It has taken me a while to write about this experience. For the sake of helping other parents understand a process, I’m sharing my experience with you. I’m feeling motivated and more empowered due to my involvement with Partners in Policymaking. I’m fortunate to be involved with a very supportive and caring group of concerned people.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ~ Winston Churchill ~
Following is what transpired at the recent resolution meeting.
In response to a due process complaint, the school district must follow up with a resolution meeting. Our due process complaint was filed at the end of March. The resolution meeting took place on April 6, 2011. The following individuals were invited to attend the resolution meeting:
CSE Chair, Jr/Sr Principal, School Psychologist, our Neuro-psychologist expert, me and my husband. We didn’t have a choice who the district would invite. We didn’t want the principal has he had no prior visibility to our concerns. Therefore, he was invited by the district as a disinterested party.
Since we were not permitted to record the resolution meeting. The following are my notes, thoughts and observations from it:
The Jr/Sr. principal was invited by the chair to attend the resolution meeting as a “disinterested” party. He arrived at the meeting 15 minutes late which cut our expert’s participation to 45 minutes as she had a hard stop at 12:00 PM. We informed the district ahead of time that our expert would be available for one hour only. Another example of not allowing for full participation.
The Jr/Sr principal suggested that we went to NYU because we wanted an agreement; in effect a collaboration that Aren has Autism. We were offended by the presumption that we want our child labeled for the sake of being labeled. We went to NYU because they are one of the leading centers with an expertise of children on the spectrum. Further, we were seeking an impartial assessment. Alan Tepp, M.D., is not a leading expert in Autism. It is insulting beyond measure that we would put our son through rigorous testing for the sake of it. Further, why would our NYU experts put their solid reputation at stake by making a false diagnosis for the sake of satisfying parents and some agenda. Nice try but it has no foundation.
CSE chair said the resolution meeting would run 2 hours. We didn't receive advance notice of the meeting length - it was left vague. He opened the meeting with reiterating why we were there and why the meeting wasn't being recorded. In effect, wasting time. We all knew why we were there and the meeting wasn't being recorded so the introduction wasn’t necessary. Everyone deserves the courtesy of anticipated timeframes for meetings. My husband works outside of our home and needs to schedule his time accordingly. We need to know how long meetings will run so we can plan accordingly. It is a common courtesy that wasn’t afforded to us.
CSE chair said we were there to discuss how our complaint would be resolved. We didn't conclude with a recap of how our issues would be resolved. On all points in the complaint with the exception of the Assistive Technology Evaluation, resolution of our concerns will be determined at the CSE meeting according to the CSE chair. The annual CSE meeting is to discuss the following school year – not resolve a due process complaint. An impartial hearing is the place to resolve disputes.
One issue in the complaint was a lack of parenting training. None was ever offered to us so we could learn to effectively work with our son’s disability. The CSE chair said his idea of addressing the parent training is to hold monthly meetings for all parents. The way I understand it, we are supposed to receive training in the individual researched based methods they are using to teach our son. Not a blanket of one size fits all, for all parents. We don't see this as addressing our individual needs with our son. Further, it doesn't address the inconsistency of what they say Aren can do at school to what we see at home. If Aren is able to work satisfactory on his own ability at school, he should be able to fully demonstrate it at home.
The CSE chair wanted to know how we knew Aren was receiving O/T in a common area (stage in cafeteria). Keep in mind, our son has significant challenges with staying focus which results in him being easily distracted. Aren should have been receiving O/T in a quiet area. We learned at a parent/teacher meeting to discuss concerns about the O/T, yelling, speaking harshly to Aren. The elementary principal told us they've always used the stage due to lack of space. The O/T concurred with the principal adding it wasn't uncommon to provide O/T in stair wells at the Dover Plains school. Well, needless to say that raised an eyebrow or two.
The chair said we can go to an impartial hearing in a manner that was "threatening" in it's delivery. The fact is, an impartial hearing is the step that occurs following the filing of a due process complaint. And, we are the ones who filed the complaint in the first place!
The school psychologist states Aren doesn't fit the social component of a person with Autism per se as Aren is highly social. Further, the psychologist who has an MA by the way said PDD-NOS is the umbrella for the disability. We explained that PDD-NOS is an ASD. Do you think we need to explain to a school psychologist what is an autism spectrum disorder?
The psychologist denies she was advocating for a MR classification back in June 2010. (By the way, MR is now Intellectual Disability or ID. MR is used here as that was the terminology last year.) At the conclusion of the June 2010 meeting, she said they would do more testing. We needed time to think about it. We made several attempts that went unanswered to reconvene before the end of the 2009-2010 school year. In effect, we never had the opportunity to discuss testing in length, neither were we invited to discuss it so we would gain a better understanding. Further, the psychologist was asserting that Aren's IQ suggested MR. She is now denying it but continues to contradict herself.
The psychologist went on to say Aren's IQ is indicative of his school performance but he is not MR. Again, a best we can hope for approach. We have yet to hear of any techniques they are willing to use to help Aren increase his school and home performance. We say, his learning style and ASD is not being appropriately addressed to meet his education. And, his IQ scoring is adversely affected due to his disability.
