Thursday, April 4, 2013

IEP and me

This is my least favorite time of the year.

When I worked in the school district in Connecticut, I attended every team meeting, IEP meeting, 504 meeting that there was at the school.  I called myself "Switzerland" because I would be the mediator and calm middle between the staff and the parents on many occasions.  As the school nurse I was able to have a nice role.

And I learned......A LOT.

When Finley was diagnosed, I learned even more.  I was now on both sides of the IEP table, so I had a nice view.  I was able to understand the acronyms the staff would use, and I knew what to ask.  And I knew what it all meant.  I felt empowered.

Until we moved to Massachusetts.

Last year we were given a teacher that could not have been a more wrong fit for Finley.  She didn't understand Finley's needs, and was very nervous.  She focused all of her energy on Finley being a summer baby and not getting Finley to be successful in class.

So, at the end of last year, and around IEP time, I was told Finley would be recommended to go to transitional instead of 1st grade.  It was at that time we asked to have a meeting with the whole team - including Finley's aide, and we were told "aides don't attend meetings".  But I talked to a few higher ups and it got resolved and Finley's aide was able to attend the meeting.

The second request I had last year at this time was to visit the first grade classrooms (as well as the transitional classroom) so I could see how they were run, some of the teacher personalities, and the curriculum of first grade so that I could make an informed decision.  All allowed.  The Kindergarten special education teacher accompanied me to several first grade classrooms, let me spend 2 hours in the transitional classroom, and asked me who I thought would be a good fit for Finley for first grade if she went.

So, here we are.  Second verse, same as the first - right?  Wrong.....o.

We have a new Special Education Liaison.  Her name is Rosaria.  She has been a thorn in my side all year.  Just to back track a bit - Finley's IEP is almost all braille and orientation and mobility goals.  The Special Education doesn't see her.  Rosaria has probably spent a total of 10 minutes with Finley this entire year, and she doesn't know her AT.ALL.

But - she is the person I have to deal with in the first grade.  She has to attend the meetings and cant' seem to stop herself in giving her opinions.

What I have learned about her from other parents is that if she gets an idea in her head and she thinks she is right she isn't going to let it go.  Even if she is in the wrong.

Finley's IEP is coming up in May.  I told Rosaria that I would like to have Finley's 1:1 aide at the meeting.  Rosaria told me "teacher's aides don't come to IEP meetings".  I kindly smiled and reminder her that this is Finley's aide - she is not a teacher's aide.  She has come to meetings in the past, and she is a valuable member of the team (considering for the last two years she has been with Finley 5 days a week, 7 hours a day).  She knows Finley the best.

Rosaria told me she would going to have to check with the principal.  I wasn't worried because the principal let me last year.

We are also being asked to make the decision if we should keep Finley in first grade or send her on to second grade.  The teacher would like Finley to do first grade again.  Even though she is academically on track, she feels that Finley is developmentally young and could benefit from another year.  We have had two meetings about this (you can read back in the blog history if you want!)

 So, just like last year, I asked to visit the second grade classrooms and visit a few teachers and see the curriculum that she will be required to master by the end of second grade so that I could gather more information.  And, with Finley's special needs being very unique, I wanted some input on the teaching styles there were in second grade so that we could make an informed decision about her placement.  Rosaria told me that I wasn't allowed to do this either.

So I went above her.  The name of our Pupil Service's director is Diane.  She was the one who permitted Finley's aide to come to a meeting last year.  So I called her and left her a message stating my interest in having Finley's aide at the IEP meeting in May.

She didn't call me back.  Instead, she had Rosaria call me.  Rosaria proceeded to tell me that the "District policy is that aides don't tell meetings".  I proceeded to read her the law that states:   " Parents have the right to bring any person to an IEP meeting with knowledge of the child or the child’s disability including advocates and attorneys."  (This is verbatum from the IEP federal laws).  She proceeded to tell me that doesn't include District employees.

Uh, wha wha??

She and I had a lot of back and forth on the phone.  She started going off on a tangent about how Finley's aide should only be her aide for 2 years anyway, because that is how the district does it, and that she could be changed at any time, on and on....

I kindly reminded her the her aide got her job because she was willing to learn braille and work with Finley.  Her aide has learned BRAILLE.  Her aide is SPECIFIC to FINLEY.  I kindly asked Rosaria if she had a multitude of aides on her staff that knew braille and could take the place of Finley's aide at any time.

I already knew the answer, but I wanted to hear her say it.

We didn't leave it well.  I told her that I wanted Finley's aide at the meeting and she would be there as our guest.  She told me she would check with Diane.

In the mean time, I called Rich - the principal.  I didn't get him either, so I left a message asking about having Finley's aide at the meeting and about visiting the classroom.  I didn't hear back from him, of course.

But last this afternoon, I got an email from him.  Here is what he said:

"Hi Jennifer,
I did receive your phone message today regarding your request to have Finley's aide attend Finley’s IEP meeting. The long standing practice of the -------Public Schools has been that teaching assistants (including those in 1:1 roles) do not attend IEP meetings.Therefore finley's aide will not be attending the meeting on May 21st.

If there is specific information that you would like from Finley's aide, let me know and I will ask her to share it with Karen, Nan or Rosaria, all of whom will be at the meeting.

Tomorrow I will be sending a letter out to all parents regarding the placement process along with a form soliciting parental input. Your input on Finley’s placement should be given on this form. If there is more specific information you wish us to consider, please be sure to let Mrs. Kenney (Finley's teacher) know. No parents will be visiting classrooms to see possible teachers for the upcoming year.

Yes this is what he said to me.  Yes I was visibly upset.  Yes I was depending on him to back me up as a parent he has a relationship with that was good standing.

