Parent Participation Trumps Deadlines! (Doug C. Vs Hawaii)

5 07 2013

Monumental!!

Doug C. Vs. Hawaii rules (in essence) that the right of the parents to participate in IEP meetings/development is more important than the school’s need to meet the deadline for IEP annual reviews. (Happy Dance!!)

Well worth reading this Wightslaw analysis even if you’re not a geek: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/dougc.hawaii.pwanalysis.htm

The Court explained that procedural violations that “infringe the parents’ opportunity to participate in the IEP formulation process, clearly result in the denial of FAPE” (*FAPE is Free and Appropriate Public Education)

While the case centers around the scheduling of IEP meetings so that parents can participate in the meeting– the ruling is clear that parents have a right to participate in the “formulation process”– which in my interpretation (am not a lawyer– just a geeky mom) also includes the right to help write the document.

Last year my work was taking me out-of-town every week, my son’s intervention specialist (IS) was going through chemo therapy so our schedules just didn’t allow us to work on his IEP together… not malicious, not that either of us was playing games; our schedules just didn’t match up. We got to a week before the IEP annual review was due and we believed we were meeting with his IS to work on the IEP and the school ambushed us– they tried to push through the rough draft we had been working on by email. It was really rough… and we refused to sign it. They threatened to implement without our agreement and we basically dared them to do it. To make a long story short– we found a work-around and bought some time to finish working on the IEP so it all turned out fine. But, thanks to Doug C. Vs. Hawaii this won’t happen again!

Too many people– parents and school staff alike– are under the impression that an IEP “expires”. Let me be clear– Individual Education Programs do NOT expire. Seriously– read the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (http://idea.ed.gov/).  They do NOT expire!

The law requires that IEPs be reviewed at least once a year and be changed as needed. That’s all. The law doesn’t require a re-write… the program does not expire. So– the annual review is a procedural issue and Doug C. Vs Hawaii says clearly that the rights given by IDEA get priority over proceedural timelines.  

From Wrightslaw analysis:

“The Court discussed the balancing of two options, i.e., including the parent versus meeting the procedural timeline. There are two primary purposes of IDEA. The first is to prepare the child for “further education, employment and independent living.” [See 20 USC § 1400(d)(1)(A)]The second purpose of the law is “to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.” [See 20 USC § 1400(d)(1)(B)]”

 “When confronted with the situation of complying with one procedural requirement of the IDEA or another, we hold that the agency must make a reasonable determination of which course of action promotes the purposes of the IDEA and is least likely to result in the denial of a FAPE.”

“Under the circumstances of this case, the Department’s decision to prioritize strict deadline compliance over parental participation was clearly not reasonable.”

I am SO excited about this ruling– not only because I feel vindicated– but also because this gives families legal grounds for our objections to being excluded from the IEP process. Granted that generally speaking, parents aren’t the experts in education, in education law or in procedure– but, we are the foremost experts in our own children and have the legal right to have a say in our children’s educational plan.

Thanks Doug C.!

* Pete Wright is a Special Education Attorney. I am not. I encourage you to read this ruling for yourself and visit www.wrightslaw.com — go to one of their trainings… And don’t assume that everything you read on the internet is true! My post is to the best of my knowlege… but, I’m not a lawyer so do your own reading/research.

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Update: The last two years

26 05 2013

I just realized it’s been two years since I’ve written anything much on this blog… if anybody is still watching– I’m sorry.

When the nightmare that was 4th grade (see that post) finally settled down and J started getting a real education– I felt like I couldn’t let up… like I just couldn’t turn away for a minute. Maybe because I still don’t trust that this school district won’t try to move him into an MD class– or maybe because J needed to prove their repeated insistence that he “couldn’t learn past 2nd grade” so very wrong. Maybe just because it still makes me angry… but, the good news is that he really got taught the academic content standards in both 5th and 6th grades!!

He is getting good grades, learning to talk to girls (J’s personal goal for speech therapy), getting ready to join the swim team in the fall and getting scuba certified this summer– in addition to frontloading social studies (mostly ancient civilizations) and making a documentary about the water quality in NE Ohio.