Additionally, the psychologist went on to say they don't see the obsessive interest Aren has with Pokémon in school. We told her, we don't permit Aren to bring Pokémon related items to school as it created a problem last year. Aren continues to obsess about Pokémon. She also asserts that although Tepp diagnosed PDD-NOS initially, he can't say Aren has Autism which is a contradiction. PDD-NOS is an ASD.
We raised our concerns about what research based methods they are using to teach Aren which the chair said he needs to discuss with the special education teacher and it would be discussed at the CSE meeting. We have been asking this question repeatedly with no real concrete answers to it since the beginning of the school year.
The chair suggested that Tepp retest Aren but we do not want Tepp. We consider his opinions biased and slanted toward the best interest of the school district and not our son. Further, Tepp is not an expert in ASD. We have a right to choose a professional privately for an IEE. We chose the NYU Child Study Center to provide a neuro-psychological evaluation because they are experts in the field of ASD. This district is trying to discredit professionals of an organization who are at the top of the field while giving validity to Tepp who is a generalist and not a specialist per se.
If we are required to have Aren re-tested which at this point we are strongly opposed, it would have to be at the district expense and at our discretion. It would have to be a professional with a high level of experience and expertise in the field of ASD and more likely it will cost much more than $900 for a complete and thorough evaluation. Comprehensive testing is very expensive.
We assert that Aren hasn't been appropriately tested by the school in a timely manner due to his race which is based on statistics. Disprotionately, African American children are evaluated later than their white counterparts. Statistics show this and we are of the opinion this is what has happened at Webutuck. “African American children in poverty are 2.3 times more likely to be identified by their teacher as having mental retardation than their White counterparts.” The race component of Aren fits the African American profile. http://www.nccrest.org/Briefs/students_in_SPED_Brief.pdf Although special education teacher wasn’t at the meeting, she has suggested that Aren’s IQ would go down as he got older and continues to label him as slow to learn. Aren was profiled and labeled beginning in kindergarten at Webutuck under the special education teacher with her ongoing assertion he is slow to learn. The chair defends the special education teacher. We have viewed our son’s file and it is stated in several places by the special education teacher expressing her opinion of “slow to learn” with no suggestion how to correct deficits or gaps in learning.
The school psychologist looked at me as if I had a horn growing out of my head to suggest a mentality continues to exist in the 21st century that blacks are viewed by some people as less intelligent than whites. It is a bias that can adversely impact the education of black children. We know that people bring their prejudices and biases into everyday life and are influenced by it. It is a real concern I have for my child. Frankly, she is either in serious denial, extremely ignorant and/or needs to get out more and stop viewing society through a moving car.
The chair went on to say he made an unannounced visit to Aren's class with only the knowledge that Aren is African American. He stated he couldn't determine who our son was from the four African American boys in the class because he is a "student" and behaving as a "student". That Aren had to be pointed out to him. He is outwardly lying because I sent correspondence numerous times from June 2010 and beyond to the school with Aren's picture in plain sight in the letters. It is in the file. (Sample 1, see letter dated 6/5/2010 with Aren's picture on it.) The chair had prior knowledge of Aren's appearance. He is trying to prove through lying that Aren blends in. Or, is it racist to suggest that all black children look alike!
It is our opinion this CSE Chair will waste time and money to achieve an objective that doesn't have Aren's best interest in meeting his educational needs. It is our opinion, the CSE Chair is fighting to win for the district putting the concerns of our son dead last.
The jr/sr principal said from his point of view, in so many words, we will reach an impasse.
The one thing the principal agreed with us about are unannounced visits. He stated he never announces visits to classrooms so he can gain a real assessment of what is taking place. Bravo Mr. Principal for wanting to keep it real!
Regarding an unannounced visit by our expert, the chair asserts the school doesn't know her and therefore she needs to make an appointment. We said, she could certainly introduce herself and show ID. In addition, I could be there when she visits and personally attest to who she is.
We do not find it written in the law that our expert must make a classroom visit. Her evaluation, report should speak for itself as well as the Dr. offering explanation of it at the IEP meetings. So far, our expert as well as me and my husband have not been made to fully participate as demonstrated by the late arrival of by the principal.
The district is seeking to waste $$$ to fight to be right during economic times where budgets have been tightened by demanding our expert visit the classroom according to their terms. An appropriate assessment would be an unannounced visit where there is little chance of a “dog and pony show”. We all know that people tend to put their best foot forward when expecting company. If they are so confident they are meeting Aren’s needs, they should feel very comfortable allowing our expert to drop in.
Looking back, we were compelled to have a private O/T evaluation in July 2010 at our expense because the district failed to do it. We advised the school appropriately of our intention; gave them the opportunity and told them we would bill the school for it. We did and they never paid for it. We have not forgotten about it. We want to be reimbursed for it.
Lastly as a side note: Webutuck is contracted with Four Winds. Tepp formerly worked at Four Winds. We do not know if he continues to offer consulting for them or receives referrals from them. Tepp’s involvement with the school district might be a conflict of interest as his relationship with the district is financially advantageous. In this regard, if Tepp continues with a direct or indirect relationship with Four Winds, it is in Tepp’s financial benefit to side with the school district which in effect taints his judgment regarding our son.