writes the IEP in a different order from year to year. For instance, one year, your child’s math goals are numbers 4 and 5, but the following year they are numbers 2 and 3. This does happen. Dare I say that schools may do this purposely to confuse parents so they can’t easily determine that minimal progress is expected from their child?

I will use a spreadsheet program, like Microsoft Excel and stack the similar goals and objectives in rows on top of each other. This makes it easier to follow the progress or lack of. We need all the tools we can get to be sure our kids are being challenged!

 

 

Keeping Schools Transparent

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Transparency and communication. It is a necessity in Special Education. I keep in frequent contact with my client’s school districts. If a parent is denied a request, I will ask for the legal authority by which they made the decision.

As I have said in a previous post, I never take the school’s word for anything that is not explicitly addressed in the IDEA. I will write them emails and challenge their veracity. This is the only way I know to keep districts from taking advantage of parent’s naivete of the law.

Usually, by the time I am called in by parents, the school has already been brazenly lying and bending the truth beyond recognition to parents. So when I ask for verification of their claims, they get very upset and start doing some serious back peddling.
Often, they will say that my questions and requests for information are too many to respond to. They imply that I am trying to intimidate them by persistently asking questions (usually of their unreasonable statements to parents) until I get a REAL answer. I remind the school that parents of children with special needs have every right to communicate with their child’s district. And that by asking me to stop asking questions, the district diminishes parents ability to be full and equal members of the child’s PPT. That usually stops them from complaining more.

One time, a silly administrator thought she was being clever by turning this tactic around on me. She asked where I have the authority to “intimidate” her by asking so many questions. I told her that my obligation is to assure that my client is being treated as a full and equal member of her child’s PPT. The district has the obligation and responsibility to the parent. Not vice versa.

I don’t care how annoying or obnoxious they think I am. I refuse to let districts mislead parents about their child’s rights.

Behavior Problems?

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Behavior problems with special needs kids are especially tricky for parents. Schools are quick to blame family, home life and known issues families have (like divorce, addiction, or financial issues) as the cause of a child’s difficult behavior.

While home life can and does have an effect on a child, his school needs to determine how to help the child cope in school and avoid difficult behavior. Part of his IEP should specifically adress behavior issues.

An FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) is almost always necessary when children have bahavioral difficulties. A good FBA will help develop a hypothesis about the underlying issues that make a child behave the way they do. Many times a child’s learning disability will cause behavior issues as he struggles to keep up with his peers and realizes he is falling short. Or he doesn’t like his paraprofessional. Or he does not know how to express himself due to an underlying language deficit.

Unfortunately, parents are often told, flat-out, or subtly, that the problem is the child’s fault. The school may imply the behavior stems from problems in the home, so the onus is on the parents to get the child therapy and keep him home from school when he has been suspended for the seventh time that year.

Do not let the school railroad you into accepting the entire blame for his behavior. Remember, if a child is not learning, and is becoming frustrated, it is the school’s responsibility to adequately educate him. As soon as you realize your child is having behavior issues, request an FBA. If the school performs it, and you don’t feel it is adequate to meet his needs (which will be obvious if the behavior continues afterwards) request an Independent Educational Evaluation FBA. Do your homework and find the best behaviorist you can who will accurately assess your child and then help advocate for an appropriate program for him.

Most parents don’t realize that if their child misses several days of school because of behavior issues, the school is still obliged to provide an education! That means home bound instruction or some kind of private tutoring. Don’t let them off the hook and allow your child to be short-changed an education if he is struggling with behavior.

Too many parents are embarrassed by their childs behavior, and will accept the the suspensions quietly as part and parcel with his disability. Your child deserves an education regardless, so demand compensatory educating.