Tuesday, November 19, 2013

IEP Meeting Conversation Stoppers | Individualized Education Program - NCLD

"Some of the statements made to parents at IEP meetings are “conversation stoppers”—comments that create barriers and can prevent the IEP team from working cooperatively to develop effective special education services and supports for students with disabilities."

"Here are nine common “conversation stoppers,” some information about what may be the real issues of concern and suggestions for how parents can respond in a forceful but respectful way so that planning for their child can move forward."

See the article in the link: 

IEP Meeting Conversation Stoppers | Individualized Education Program - NCLD

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tango Anyone?

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
~ Alice Walker

October was a trying month in my ongoing advocacy work for my son.  In preparation for his transition to middle school, I've taken a proactive position by petitioning my school district early requesting referrals to potentially suitable placements.  It's important to remember that with more and more children being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, appropriate placements can be a scare commodity especially if we wait until the last minute.  It's important to start early and for purposes and intent, school districts have to be aware children could end up on wait lists if they don't respond in a reasonable time frame.  A reasonable time frame in my opinion translates into starting the process the year before a child is scheduled to transition.  The intent is to secure a placement is a pressing matter when a child is aging out of the current program. 

After a flurry of emails going back/forth between me, the CSE Chair, Superientendant of schools and a  letter fired off to the NYS Department of Education in Albany, NY, the school district conceded in granting me "informal" visits to schools of interest.  Basically, the district made arrangements for a look and see.

The Chair became miffed with me after scheduling two school visits on the opposite end of the county (I live in a large county) and I replied with "thanks, but can't do two school visits in one day".  She was not pleased to say the least and said, I was being inflexible.  Inflexible!?  No, I provided 11 days in the month of November to see 3 placements.  According to the Chair, I was expected to contort myself to meet the needs of the county BOCES program supervisor who was scheduled to meet me to tour the two placement on the same day.  In fact, the CSE Chair was presumptuous telling me she was doing me a favor by "allowing" me to visit potential placements without a "formal" referral from the district.  That notion of favor didn't sit well with me.  I'm being proactive while the district had not initiated any plan moving forward for my son.  In effect, the district wasn't doing due diligence for a student who will technically be aging out of his current program at the end of the school year.  "Favor" was not a good word to use with me and certainly discounts their responsibility to ensure my son continues to receive a FAPE.  Further, school districts must work with parents in setting up meetings that are mutually agreeable - not one sided or more convenient for one party.

While all of the school visit scheduling was being worked out, the CSE Chair informed me she was rejecting my proposed doctor for the independent psychoeducational re-evaluation.  Just to recap, the district offered to do an independent evaluation at their expense provided I accept their doctor of choice!  Ah, noooo - I pushed back demanding an explanation for their rejection and stated firmly I was not given a real choice.  One doctor is not a choice.  It is a proposition that had all the appearances of being self serving.  A list of at least 3 doctors would've provided a choice but certainly not obligated to accept any.  Parents can request a list of providers but is under no obligation to go with any doctor from the list the district provides.  Needless to say, I was not amused.  My husband and I were starting to feel extremely uncomfortable with what appeared to be the districts rigidity and determination to push some agenda.

To make a long story short, the district stated they are within their right to do the triennial evaluations.  And, of course they are!  Children in special education with an IEP are typically re-evaluated every 3 years.  I indicated I expected to receive the name, date and times of the evaluation prior to it being performed.  It is the school districts responsibility to make it known of upcoming assessments to parents prior to testing dates and get sign off on it.  In all likelihood, it would fall on the school psychologist.  It is important to note that parents have the right under law to challenge results from any evaluation by seeking an independent evaluation.  This district in my assessment was attempting to make this whole process challenging and confusing.  What happens when parent agree to the evaluation at district expense which they are required by law to do in the first place and parents don't agree with the findings?  In this situation, the district was offering from the start to pay for an outside, independent evaluation.  The district has never done this before and it's almost unheard of.  Why all of a sudden!?  I don't feel special, I'm feeling guarded.  It can get sticky if it ends up going by way of due process.  Hence, the reason why it's extremely important to file everything, all correspondences, tests, evaluations, letters to the state, etc., that applies to your advocacy efforts.  I've gone back to my files many times and it has made the difference in having my child's needs met.

Upon my request and determination, the school district has agreed to send a "formal" referral to a placement I consider will meet my son's indiviudal needs.  With that being said, here is what is typically in a referral packed:

  • CSE Chair Referral Letter
  • Report Card or Progress Report
  • Disciplinary File, if applicable
  • Attendance Report
  • Standardized test scores
  • IEP
  • Psychological Evaluation
  • Health/Immunization Records
Since pushing for an answer on the district's rejection of my psychologist, the CSE Chair has decided to do reference checks for possible consideration of my suggested doctor. 

