Information for parents of disabled children

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Who's the bridge?

Sign language DImage via WikipediaWe had an interesting teaching moment this week. My son and I went out to play in the neighborhood. My usual routine is to stand back and let him go when possible and watch closely. As has happened often, this time intervention was required.

Some boys started mockingly saying he "looked like Justin Beiber". I think we should conclude that was a bad thing. Not that I have an opinion.  My m.o. is always to avoid the sins through education. As I walked across the playground thinking "welcome to school, boys", they looked a little apprehensive. I may have a reputation that precedes.

What followed was a twenty minute autism Q &A with four of the cutest ten-year-olds on the block, and an incredible interaction for my son. We talked about sign language and why my son can be "creepy" when he stares. We exchanged information, and, at the end, they wanted to go try their new sign language on him and say hi. He said hi back.

Just like that, a potential bully situation became a seminar in autism. D bounced off the playground feeling included, and, with any luck, four young men developed a special view of the disabled.

Autism awareness flows from our willingness to get over ourselves as parents. We have to see our child as the world sees him in order to interpret for him. That isn't easy. I suspect it isn't meant to be.

We are the bridge, which means we have to connect to the other side. D can be creepy if you don't know him, and when he screams and yells, it wakes the dead and makes young hearts tremble. I have to accept these things before I can help anyone else connect with him. If I get all momma bear when someone finds him creepy, I'm already defensive and ineffectual. But if I reach out with information, I'm a teacher, an ambassador.  That's not D's job. It's mine. I'm the Bridge.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, June 10, 2011

Big changes at RISE!

Rise Special Services, that was, has become the Southside Services of Marion County and is apparently going to be under new leadership as of June 30th. Bill Dreibilbis, who has run the program for nearly a decade, has resigned his post.

Parents are hopeful on the announcement. As Rise, the school district faced multiple law suits, many state complaints, and much resistance from parents frustrated by the seemingly underhanded process of writing IEPs. Combined with the interlocal changeover, parents hope this signals a change in the way of doing business at SSSMC.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Homeschool Adventure Begins

Vector clockImage via WikipediaWell, it is finished. My husband and I have decided to pull our son out of Perry Township schools and teach him at home. There is a rumor of a Franklin Township group of parents, sick of the RISE Special Services failure, who are working on the starting phases of a charter school for our students. Anyone who knows this group, I'd love to get in touch and talk to them about the idea. This blog will continue as long as I continue to volunteer my time with families still in the system. It's our hope to move and find a program that works for Darrel.
If our homeschool experiment is successful, I may begin to blog about what we learn about that as well.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RISE Special Services Q & A

3D Character and Question MarkImage by 姒儿喵喵 via FlickrMay 12th seems to be the magic day for parents of SPED students in the four townships, Beech Grove, Franklin, Decatur and Perry, to get answers. Here is my submission to the RLC PTA for the event.

  1. What will the top down structure look like?
  2. What voice will parents have in policy building, such as parent members of an advisory committee? 
  3. What steps will be taken to insure transparency in policy building?
  4. Will parent education, including information on law, teaching methods and advocacy for their student be a priority for the interlocal? If so, what mechanisms will be in place to deliver this service?
  5. If parents have a dispute with specific administrators, who will be the mediator in order to avoid the complaint process provided by DOE? Will you institute a formal process to give parents access to objective mediation which will help the schools avoid expensive due process proceedings?
  6. How will the interlocal improve staff and administration training across all environments, classrooms, bus transportation, etc.?
  7. The school has been given orders of correction this year for violations of the individualized education plan for several students. What system of checks and balances, staff training and administrative supervision will you put in place to avoid this in future?
  8. What definitive standards will be put in place to determine teacher and administrative performance?
  9. Who will be the administrative staff of RISE Learning Center?
  10. Will Administrative staff in all the townships receive extensive training and professional development through the new Interlocal? If not, why?
 If you live in one of these townships, you can submit your questions to RISE Special Services at 5391 Shelby Ave. Indianapolis, IN 46227 . 317*789*1650 Time and Location to follow.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, April 15, 2011

This morning, it just hurts.

May_30_Health_Care_Rally_NP (585)Image by seiuhealthcare775nw via FlickrSo much was easy when I was young, even medical care, and I was thoroughly unaware. I get it now though. Especially, dealing with my teeth.

