Camouflage: The ability to hide and deflect reality

Please note this specific blog piece is my way of coping with an absolutely horrific IEP meetingI sat through this  past week. The parent was shattered – by the very people (professional educators, school psychologist, administration) who should have reached a hand out.  I tutor the student and although I have sat through a bazillion of these meetings over my career in education and am used to (often amused by) the shenanigans inherent in said meetings, this one took the cake and frosting, plate, fork and napkin. I am still trying to figure it out…..And, I get to go back in two weeks for the second half of the meeting.

IDEA 2004 (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the federal law that governs special education, emphasizes the importance of parent participation. Model forms are developed by OSPI to assist districts in meeting their regulatory obligations related to special education.

Parents can review these forms to become more informed about a district’s requirements and processes. Please note that school districts are NOT required to use these forms.  http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/ModelForms.aspx

The following are a list of basic vocabulary one would need to navigate an IEP meeting and one which if you asked the people present (non-parent or student) could rarely give you a specific, logical explanation AND have it make sense, hence the title of this blog.  This is merely a primer, of sorts. The actual details could drive you to the edge of eating chocolate.

Accommodations – An accommodation allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation of the material. This accommodation does not alter in any significant way what the test or assignment measures. An accommodation is used  when the student is expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

IEP – Individualized Education Plan

Goals –  Goals are specific sentences which include SPECIFIC information, are MEASUREABLE (qualitative and quantitative), ACHIEVABLE BY STUDENT, RELEVANT TO STUDENT and TIME LIMITED.   http://specialed.about.com/od/iep/a/iepGoalWriting.htm

Modification –  Modifications are provided when the student is NOT expected to reach the same level of proficiency as their non-disabled peers.A modification is an adjustment to an assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or assignment is supposed to measure.

http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/IEPs/Accommodations.aspx

SELPA – Special Education Local Plan Areas

SPED – Special Education in all of it’s manifestations from low end to high end performance, from below basic to highly talented and gifted.  This covers organic/physical disabilities and psychological (which we now know more each day are indeed organic and physical disabilities).

Curriculum -A course/class and the content which is considered included in this course/class over a specific period of time such as grade level and/or age and or school term.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curriculum

Standards –   A specific list of outcomes based on a specific curriculum.  Ideally, the outcomes would represent highest level thinking skills which generally include  the top reaches of  Dr. Bloom’s Taxonomy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_Taxonomy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standards-based_education_reform_in_the_United_States

In a general manner, an IEP meeting is formal – it is scheduled in advance.  Parents, student, school administrator(s),  SPED teachers, regular ed teachers, school psychologist, case manager, social worker, etc. are involved. Some parents bring an advocate and some use an attorney, generally not at this meeting as an attorney is toooo expensive and parents who can afford an attorney can afford private education.  The meeting is designed to take place so each person has input and decisions are made on behalf of student (student can be involved when age appropriate) and the decisions are to be acted upon by each person. In effect, each person leaves the meeting with a to-do list for the next year.  The to-do list includes parents, teachers, student, psychologist, case worker, administrators. It is a team effort.

If it is a first meeting, it can be uncomfortable.  Parents have to, in a very real way, deal with not having the ‘perfect’ child (unless this is a gifted/talented student) and the white picket fence, two cars, dog, cat, etc.  There is a ‘grief’ reaction as parents are indeed grieving the loss of innocence of having a perfect child.  For some parents it is a bit of relief, acknowledgement regarding the idea they have felt something was different, if not ‘wrong’.

If it is a subsequent meeting, it can (and usually does continue) be contentious as we would all like only to hear the best, not the reality of some goals not met with success.  It re-opens the grieving process and causes the parents to reflect once again on ‘how did we get HERE’ and how do we get out – knowing there may never be a ‘get out’.  I have heard this explained as the ‘new normal’.

Since educators sit through these meetings so often, we become the equivalent of ER doctors – inured to the situation. It is not the fact we do not feel, rather, we have to sit through multiple meetings of this nature often and it is the only way we can protect ourselves from emotional hurt as students are very important to us.  Sometimes educators feel sad for a student, despite best efforts, not having achieved a goal. A teacher is truly happy when a student graduates to the next level and/or is mainstreamed. This is high achievement.

Although we deal with students for a limited basis, parents live with them. Parents of SPED students are chronically exhausted and fatigued. It is an incredible challenge to take on one SPED student, even if you have no other children.  Since we have been educated, it should be expected we are able to deal with the situation a bit more professionally.

Normally, when you go into the meeting, everyone introduces themselves. If everyone is there on time, this is done round table style. If people are showing up one at a time, it is a handshake and introduction by name of self and position/title or purpose for being at the meeting. I used to go by teacher/educator. Now I go by advocate.

It is my goal to maintain a cause/proposal and/or promote the interests of the student on behalf of parents who generally have no clue (not by choice) what an IEP meeting should be nor do they understand how school districts would do anything in their power to limit SPED services since they cost the school district so much. My intent is to make sure the student obtains everything they need, nothing less and no ‘just below the radar’ institutional racism and/or other ism is occurring which prevents the student from have an equal and appropriate education.

I am a ‘translator’. I am a reader, editor, discussion creator, persuasion instigator, cheerleader, educator and believer in hopefulness.  I feel empowered to do what is right for the student, in spite of how it may impinge upon an educator or administrator as I have worked with SPED for many years. I have had mainstreaming students, I have worked with SPED teachers and have always been on the student study team.

