Information for parents of disabled children

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.
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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
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.