This morning I woke up with a swollen mouth. It's a tooth I tried to have pulled at a low-cost clinic a while back. For 45 minutes and forty dollars, they pulled, only to tell me in the end that I'd need an oral surgeon.  That means it stays, and I wait. But, for what?

For our family, it's become a waiting game. How long till the insurance? Just a few more hours and we qualify. We just have to make it a month or six. The jobs just have to be there, and they haven't been steady as any ironworker will tell you.   If you read my blog, then you know we have an autistic child.

Some of the political rhetoric has been pretty strong; war on the middle class, the plan is to die sooner, and on and on. They are strong words, but I get what those words mean at this moment. We did what we were supposed to over the years. We worked, and then one day, insurance was hard to get. It just wasn't there. We even did a tour in Iraq or two, to get it temporarily. We live in a city where I could walk to a dentist without breaking a sweat on a July day. If I could afford one. Even on insurance, I can't afford it, since most is fifty percent coverage. For me, that left $8000.00 on the bill. We can't. We just can't. When things get this bad, you feel like it's a war. It's as desperate as battle, and sometimes, like now, it feels like life and death. It is life and death. A tooth can kill you eventually.

I could write about how it's fiscally damaging to not provide health care for those on the poor end of the spectrum who are important to the workforce. I could tell you all about how when I am gone, when my husband is gone, we don't know where D will end up. I could wax eloquent on the subject of biblical truth and the qualities of mercy not being strained, but not this morning. Because this morning, it just hurts.

And I wish it would stop. It hurts that something as stupid as an infected tooth could kill me living in America, that living in these modern times nothing has really changed. I feel like a failure, and my jaw is sore. I'm tired and in pain. This probably just sounds like angst to your average boot-straps kinda guy, but life can't get more discouraging than this. Just. . . if you have it, be thankful for it.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In a perfect world, we'd all be lawyers.

US Supreme CourtImage by dbking via FlickrParents of disabled children already wear many hats. Since IDEA, we've had to don yet another and hang out our shingles whether we wanted to or not. At least, those of us who were able. It's the rest of that population that is our subject today.

As I've said before, Indiana's Article Seven and IDEA guarantee certain rights for the disabled student. Is that enough?

Most emphatically, NO.

In order to navigate the system, I had advantages. One, I had only some college, so my husband and I recognized my time was most valuable at home. Little did we know, it would be imperative. Two, I found training in the law fairly early on in our journey, and made a study of it ever after. Three, when I did get part time work, it was as a substitute instructional assistant in my son's school. The rest was history.

Our son has needed a lawyer almost from day one, and we couldn't afford one. We had to make do with my makeshift law degree. This gave us access to the complaint system, but it still denies us access to due process. Without access to the courts, our battle has had to be a political one. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The primary problem with that is that I didn't stop squeaking. I discovered a whole school of students without speech therapy and went to war alongside their parents to make the school do the right thing. One thing led to another, as our parent's group discovered violation after violation of the law and went to work on them. Now, I attend conferences and consult with parents on their IEPs in my spare time, and we still miss things.

Article Seven is a law with all the whys and wherefores that entails. It isn't easy for a housewife with some college to navigate, and, for some, it isn't possible. Many of my friends work a job, or a job and a half, on top of parenting a disabled child. They can't put in the hours that I have. Single mothers, forget about it. Many parents don't understand the law because it's a law, and that's why we have lawyers. A majority of us are broke what with all the medical bills.

A law without access is like a dance without music. It's missing something. When lines are drawn on a socio-economic basis, it's called disenfranchisement. Being unable to enforce your child's education because it's too expensive isn't much off the days before the wheelchair ramp.

So, families need a ramp. Teachers are a natural advocate for a student. They know the information and usually have the willingness (or did they pick the wrong job!). However, teachers answer to administrators who answer to superintendents who answer to politicians. You can see the problem. Our schools need to get back to the days when teachers were the advocates for families and let them make the recommendations that make sense for the child.

In the event this relationship breaks down, the simplest, second-best thing is to get the school, who failed to nurture the parent/teacher relationship, to pay for the family's advocate. The advocate doesn't have to be a lawyer.  Most often, it's a mom who did this on her own. Every advocate I know was the mother of a special needs child.

This would give all parents access, and advocates are more like coaches. Therefore, the training the parent would receive as a result could allow them to advocate for themselves in future. At the very least, it would put the parent back in the Case Conference Committee as an equal player and not a subservient.
Enhanced by Zemanta

The home/school connection and shooting the moon.