I don’t know if it’s the sensory deprivation under water or what but, he loves swimming! He’s already done the PADI Discover Scuba class twice and did really well… He researched Cousteau, and Disney Oceans is still in his top 10 (although the animated movie du jour is Monsters Inc.) Maybe I’ll write another post on scuba and autism… but, I make no promises!

J makes movies all the time (last summer’s Humboldt Penguins Documentary was really cool!)– and power points that do things I didn’t know that program can do!– I loves this stuff– and, he’s really good at it. He loves science and wants to learn about ancient civilizations– so, we’ll do MOMA’s Egyptian wing, read some books, watch some movies and do some projects.

We’ve always supported J’s interests, made lots of museum visits and worked to expose him to interesting subjects and places… but over the last two years we’ve been much more focused on helping him create files to put new materials in– giving him a foundation for learning the general education curriculum. Maybe I’ll write more on “frontloading” another day… again, no promises!

It’s going to be a busy– and fun summer! We’ll get to play in water, read good books, go to some neat places… he’ll get to see a ship wreck in lake Erie, enjoy a silent world that doesn’t drive him crazy and we’ll find some time to spend with friends.

Before the accusations that I am a “Tiger Mom” start flying let me tell you– He LOVES this stuff! We firmly believe Temple Grandin’s edict that “we must keep them engaged.” And, we believe in IDEA’s mission statement– everything we do needs to prepare him for “further education, employment and independent living” so, we’re off and running Monday morning.





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…





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





From bad to worse

18 10 2011

We sent our son to 4th grade last year and he ended up with a 2nd grade “education” and PTSD.





Open Letter to Asbury University

4 11 2010

Asbury University (formerly Asbury College) is playing Fox News in the campus gym and cafeteria. When did Asbury start teaching propaganda instead of truth? When did it lose its compassion?

Shortly after college I married a fellow Asburian who declared his homosexuality a year later. He was told by an Asbury faculty member that if he got married he would be “cured” of his homosexuality. I was the victim of this declaration and yet I was able to forgive the College for its naiveté.  

Now, the views espoused are attacks against my son (who is the child of my straight second husband). And that I cannot forgive so easily.

My son is on the autism spectrum. The Republican Party and its mouthpiece, Fox News, have mocked those with autism specifically and those with pre-existing conditions more generally. Leaders in the Republican Party think my son is a wrecked car with “autism”.  I cannot—and will not—support a political party who values money over people.  I cannot—and will not—support an institution that condones ridiculing “the least of these”.

As a result of Asbury’s shift from a conservative Christian institution to an extension of the political party whose leaders call my son—who is a gift from God, perfect and created in God’s own image—unworthy of equality;  I am changing my Will so that it no longer includes your institution.

The Jesus I know doesn’t think little kids with pre-existing conditions should be discriminated against in favor of profits. The Jesus I know doesn’t hate or ridicule people who disagree with him. The Jesus I know teaches compassion and charity.

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are not much like your Christ.” –Gandhi

Please call Asbury and tell them to turn off Fox. 1-859-858-3511 (X 2105 alumni office)





The Good Old Days…?

15 10 2010

I am not nostalgic for the days the Tea-GOP seem to long for.

It’s easy to think that government should stay out of our lives– we are a culture that deeply values privacy– but do we really want government to cease its protections?

Do you like the idea equal rights for women, persons with disabilities, persons of every race, creed, color and culture? Do you like knowing that there isn’t rat poison in your Cheerios? Do you like weekends? Do you like public education? Social Security benefits? Do you like public works– water? sewage treatment? roads? Do you think minimum wage protects workers from sweat-shop-like treatment? 40-hour work weeks? Overtime? Breaks during your work day? How do you like IEPs and IDEA? ADA? The end of legal discrimination by insurance companies against children with disabilities?

I want government to continue to protect my son from discrimination by schools,  insurance companies,  public bus drivers, diner owners, employers and bullies.  I want water delivered to my home– and sewage removed. I want to know that the food I serve my family is safe.

Two years ago I voted for change and, although slow in coming, there have been victories! My son has insurance and my credit cards can’t abuse me. That’s not bad!

I don’t want to return to the good old days– they really weren’t good.