Transition Evaluations

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I have been working with a student in a district who has its own, post secondary program. The program has about ten students, all with varying levels of Intellectual Disabilities, and they spend about seven hours a day doing Activities of Daily living, like shopping, laudry etc. and going out into the community to work at a job – like the library, Walmart, a nearby store, etc.

Sounds like a nice program. The only problem is that the student I am representing doesn’t want to go to there. She wants to try college and wants to be around a whole variety of people her age, in a college environment. She has the desire and probably the ability – if she were given the opportunity to give college a try.

Her district does not see her as going to college. It never mentions in on the transition pages of her IEP. She is deeply frustrated.  I have learned from experts in the field of Transition, that the student needs an Independent Educational Evaluation that provides a comprehensive transition assessment and functional vocational evaluation. These will help us gain information to determine the most appropriate fit for the student and her hopes and dreams.

I do not know what these evaluations look like yet, but I will be sharing what I learn in this blog as I discover it.

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Disability “Label”

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Mostly, I don’t pay much attention to labels of people. Labels like “she’s a ‘bitch’ – yes, I am to unprofessional and heartless special ed administrators”; “He is “autistic” – is that all he is? Maybe he just has autism and many other interesting qualities?; This child is “Intellectually Disabled” what does that mean? Can the child learn? Is there a limit to his/her learning abilities, or will it just possibly take her/him longer to learn grade-level concepts?

I don’t like that last label, because it implies a limit to one’s ability to learn. I have (too often) seen school districts have low expectations of student’s with an “Intellectual Disability” and, sadly, the student is under-stimulated and shuts down.  I have also seen students labeled with “ID” achieve much more than the school had expected. That is usually because of very involved, strong parents who fight for the child’s future by insisting on a robust educational program for them.

When I work with parents of children with that label, I inevitably aggravate the school because I insist that the child’s full potential be explored so that instead of reading writing and doing math on a second grade level on their twenty-first birthday, he or she is on a high school level.

That is not too much to ask, is it?

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.

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.

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.

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.