Indianapolis Children's MuseumImage by Brandy Shaul via FlickrWhy are administrators required at case conferences? Simple. They commit funds and services. The end.

Administrators are the final authority on what can and cannot be implemented. Now, does the law say cost is not to be considered? Yes, it does, but the unspoken truth is that it is considered and will always be. That's why you have to have the admin present. Though the teacher is widely considered the primary representative,  his or her boss is the heavyweight.

And while parents hold directors of special education responsible for results in the classroom, school boards and superintendents squeeze them in the pocketbook more often than not. So what if we took the administration out of the picture? What would parents and teachers do if left to their own devices? Imagine a case conference with no politics involved.

Probably, teachers would do exactly what they wanted to do all along; write the perfect program for the student before them. What are they doing with an administrator's oversight? They are considering how best to meet the student's needs on the budget understood from the get-go. We all see the practical side. You have to know how much something costs, right?  You can't dream big on a budget.

Besides the obvious benefits of early intervention, there is a cost effectiveness to early investment in disabled children. Most development will happen during the school years, and the potential for development is the foundation for independence later in life. Clipping special education funding now will lead to larger bills in the future. It's the difference between 24 hour hospital care or assisted living with minimal assistance.

How do we get school districts on board?

We could do what we do now, and trust administrators to do the right thing. We could pass even more laws that we will weakly enforce. We could take a different road altogether, since what we're doing isn't working. How bout we take the administrator out of the conference till the end? And then his job is to get the desired services on his budget or broker some sort of solution with the family to keep impact on the child minimal.

We could put a premium on the parent/teacher relationship by removing external pressures to ensure that all recommendations are made in good faith and by the two or three most appropriate people in the child's life. Goal centered education should consider all the possibilities, and then break down the logistics. It's corny but true, that old saying; Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you land among the stars. Why not let our teachers shoot the moon?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Keep the ball moving.

Conseco FieldhouseImage by thoth188 via FlickrPerry Township schools are home to RISE Special Services, soon to change their name; and one hopes, their practices. This township is the gold standard, for how to get special education wrong. If you want to know what not to do, look no further. RISE is a shining example of how to move the ball without scoring actual points.

Testing Optional

A shortage of funds has led to a shortage of professionals in an era of massive student demand. This was the argument administrators used to justify the change to testing policy for disabled students. Unfortunately, this is also an excellent way to cut costs. Testing equals data on the student. Data equals information. Information equals power for teachers and parents to make recommendations regarding program, services and staffing. This testing no longer has a mandatory deadline of every three years, again due to a lack of psych staff in schools, according to administrators.

There is no doubt that school psychologists are overloaded. However, the removal of mandatory testing guidelines has the unique ability to drastically reduce the amount of services considered appropriate for a student, and that inevitably lightens the school's load. Parents can trigger re-evaluation, but many don't know that or take the school's recommendations that testing is not necessary.

Call me suspicious, but this sounds like a sweetheart deal for directors feeling the pressure from school boards across the state to cut back. And it comes with a consequence proof excuse to give the state DOE. It wasn't required.

Testing is only one benchmark to evaluate a student's progress, but it's the one most considered when discussing a change of program or placement, both can be expensive. This means a child could languish in a program that is no longer appropriate or miss out on a chance to include with normal peers for lack of data.

Perry Practices

By and large, parents of mildly disabled students notice nothing lacking in their child's education. Those who are easily included in general education usually have no trouble getting minor accommodations for their student. It's the other end of the spectrum that has a wrench in the works.

Besides oodles of administrative redundancy, Perry has an overall unfriendly way of dealing with parents. Lawsuits are way up, according to Bill Dreibelbis, but he's quick to point out  that we live in a sue happy society, and it's the nature of the beast. That's one interpretation, or we could be doing something wrong. The fact is that complaints with the state are up, too, and testing isn't automatic. Couple this with parent dissatisfaction with staffing discipline and training, and you have a perfect storm of malpractice. Of course, the motto seems to be that it's all good, as long as we keep the ball moving. Hitting the hoop is secondary.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Does Indiana have FAEPE? Meh.