This is when I called Mat.  I was shaking with anger and disappointment and knew that I couldn't be in control of this situation any more.  Mat called Rich at the school and got his voice mail.  Mat told him we wanted to schedule a face to face meeting with him.

In the meantime I wrote back to him and told him thank you for explaning the district policy, but that he still had to follow federal law which states that I can have anyone I want at the meeting.

Then I get this peach of an email from Diane the Pupil Services Director:


I talked with Rosaria and Rich earlier so I knew that Rich was going to talk with you about this issue early this afternoon.  I wanted to clarify a couple of things......

The regulations do state that parents can invite someone to the meeting who has knowledge of their child/ their disability.  However, parents do not have the authority to invite, assign or evaluate district staff as these staff members are employed by the school system, not the parent.

District administrators invite, assign and evaluate; depending on the situation as  school systems must keep in mind their broader responsibilities of making sure all students are educated and supervised. It is the district's obligation to ensure that we have the specific staff required as written in the regulations providing services and at the meetings, such as: chairperson, special education teacher, and general education teacher.  Sometimes that means they need to reassign staff so that the staff we're obligated to have can be present at the meeting and students in the classroom are not deprived of education or supervision.  

Ed assistants, 1:1 staff, and ABA staff work under the direct supervision of staff that hold the certification/ licensure to provide services. They are responsible for communicating with the staff they supervise to get the most thorough, accurate and up to date information to present at the TEAM meetings.  

I do encourage parents to invite people not employed by the district to the meetings. They write their name in on the attendance sheet and initial verifying attendance.  I do ask that if you are inviting a lawyer to give us the 10 day notice should we exercise our right to have the district's attorney present as well. 

I hope this email clarifies the issue for you.

What is this mumbo jumbo?  What I got from this is that the District gets to trump federal law about who I can invite to the meeting.  Yeah.....I don't think so.  Also I take from this that Finley's aide will be taking over Finley's classroom while Finley's teacher is in the IEP.  Kind of funny to me considering they don't even think she has the right to attend a meeting for the child she actually ASSISTS, but she can lead a whole class......okee dokee.

And even funnier?  Finley's IEP is at 8am on the 21st.  BEFORE school starts by almost 1 hour.  Finley's aide wouldn't even be working yet because.......Finley isn't there!  How about that!!!  (do you notice my sarcasm on this one?)

Her last paragraph was my favorite.

Mat responded to this email.  Told her that we do not agree with her interpretation of the law.  Asked her to provide either proof of a state or federal law that states that parents cannot invite district employees to an IEP meeting, and we would let it go.  And if that proof couldn't be given, and we still weren't allowed to invite her, that we would be seeking legal council.

I am just sick over this.  I contacted our Special Education Parent Advisory Committee and had a wonderful conversation with them.  I felt a lot better after that.  I have contacted my favorite special education teacher, Jess, who is the most informed person I know when it comes to special ed.  She agrees that the school has gone off the deep end.

But it doesn't solve the problem.  Not yet.  I hate being in this position.  All I want is for the person who knows my kid the best to be at her most important meeting of the year.  And I want to make sure that the teacher Finley is given next year is the best fit for her and her vision needs.  The school picked Finley's first teacher and it was a disaster.  This year, I picked and it was wonderful.  And I expect to be able to have input on that every year.  Finley isn't "Joe Smoe Student"  She has UNIQUE needs unlike any other student in the building.

This district doesn't understand kids with vision needs.  They don't understand that what I want is the NORM in every other part of the world when it comes to kids with vision issues.  Heck, with MOST kids with IEPs.  Yet, I am being treated like I am a criminal instead.  Ridiculous.

We are in a stand off.  Mat and I are not backing down.  We feel that we are being asked to make a big decision - to hold Finley back or not - without being given all the tools to figure out the solution.  

What would you do if you were me?  We want to hear from you!


Anonymous said...

I say if they can show where the law states that you can't invite an employee, then that would be the end of it. the fact that they are giving you the run around kind of explains it all. Keep fighting for your daughter, even tho you shouldn't have too. The student, special needs or not, should be the main concern of school.

Anonymous said...

April 4th, 2013

Hi Jennifer and Mat,

This is Shayla and I think that Finley should be allowed to attend 2nd grade, also that the school system is unfair to parents! Her teacher who knows her best out of all the others should be allowed to come to the IEP'S with you. So you feel better about the decisions ahead. So you have peace of mind too.
It simply isn't fair.

I really hope that things get straitend out soon. That good comes out of her IEP.

Wishing You All The Best!!


Molly Duda said...

I think every parents worst nightmare is being put in a position where you are not able to help your child. Our desire to want to very best for our children is simply how we are programmed. Every now and again we will meet folks who don't quite understand the fierce love that we share with our children. This is as dangerous as stepping between a momma bear and her cubs.

This is one of your shining moments as a parent. You need to dig deep and find your inner bitch. Bear your teeth, whip out your claws and let them know they stumbled into the wrong place. This is YOUR child. Go get 'em!!

Your Mom said...

Jennifer, keep fighting for your child and go with your gut. You know Finley best. I think I would definitely get a lawyer. Also, If they are uncooperative in placing Finley where you and her aide feel is best, I would go to the school board and the newspaper. This is truely absurd. I would do anything I can to draw attention to how unfair they have been. It's their job to ensure Finley is getting the proper education. I think they should be very afraid that if they don't accomondate her, you could make it very hard on them legally. I'm sorry to see they are such jerks and it has to get to this point. It think it is appalling.

Anonymous said...

We are in MA too, fighting for services for our legally blind daughter. Our district is ridiculous. People who know NOTHING about visual impairment should NOT be trying to make unilateral decisions about the needs of visually impaired students. I hate that you are going through this.