Monday, September 24, 2007

Disability Rights

Read all about the challenging IEP Process here
This post brought me back to my many, many IEP meeting experiences as an Education Law Attorney for Legal Services. God Bless you all who are in these sticky mediations. (I found that domestic violence hearings were less tense than facing an irate second grade teacher who was fed up with the ADHD kid in her class.)

Here's are ten tips for surviving IEP meetings.

1. BRING FOOD to the meeting. This starts everyone out on a good note. The adage "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" also applies to IEP team members. It also lets you say, "Oh I didn't realize that there would be 15 staff members here today. I only made brownies for five." Next time, they will make sure to give you an accurate count of IEP members in advance.

2. If the meeting is going to ugly (not always easy to predict in advance like 'Lissa's post shows), shake things up by sending in the other parent. For example, if Mom is the one who usually goes to the meetings. Shake things up by sending in Dad to sign the final IEP. The teachers will fall all over themselves trying the help the "new" & "lost" parent.

3.Every family should own a copy of "From Emotions to Advocacy" available here. Read it cover to cover. Highlight it. Sleep with it under your pillow before each IEP meeting.

Seriously, I cannot recommend this website enough. Wrights law is founded by a severely dyslexic student who went on to break all odds and become a lawyer. (His wife is a counselor.) Mr. Wright performed a miracle intervention for one of my middle school classmate's brothers. The Wrights truly know of what they speak, and they are very, very encouraging. The Wrights lead IEP trainings all over the country. Go to one in your area. Immediately! You'll learn all kinds of valuable tips and make alliances with other parents and "friendly" experts.

4. Pay to have a neutral assessment of your child. Even though the school must provide free assessments, at least one comprehensive exam during your child's school career should be on your own dime and with the very best "expert" in your area. Even if you have to save up for three years for this exam, it is worth it to have at least one person without an agenda give you medical advice about your child's personal strengths and weaknesses.

5. Start a huge binder filled with every single examination ever given to your child. (Kids tend to float up and down, even on supposedly stable things like IQ scores.) Pull out the six pound volume during IEP meetings. This highlights how knowledgeable you are about your kid and gives a quick double check to see if a disputed test result was a "fluke" or ongoing trend.

6.Always, always take a 10 min "clear your head break" before signing the IEP. I used this time to go over each option with my client. If your alone, you can call your spouse at work- have him remind you what your initial goal was and double check your rational for any compromises.

7. You can LEAVE an IEP meeting without signing a new form. An unsigned IEP is better than a signed, less than 100% agreeable one, for the reasons explained above.

8. Remember, never lose your temper! (You will need to cultivate heroic examples of
"meekness"as explained below.) The most important thing to maintain during the IEP meeting is the good relationship between your kid and his teachers.

9. Think like a lawyer. Build up your case. If you've reached a logjam with the school system, calmly end the meeting. The old IEP will stay in place. (IEP's never "expire" they only get updated). Start getting the proof that you need to support your position. Schedule another IEP meeting when you have the proof you need to add weight to your proposed changes.

10. Get support. School politics are a local beast. You'll need to know how to navigate inside your kids individual school system. A great reference can be the district's IEP parent support person. If this post is vacant in your area, volunteer to fill it. A ten minute monthly chat with a new parent in your area will be a life saver for her child for the entire school year!

11 comments:

Joshie said...

Having sat in on my fair share of IEP meetings... can I just say that they are a circus. The problem I've observed is that few people REALLY know what their doing and so everyone falls back to making random suggestions based upon nothing but a desire to appear like a knowledgable pro. We never had food though...I think mainly because NOBODY liked IEP meetings and wanted them over as quickly as possible.

sixandthecity said...

You have made me feel better about the fact that we are going to be paying off our "neutral evaluation" for the next several years. When the response we got there was so different from the response of the school I thought perhaps we had wasted our money, but since we have now removed our son from that school I realize that it is the best money we could ever have spent, and the fact that it was from a really top expert helps me feel comfortable relying on her advice. You have inspired me to go out and get my child the services he needs.

Activities Coordinator said...

As a former public school speech therapist and current homeschooling Mom of a special needs kiddo, I must say this post was right on the money.
The best compliment I ever heard about myself as a parent/advocate was said by my son's 0-3 special ed. teacher to his new 3-6 teacher during the transition between the two.
"She is the sweetest Mom you'll work with. She is very giving and will do anything to help her child. However, if you mess with her child, and she will know, she'll tell you to go to h*** in a heartbeat." Truer words were never spoken.

Abigail said...

"six & the city"
I'm so glad that you now feel that the evaluation you had done was well worth the expense! Getting the correct diagnosis of any problems is the most important step- and many times the hardest.

Good luck with the homeschooling this year. (I read your blog all the time and never realized that you also had this issue on your plate). I hope that you continue to feel more and more encouraged. Parents are so influential in this area.

One of my closest friend's brother had the nightmare scenario. He got passes grade to grade on the basis of his sweet personality. His parent's had some concerns about his reading level, but they were constantly told that he'd catch up. Then wham! He hit high school & everyone discovered that he had been surviving on pure memorization. His actual reading skills were at the pre-K level due to severe dyslexia. That is when the family hired Mr. Wright and he got a settlement to pay for a special boarding school. It was a nightmare of a legal case on basic 'education malpractice".

But my point of the story, is that even with all this drama- my friend's brother is fine. His family supported him and he did all of the catch-up work in two years. He went to college. Beyond academics, he's a happy, healthy guy. His ability to be such a successful adult is a direct result of getting so much love & support (from his parents and his four siblings) during all of his challenges at school.

My email address is listed above.Please feel free to email me if you have any questions or are just looking for some support. This is a topic close to my heart. I'll have to post about it again sometime.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lord in heaven,

I have spent the past 10 months just trying to get an IEP meeting. The school's own ed-psychologist stated in her report that one should be drawn up for my child immediately...in May of last year. Nothing was done. The principal said it was between me and the teacher. The teacher said my child didn't need one. The report card stated that an IEP was in place, but it didn't exist. My phone calls to the principal and teacher went unanswered. I visited the school principal and the teacher, and was promised a meeting. Nothing happened.

Flash to last week. The teacher wrote a note chastising my child for his disability. I responded by leaving a voice message for the principal, stating that my child would be truant until the school wrote an IEP for him. I stated that criticizing my child for his disability is disrespectful and showed their lack of understanding of the issue. They did not respond. My child missed four days of school.

Finally, I reported this inaction to the school board, which is ultimately responsible for these things. They spoke to the principal, who said my child didn't have an IEP because I didn't want one.

At this point, my head exploded.

I told the school board official that this is not between me and the teacher. It is between me, my spouse, the teacher, the principal, the school board, the government which funds the school, the school's psychologist and my child. The teacher has no authority to decide that a child does not need an IEP. The principal has no authority to make this decision.

"It's time to stop passing the buck and do something for my child," said I. "What happens to the (specific dollar amount) of extra funding that you get for my child?

The teacher called me two days later to set an appointment between me and her for an initial IEP meeting. The school board official called to say that I would be meeting with the principal and teacher. Ambush, anyone? I showed up with my spouse.

It quickly became apparent that the teacher had read our child's assessment report for the first time today.

My patience has worn thin, dear Lord, and we still don't have the d@ng IEP. I want to help my child. Please give me strength.

Mom

P.S. I don't live in the U.S., so we don't have much in the way of legal backup in these matters.

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