The Indiana StatehouseImage by Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits via FlickrOur recent experiences as a family in the special education system of Indiana have illustrated a new social problem for Hoosiers, but perhaps for others across the nation. The idea behind IDEA and all its sister laws was to guarantee equivalent education for the disabled, and maybe, at the time, we didn't know what that really meant. There's great cost involved.

To be realistic, there are good teachers, bad teachers, great administrators and bad directors everywhere. People are people, and just being an educator doesn't guarantee good intentions. It's true of any job, but in few places does it have more effect than in education. Education becomes slave to local politics. That is directly juxtaposed to the intention of Article Seven and IDEA, the laws governing our treatment of disabled students.

Parents, already financially strapped due to massive medical bills, have a law that allows them the right to advocate for their child. Great! How's that working in Indiana?

It's not. Not really.

Children take what they are given, and services do not always follow the individual needs of the child as they are meant to do. Why? Because politics demands cost cutting somewhere, and these kids are most vulnerable to that reduction of funds. Sadly, discrimination still exists, and it's most apparent at school board meetings where equal is defined in a school district. So why don't parents sue? There's a law, right?

While the law guarantees the right, it doesn't guarantee access.
Money does that. Money that disabled children and their families don't have because they are disabled. The weakness in the law falls in the category of socio-economic disenfranchisement. In the next few posts, I intend to explore the subject further; looking at the details and discussing options that lawmakers and administrators have at their disposal.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who watches the watchmen?

A graffiti similar to those who appear on the ...Image via Wikipedia

On February 24 of this year, the South Indianapolis Star ran a story on RISE Learning Center. In it, Anne Davis, who is the director of Indiana's Division of Exceptional Learners, was quoted. 

All parents want the very best they can have for their children. I believe that schools are doing the best they can to provide the best services for their students, but sometimes those two pictures don't match. Everyone comes to the table with the best expectations, but their perspectives change.

This is the woman who defines the state of Indiana's special education. She thinks it's okay, and schools are doing all they can;  except that it's not, and they aren't as a whole. Rise Special Services, soon to be South Side Special Services of Marion County, is chief among the offenders.

Parents can present evidence for how this happens, and have. Procedure gets a little devil-may-care. Parents don't know what's happening and when. Recommendations go unmade and testing undone. Then, the IEP stands with minimal services "offered"to that child. Anne Davis has a responsibility to see that IEPs like this are never written in the state of Indiana. That is best done through the training of administration on those same procedures and making it policy to get testing done as a matter of course.

This year, testing policy was loosened to allow schools to skip it, if it's not needed. It's often unneeded by a school's estimation. This was done, as so often is the case, because of a shortage, schools claim.  Testing puts documentation in the hands of parents and leads directly to program and service decisions. 

This year, Anne Davis also granted RISE Special Services' request for reconsideration of the findings in a complaint found for the family of the student allowing them to skip training for all administrators in Perry Township of Marion County and only train two administrators at the Learning Center.

Special education can be costly, but avoiding the expense now only leads to more expense and loss later, even if you ignore the loss of quality of life for students. We can continue to ignore parents, pretend they are being over-emotional basket-cases, or we can fix the problem, plan for the future and try to serve each individual.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, March 14, 2011

How do you say it?

Subject: Quinn, a boy with autism, and the lin...Image via WikipediaIn a couple weeks, I'm due to meet with the Indiana Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Tony Bennett. This week, I'm agonizing over how I'll say it. How do I convey what it's like to watch a school go downhill? How do I explain that it's not about the idea that school is the cure, but whether my son is valued as a person? How do I tell him about the human cost of bad schools in Indiana?

What if it's all about the bottom line?

Here's the saddest question floating around in my mind this morning; What if he doesn't care? It's been our family's experience that this is the biggest obstacle between our children and education. People don't always care, and, yes, sometimes they care about Darrel even less. After all, what will he be when he grows up? Autistic.

RISE Special Services may have individuals who care and work and strive, but the organization as a whole doesn't have the mission. It's lost in the pressure to cut costs and "include" because it's cheaper. True supported inclusion is expensive as any advocate or professional will tell you. It requires trained staff and equipment to make sure kids have what they need to be successful in Inclusion programs. Unfortunately, that's not the only problem RISE has.

Where do we go from here?

Last year at RISE Learning Center, the school that should be the training hub, I sat in a classroom of non-verbal students and found they never worked on reading. No one worked on communication systems of any kind, and there was little accountability on the part of the administration. That teacher is elsewhere now, but the "culture" that led to the oversight remains.

