~ 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
- Psychological Evaluation
- Health/Immunization Records
Please see the article below for an overview on the psychoeducational evaluation process:
Psychoeduational Assessment: How to Read, Understand, and Use Psychoeducational Reports by Dr. Sherry Mee... by Barbara Giordano
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