Please see the article below for an overview on the psychoeducational evaluation process:

It is unfortunate that parents must be guarded but it's foolish not to be a little leery of those who come bearing "gifts" who have not exactly been "giving" in the recent past.  Of course, if you call them out on any hidden agenda, it will be denied.

Right now, I'm waiting to hear back from the district.  In the meantime, I will be exploring potential program placements for my son. 

"The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well being of others." ~ Sharon Anthony Bower

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Here We Go Again

"I'll start letting my guard down when people stop giving me reasons to keep it up."  ~ unknown

My son will be transitioning out of his current placement next year.  He's getting to be a big boy, soon to be moving on to middle school.  It's a big step for a child and especially so for a child with particular educational needs.  It's up to parent to work in concert with school districts to find the most appropriate placement that addresses those particular needs.  Having a child that learns on the Autism Spectrum adds layers that typical children are not faced with no less the stress parents go through with each and every passing year in their child's academic life.

In anticipation for the move up and over, I put in a request to the school district for referrals to several BOCES in three nearby counties.  Each placement holds something different so in the mind of a parent wanting to be as prepared as possible, it's important to weigh these placements carefully.  In order for that to happen, it's generally a good idea to make site visits, talk with the teachers and administrators, observe the setting and ask a laundry list of relevant questions.  I'm not the type to shy away from asking the tough questions and I loathe leaving anything to chance or last minute.  You see, I've learned the hard way, these special placements come at a premium.  The seats are in demand resulting from more and more children being diagnosed with an ASD and not enough seats to go around.  It's sort of like the old game, musical chairs.  The swiftest get the seats while one child is always left out.  I don't want my son to be left out because Mom and Dad dragged their heels.  No.  It will not be our fault if our son misses the proverbial boat.  Not if we can help it, of course.

Two weeks ago, I contacted the school district requesting referrals to schools of interest.  Of course, prior to making the request, I gleaned the websites of the schools of interest.  It wasn't just on a whim.  No sir - that is just not my style.  I do the required research.  I must do the research because my son will be aging out of his current placement.   Preparations must be made and it needs to be made sooner opposed to later for all the reasons mentioned previously.  These seats are like winning the lottery for our kids - sad but unfortunately true.  We come up against wait lists and we know our kids just can't wait.  Time is ticking away and the closer we get to the end of the line, the louder the ticking.  It's almost a sonic boom blasting in our ears; the sense of urgency to just get it done so we can sit back with a sigh of relief that our kid will be OK for a while.

I did digress...so two weeks ago, I contacted the district via email.  Made an assertive but polite request for the referrals.  My email was addressed to both the CSE Chair and the assistant.  It was/is important that we make requests directly to the CSE Chair for it is the Chair that makes all final decisions on our children's behalf.  I received a swift reply from the assistant much to my rather very pleasant surprise.  I thought, "wow", I don't have to hold my breath... I can breathe.  I don't have to wring my hands or sweat bullets waiting for a push back which has been my experience in the past with the district.  As those who have read this blog can note, it has been an uphill climb getting my son's educational needs appropriately addressed.

Hold on!  Not so fast!  The other day, I received a letter from the CSE chair that I will not be getting referrals until the spring 2014.  With further explanation, the letter goes on to explain that my son is due for his three year re-evaluations that includes the psych-educational evaluation.  As much as the chair appreciates my enthusiasm to get this ball in motion, the referrals will have to wait until next year.  Further, the chair has suggested the willingness of the district to provide an independent psychologist to do the evaluation.  On a side note and reminder, the in school psychologist who holds only an MA was suggesting my son had intellectual disability back in 2010 without doing any testing.  The school psychologist is not a clinician and is not a PhD.  She has no authority to make diagnosis!

I followed up with two separate emails to the CSE Chair asking if the suggested psychologist has assisted in the district previously and if I can get referrals from parents.   It seems like a reasonable request to me since I don't know anything about this person.  In a separate email, I asked the Chair why must we wait until spring to explore possible placements?

My son is significantly behind in math, reading and writing.  The last psych-educational evaluation was done in 2011 so it's up to date.  Further, my son is not going to miraculously catch up or his disability disappear.  This is the same type of situation I went through back in 2010 with a different Chair who consequently was mysteriously released from the district payroll.  The former Chair also refused to give me referrals in a timely fashion.

Right now, I'm waiting to hear back from the Chair.  I'm patient to a point.  My son has no time to waste.  I have no interest in playing games with the district.  When school districts throw barriers in parents path, they are hurting our children.  Our children are ultimately the losers in this game where our kids have everything to lose without our determined advocacy on their behalf.

"When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there."  Zig Ziglar