My son's IEP marks the first time in the history of RLC that an autism program has been implemented in its walls. You read that right, but I'll wait to let you look at that sentence again. . . .  Yes, my son's STAR program marks the first time in 30 years of serving students most severely affected by Autism that a program for autism has been implemented. NO staff in the school are trained in ABA at all, and the school hires out for that service at great cost.

How do you reform hearts?

Those are the problems, or at least, a few of them. How do you make someone care about your child if they don't? That's not to say he doesn't. Maybe, Tony Bennett is the one in a hundred. Maybe, I'll walk in there and see a man committed to fair implementation who is outraged at the years of lost opportunities.  Maybe, or maybe not. It's possible it will be just like it always has been when I leave.

My husband is out building a bridge this morning. The kids are off to Perry schools in the city, and I'm sitting here agonizing over education and how to change it. It seems odd. When we realized D would be different, that our lives would be different, I don't think I truly understood what it meant. I thought it meant we would grieve for the life D won't have, move on to struggle through the one we have and rejoice at the small victories each day like every other family with disability.

In addition to those things, I find myself in a crusade to reform a school for all the children who have become so special to our family, classmates and friends. How do I get people to sign up for the mission into which we were drafted? What can I say that will make them look twice at what we're doing, right and wrong? If we don't value the most vulnerable children in our society, how on earth can I make this argument effectively? It all hinges on where our hearts are.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A not so quiet crisis

Cover of "Hoosiers"Cover of HoosiersIn Quiet Crisis  
Follow this link and you will find stories of families and individuals facing disabilities with few services and true grit. Advocacy for persons with disabilities is on the rise in Indiana. It's a sad development because it means disabled Hoosiers need advocates.

Get involved with your local advocates today! Developmental disabilities wait for no one.  Autism, Downs syndrome, and other disorders happen each day whether or not we're prepared to deal with them.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Corrective actions at RISE Learning Center

In spite of the STAR report to the contrary, action against RLC is actually occurring. Our family filed a complaint in January. This snapshot of the complaint outlines the outcome of the investigation. Portions stricken from the report are changes made by Anne Davis at DOE at the request of Mr. Dreibelbis who asked for a reconsideration. He was, not surprisingly, granted one.

The change made to this corrective action will have far-reaching results, I fear. Instead of training all special education administrators, Mr. Dreibelbis need only train the few directly involved with the school itself on the grounds that this complaint doesn't prove systemic failure. If there were not already a collection of complaints in the archives, I could agree with him. However, there are more complaints, a fact Mrs. Davis decided to dismiss.

While families contend the school isn't doing the job it's tasked to do, Mrs. Davis goes on record stating that the school's vision of education and the parent's sometimes don't look the same. Job descriptions, however, should be fairly plain. Parents at RLC continue to contend that officials connected with the school are not doing theirs. Training is dismal among the teachers and staff, especially in the area of special ed. law.  Instead of responding to the demand for training, staff have been ordered that only teachers may have direct contact with parents. Wonder why?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, February 25, 2011

Power to the mommies!

American social reformer, Jane AddamsImage via WikipediaThere is no need to lie to an audience and pretend that the author of this blog is no reformer. There's no getting away from what I am. If there were a sign to carry about special education in Indiana, I'd be there holding it and singing We Shall Overcome till the cows come home. It's discouraging that this is so often a bad thing in social circles.

Reformers seldom win popularity contests. They make waves, and therefore they make enemies. If you don't believe it, ask a suffragette or civil rights protester of the sixties. To bring it into modern terms, ask a Libyan or Egyptian on the streets. These are extremes, but no less difficult is the life of the mom fighting for free and equal public education for a disabled child in today's world. Instead, moms and dads of the disabled have to be in it for the long haul. A revolution has a foreseeable end, not so with disability and education coming together.

The battle to provide services for children will be fought again and again, until our society prioritizes its most vulnerable. Before I had a child with autism, I would have assumed (did assume) that we had jumped that hurdle with disability. Now, I know better.

There is an unwillingness to "waste" money on educating kids who "can't succeed". So many in our culture never think that the problem isn't with the kid, or even the disability, but with our definition of success.

