What’s Wrong with this IDEA?

18 06 2012

Special Education Law (IDEA) has kind of become my hobby. Sure it’s related to my son and my work… but it’s really interesting. As a mom and an advocate I think it’s a pretty good law. In both capacities there are a few things I’d change but over all it’s a good law. I’d love for the law to spellout what they’ve had to explain in commentary (http://www.wrightslaw.com/idea/commentary.htm) but it works. Well… it would work IF schools spent a fraction of the time getting to know their rights and responsibilities as the mom brigade has…

In my humble (but pretty experienced) opinion the biggest hurdles to our children with special education needs having their educational needs met are:

1. The people…. General Education Teachers who don’t think they have any responsibilities under IDEA… or don’t want to fulfil their responsibilities… or just plain don’t understand their responsibilities (which is the fault of those to taught them and those who are responsible for helping them with professional development). They know they are supposed to show up and sign IEPs… but they either don’t know or don’t care that it’s a legal document and their signature makes them legaly responsible for their part of the program. Special Education professionals— who don’t know the legal definitions of the buzz words they use… are treated as the “red-headed step-child” in their schools… need more funding for their students and can’t compete against the football program…. the list goes on. I do not believe that people go into special education as a profession without caring about our kids (some exceptions of course) and then they get beaten down. School Administrators— who see high expenditures with statistically minimal results… who are too arrogant to admit when they make “mistakes” and can’t make it right because that would mean admission.They fail at educating staff on special education law– fail to supervise special education programs– circle the wagons when anything goes wrong… fail to establish a culture that values special education, students in special education and families who live with special education needs. Parents— yes… we really are part of the problem. We are the foremost experts on our children– but,  (generally speaking) we are not experts in education. (Generally speaking) We are intimidated by professionals. (Generally speaking) We want our children to have it all– even what they don’t need because who knows– that might be the magic bullet. Many of us are angry and have blown a gasket at least once in the years of dealing with special education. (Generally speaking) We are excluded from the process. (Generally speaking) We are angry. (Generally speaking) We are tired.

2. Enforcement: The federal government went to all the trouble of creating a good law but appear to be careless about enforcement… it can take years to work through the process… Local and State cronyism makes it difficult for parents to fight for their child’s rights to have their “unique needs” met so that they can go on to “future education and independent living”. Without enforcement, this good law is impotent.

Of course funding is also an issue– but shouldn’t be because the law doesn’t let funding be a consideration in determining the child’s needs. When you get to nuts and bolts of HOW the needs will be met– that’s when you can get creative. There are many ways to skin a cat (my son is working on memorizing euphemisms so forgive me…) so, working together– so long as both parties have good faith and the best for the child at heart– is best for the child. Most of us understand a tight budget– been there or are there– so we can be reasonable. If districts would treat parents as true members of the IEP team and parents would set aside the anger over past wrong doings, creativity can lead to reduced cost– while avoiding reduced results. We must focus on the results– not the “thing”…  But, we can’t waste time on that which does not work.

There are many other obstacles to ensuring that our children’s needs are met and some we can overcome. There is already a pretty good law…

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Perseverance

16 06 2012

4th grade was a nightmare! We knew there were issues (seriously, you don’t give report cards to kids with disabilities?! Hellowwww ADA!) but the severity and number of issues didn’t come out until after the school year was over… 4th grade with “General Curriculum” on his IEP means (according to IDEA) that he should have been taught the “same material taught to non-disabled” 4th graders…. not the K-2 pre-reading curriculum that the district gave me as a result of my FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) request. Then there was the issue with earplugs, fig-its, the boy who terrorized him, the change of placement without team agreement (or even notification), the humiliation in the gen ed classroom… no wonder he’s been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder!

So… in July (2011) we filled a complaint with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and submitted more than 5 inches of doubled sided documentation. In December we received a “letter of findings” that basically told us that we said this and the district said that– OCR just doesn’t know what really happened. Seriously. Did they not look at the documentation? So… in January we sent in our appeal to the Washington, DC office– with the original 5 inches of documentation plus another 2 inches. According to them it’s “impossible” to tell how long this is going to take. (And we are supposed to believe that they are serious about disability law?!– without enforcement there may as well not be a law.)

So… here we are at the end of 5th grade… Jay spent the last school year in full inclusion with an aide and personal FM system used only during lectures. He passed all subjects (even without having been taught any subject in 4th grade) and has increased 3 years’ reading levels. He has friends– REAL FRIENDS who seek him out! He has a crush that seems to be returned… he has made more progress in one year than he did in the previous 4.

This summer he is taking speech, swimming, and cornet. He is doing a research project about penguin behavior with a typical friend– this is part of a bigger– grown up– research project and their documentary at the end of the summer will become part of the zoo’s educational program. We are taking his group of 6 on field trips to the Science Center… one of the girls is setting up a book club that Jay will be part of. He’s working so hard– and having fun!

J has a social group. Kids who seek him out... who like him quirks and all...

I am exhausted!

Great works and accomplished not by strength but by perseverance. Samuel Johnson