I wish I could say to parents it will get better, but I don't know that. What I do know is that to change society it will take outspoken, passionate advocates, and it will take time. Parents are the pioneers to reform because they have the most to lose. We have to embrace who and what we are. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Special education as a contact sport

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 17:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of t...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The parents of RISE Learning Center took it to the media, and here are the results. It's a whitewash. Parents are complaining again. Silly parents. Their claims can't be substantiated, I guess. Oh, but wait, they were. Key facts were left out, again. Personal relationships were cultivated and friends called in to "talk it over".

Students in this building have been routinely bullied. We had the evidence. Our claim was a lack of supervision, and we could prove it. Students in the building lack vital services, speech in particular. Autism programs were not available to autistic students, until we seriously went to war. Complaints routinely came back in parent's favor, and orders of correction were issued.

This leads us to the most concerning part of the piece, the flip response of the Director of Special Education, Anne Davis, which I read to suggest that parents just want too much. Well, these parents think she stinks at her job. She's ignoring systemic problems and couching it in terms of economic crisis. If that is true, why was it happening before the crisis?

 Dr. Tim Smith, the center of the allegations, wasn't even mentioned, and why not? These parents have presented the state with AUDIO of him erupting at parents and staff in a conference. That isn't mentioned, but it's true. He leaves the school to sell real estate. It's not mentioned, but it's true. He can't write an IEP if you hold a gun to his head, also not mentioned, also true.

If Special Services is protected all the way up to the State Director, and even a record of lawsuits and orders of correction do not point out systemic failure on Indy's south side, what are parents left to do? I guess we could move to Illinois. That's popular lately.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Separation of schools and experts; Advisory committees are getting left behind.

The Great Seal of the State of IndianaImage via WikipediaThis article is about the interlocal change over in Perry Township, but it's about far more than that. It's about a movement in Indiana to keep schools and school boards for Special Education schools separate from the vital information they need to do their work.

Parents and advocates are increasingly "disinvited" from participating in official capacities. The RISE Learning Center Stakeholder Committee was dissolved at the first opportunity and replaced with "PTA" interaction, however the PTA has no advocacy arm at that school and less to say on special needs issues than your average goldfish. How was that an even swap?

Southern Indiana's Greater Clark County Schools has a Gifted Ed Advisory Committee. Muncie school districts have parent advisory committees. Yet, in meetings with parents, Bill Dreibelbis and other school officials of Perry Township continually tell PTA members and leaders, "It's just not done". Gentlemen, it is done. Where people want good, actionable intelligence, they find sources. Without it, you're likely to go off-mission.

Parents and advocates are the experts. Teachers are the experts. Yet, increasingly, advisory committees are passed over and school boards are shrinking the influences of regular citizens in the policy making process. This has far reaching impact on the future of all education, but particularly special ed. Frankly, to continue with the metaphor, we may be headed for a Charlie Foxtrot of epic proportions.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Perry Township school board meeting

Façade of Perry Meridian High School, the newe...Image via WikipediaParents of RISE Special Services students have an opportunity on Monday the 14th to discuss the interlocal with the Perry Township Board. RISE will be changing from a joint service and supply to an interlocal. This change will result in a new board for special services students. The make up of that board is crucial to parents and students. The meeting will begin at 6 pm at Perry Township Education Center.

The most likely outcome, given the political climate, is a board made up of only the superintendents of the participating townships. A choice many parents find objectionable because of its lack of elected representation. Still others would like to see parents and advocates take a role on an advisory board.

Perry Board Emails as listed on MSDPT website:
  • Rubie Alexander -
  • Ed Denning-
  • Gwen Freeman -
  • Steve Maple -
  • Charles Mercer -
  • Ken Mertz-
  • Jon Morris -

Enhanced by Zemanta

Does primary disability matter?

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...Image via Wikipedia

The short answer is; it can.

When you get your first individualized education plan from the school, it will have a primary and secondary (if applicable) disability. This should be an indicator of where your child tested in the evaluation stage.

The primary has a couple of functions. It gives every future teacher of your student a heads up about where they are and what they need. It can also be pivotal in placement decisions. For example, kids with emotional disabilities need something far different than children on the Autism Spectrum. Typically, these kids will be serviced in far different programs and in very different ways.

Often an Autism diagnosis is needed to gain access to useful programs like STAR or TEACCH.
That is one consideration, but there are many others. The needs of the child are paramount. If you suspect your child is mislabeled and doesn't have the right fit for a program, it may be time to write out a new request for a re-evaluation. Parents can do this at any time. Though, remember the system is crowded, and the process doesn't happen overnight. Major concerns can be dealt with while the eval is underway.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Analyzing an IEP. . . for dummies.

School Open Night1Image by bestlibrarian via FlickrCase conferences. Much like the flu bug, they come every year like clockwork, and they can be about as much fun. Here is a quick list of things to watch for as you go over your draft.

  • Make sure your draft of the IEP arrived a minimum of 24 hours in advance of your CCC.
  • Note each person invited to prepare for possible requests to be excused (never the teacher or the agency rep).
  • Double check that your previous concerns have been noted.
  • Are the goals and objectives satisfactory, appropriate and thorough?
  • Pay close attention to methods of measurement, descriptive documentation, testing, teacher reports. One method isn't enough.
  • Services should be expressed as they will be delivered, ex. speech should be a weekly amount, not monthly.
  • Written notes should contain all relevant information that fits nowhere else such as previous meeting notes, parent/school contact and special requests being discussed.
This list is, of course, not exhaustive. Give yourself plenty of time to go over the draft, as this is a legal contract with all that implies.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A personal note: our struggle with Perry Township.

My sister and her baby.Image via WikipediaOur family is in the complaint process, I think our situation is probably extreme. It all began four years ago when a fellow RISE Parent brought me in to their group. We became aware of glaring omissions and violations.

Being a mom and a reformer at heart, I got training from a group called Insource and anywhere else I could get it, and I started working to improve our school's services and IEP.  Four years later, here we are. Still fighting to reform an even more broken system.

And I am tired. I'm tired because my son matters. It's a truth. Every child in RISE Learning Center matters. They deserve protection and service, true humanitarian service, and each of us should carry the burden of these kids' challenges and obstacles in our hearts, but there are a few who just. . . well, they don't. It's not a mission. It's a job.

If you have the mission. . . 
Your thoughts are preoccupied with how to do better each day for these sweet souls. You set your ideals far beyond the demands of your pocketbook or your ambition. You want for them what you want for yourself.

We want opportunity. All kinds of opportunities are denied those housed in this building each day. Some are denied the opportunity to communicate. They have no system by which to speak their wants and wishes, nor are they being given one. Some are denied the opportunity to learn by being placed in programs inappropriate to their needs. Some have been denied peace because no one stopped the bullying and beatings. The mission is lost at RISE, and it's not coming back very quickly.

Parents have gone to the DOE, the superintendent, Dr. Little, even the boards. Nothing changes. Okay, maybe it gets worse, but that's not change worth having. Families withdraw their children from this system and go it alone when no remedies emerge.

Ours may be next. How long can we wait, let Darrel wait, for adults to get the mission? How much farther behind can these kids fall before we act to stop systemic corruption and ineptitude? How much more can parents be expected to do? If we have to sue the school, which most can't, it will wipe us out with no likelihood of recouping anything without wheelbarrows of proof that we aren't lying or overreacting or reaching or exercising a vendetta or all the other things administrators say to steal our credibility or divert attention from facts.

Efforts to discredit the parents of RISE have never stopped and likely never will, but one thing is certain we aren't backing down. We have the mission. Each one us got it handed to us in a hospital both on the day of our child's birth and the day of their diagnosis. The mission to serve our children as advocate, parent, interpreter and care giver is a reality of every single day.

To parents facing the unfairness and discrimination of education systems gone awry, I say, " Never give up. Never surrender. Your children matter." Guess I just need the reminder.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This is not a war.

Law, Justice, Legislative, Legal force, Force ...Image via WikipediaAs you start work on your CCC, no one wants a war, but it would be a mistake to think of it as anything less than a legal proceeding. The Committee will write a legal document about the services your child receives, the school he attends and the methods used to teach him. It is a comprehensive legal document. It satisfies the requirements of a law.

What documentation should you keep?
Any communications in writing between you and the school staff are priority. This includes; progress reports, notes home, documentation of behaviors, and even emails or letters from school staff to parents. A good idea is to prepare a document just for your use to take notes during a conference. It can document which issues you wanted to discuss and which ones you actually got to discuss and the outcomes. It's always advisable to err on the side of caution. When in doubt, keep it.

And when it is a war?
This is where all that routine documentation works to your advantage.  Occasionally, parents and schools clash, and sometimes it can become a war of wills. Personalities get involved. Don't let that happen, if you can avoid it.

This is business! First rule of advocating for your child; it's strictly business. You have a professional position at the table as the primary expert, and you have a right to be there. If someone at that table patronizes or treats you rudely, that isn't professional. Likewise, you have to act professional as well.

Advocates make sure procedure is understood and followed. They are in that room for one person; the child. We aren't there to call names or be called names. We aren't there to stick it to the other guy. If you sense this in your motives, pull back and get an advocate. If you suspect someone else feels this way toward your family, do the same thing if you can. Some easy rules to follow when it hits the fan this way:  

  • Keep phone calls to a minimum
  • Ask to record conferences and meetings
  • Conduct most discussion via email
  • Organize all communications for later use as evidence
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, January 10, 2011

Special education mediation; how does that happen?

CHIPPENHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 23:  A p...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIt's pretty rare, but it can happen. The parents disagree with the school or the school disagrees with the parents. It's seldom that the school sticks so completely to its guns on a point of contention. It's oftentimes cost effective to give a family a compromise, so here's a word of caution. If the school is adamant and chooses mediation, take a long, hard look at your case. Step back and really look.

There's a reason they chose that way instead of being cost effective. They think the process will go in their favor. That means they may be right on target with Article Seven guidelines. In this case, parents should ask someone trained in the law. Mediation may be a waste of your time.

The school is run by people, and those people may actually think you have the wrong idea about your child's education. Here's where things get sticky. You know your child. More than anyone else, you've seen what he can do. You know how good the good moments are and how bad the bad. Parents are experts, best in the field, on one kiddo.  How far do you go?

If you've tried to work out the kinks and you're losing time on your child's education, go to mediation. If the situation is turning hostile, it's more than past time to bring in a third party who is objective and uninvolved. If you believe it's a safety issue, then do it without hesitation.

Mediation is never fun. Parents have the option because there has always been the chance they would need it. I can guarantee it's easier than due process, but that's about the only guarantee a family will get.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Advocacy in today's school system

There's a burning need for advocacy in special needs education today. Areva Martin's book The Everyday Advocate highlights that need. Parents, overburdened emotionally and financially, are having to metaphorically take up arms in order to make the system run as it should for children.

One can't assume anymore that teachers and administrators are advocates for your child. The truth is they are employees of the system, and that system has cost management needs. Teachers go out into the work place with massive debts and a burning desire to teach. There is always a risk when they go out on a limb to recommend services in today's cost cutting environment. If you buck the admin too many times, you will certainly feel the sting.

Therefore, it's left to a parent to obtain an advocate or become one. The amount of time it takes to properly advocate for children is amazing. There are files to compile, phone calls to be made, negotiations to manage and research to be done. Parents must add this pile of tasks to an already growing stack of tasks they manage each day, and that's if everything manages to run smoothly. If it doesn't, one must prepare for mediation or due process.

School is not a cure. It's a minimizer. It minimizes the damage done to a child's mind by training that mind like an athlete trains their body.  It will play a crucial role in the coming years in educating parents to minimize at home. No doctor can have the kind of relationship with parents that schools have. Until we start taking our school's role in special needs treatment seriously and fund the programs, enforce the policies and train the staff, I'm afraid we will see an unorganized, failing system for years to come.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's a good program?

Looking southeast at Special education PS 721 ...Image via WikipediaA good special ed. program should be engaging. There should never be more down time than work, but it can't push too hard.

A good program gives direction. Appropriate structure is a must.

A good program reports its findings. Conclusions can be drawn from documentation and should be reported to parents regularly.

A good program offers the standard. When parents investigate a program, they should find that the appropriate supports and services are offered.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Perry Township Referendum

Dr. Little talked about credibility last night. Trouble is Perry Township has none with special needs families. The referendum being taken to the public is a request for funding they've been turned down for once by voters.

Voters were given two choices; A list of terrible things educators would be forced to do or pass the tax increase. However, very few administrators jobs appear to be on the chopping block. Why wouldn't they start with top down decreases in funding? Hmm. Perry spends twice as much as other Indiana schools on Administrative costs. Those proposals were noticeably absent.

Discriminatory practices when it comes to special education is used to cut costs all the time. Indiana's law protecting special needs students is only as good as its enforcement. There is a massive breech of trust between the township and its families, so, Dr. Little, I vote no, until you take an interest  in special education.