Knowing all of the above makes this past week all the worse. The SELPA paperwork was created not by Edward Tufte and/or some other graphic designer who had a logical intention to clearly show information…….rather, it was created by some half crazed government entity somewhere who decided cramming as much legalese onto a page and NOT making sure parents understand the information nor can the school district (if this sounds like what banks did with mortgage applications and the most recent financial meltdown, you would be correct!) was an aspiration worthy of pay. This is ‘hide and deflect’, by intimidation. This is the big, dirty secret no one in education wishes to discuss.  Trust me, if some one wanted to fix the problem, it could have been done years ago.

Imagine going into an IEP meeting where the school psychologist gives you a wet fish handshake, states their name and NOT their position.  Imagine being the parent. Add on top one SPED teacher who had so memorized the lines of ‘curriculum and standards based’ yet could not simplify this output for the parent,  arrogantly stated all they ‘did for the student’.  When SPED teacher was asked reasonable questions to help rewrite goals, was horrified by questions and ardently REFUSED anything which might have resembled ‘change’ or different in their world.

No one was able to explain why IEP was not ‘updated’ and in fact at some point in the meeting, the SPED teacher started randomly crossing out information rather than having a discussion with all present regarding each line item. No one in the room was able to explain the actual ‘diagnosis’ and clarified for me it was too broad to define.

By all intents, if it was not institutional racism, there was such a heavy case of STUPID in the room I wanted to scream. I think in this case, stupid brought out the racism. I was frustrated and angry by the lack of professional demeanor, the fact I had to get the SPED teacher re-focused at least five times as she wished to talk about other students in class, etc. and no one else was getting her back on point. Inside I about died laughing when I was told the school would not ‘write a goal’ for reading fluency as that is something done in the elementary school (fluency is apparently not in the middle school curriculum!). I was finally able to resolve issue AND then SPED teacher asked me to write the goal…..which I would gladly do as I know how. The  school psychologist had to help the SPED teacher by reminding her it was the schools job.

By time this portion of the meeting, which should have been accomplished in an hour, was completed, I was exhausted. The parent was in tears for feeling horrible for asking questions. The parent did not legitimately understand many of the issues and no one took the time to explain. The principal practically ‘flinched’ when I stated the second meeting would include getting student into Gr 8 algebra……as in ‘had I done my homework regarding if it is necessary for students to have algebra in Gr 8’ since there were so many schools of thought on this topic.

There was so much more which went on and was included in the IEP inappropriately regarding standardized testing I had to wonder what it was the school and district so desperately needed to hide from.  I doubt I will ever find out – my task is to do a well written IEP AND make sure it is executed. If necessary, I can provide assistance to SPED teacher on how to do something. Perhaps I really do not wish to know.

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2 thoughts on “Camouflage: The ability to hide and deflect reality

  1. Please, do want to know that there are clear motives behind most (seemingly ignorant) moves school members of IEP “team” make. It is to work towards the goal of reducing “spending” (which should be called “investment in our society’s future”) in Special Education . By being “stupid” they are able to provide a lot less services than they really should to a child. Why would they want to do that? Because their boss says so. And the boss’s boss says so. There is a strong effort to reduce spending in Special Education in many schools. Today, it is “Child Hide” instead of “Child Find”. Here is what’s happening:
    It is budget time, and many schools are proudly touting how they “reduced budget by decreased spending in special education”. Superintendents get bonuses based on their performance goals; one of the goals is to reduce Special Education expenditures – and they get paid handsomely for doing so. (NJ is an example).

    We should ask DEAR SUPERINTENDENT, WHERE IS YOUR CONSCIENCE when accepting bonuses for stealing away the future of these kids? How many children have been robbed of their potentially productive future lives by the very school system that was supposed to help (as so elaborately laid out by federal IDEA and state laws)? How many brilliant minds are being ignored and morphing into future liabilities?

    Budget savings in Special Education (read ignoring needs of/eliminating help for many children) are really theft of productive futures from many kids and the society as a whole. How sad.
    In the meantime…tick…tock…Is there another Adam Lanza crying out there for help?

  2. Dear Marjorie –
    I, as you, wish everything were as simple as you stated in your comment. Unfortunately so many parents are willing to ‘abdicate’ to the system, it is not until some train really runs off the tracks where problems are noticed and can be corrected/fixed.
    Amazingly, money for SPED is not the main issue. The real issue is how we classify SPED students and which ones need to be in a school setting using school funds and which ones need to be in a therapeutic/institutional setting using ‘other’ government funds. Not all students are capable of cognitively learning material. All students are lumped into SPED and defined by category of severity or need for ‘baby sitting’. The largest injustice we as a society have created is deciding each and every child, no matter how debilitated, needs to be in a school……
    Not all psychological problems are cognitive and vice versa. We, society, created a system for classifying children (and we do it poorly if you have ever looked at an IEP form) and ascribing some aspect of help to them in the assumption every single child could and should learn in a regular classroom. Top this with NCLB deciding all SPED children must pass a threshold of testing scores for a school to meet yearly AYP growth and you see the festering problem.
    The superintendent and principals in a school district can and should be hired/fired as necessary. Some school districts do this regularly…..School board members are elected for a period of time.
    Perhaps if more people were willing to be involved in their community (not necessarily run or be on school board – just show up to monthly meeting) and pay attention to how their tax dollars were spent, we would not be in the situation we are in. Unfortunately most people believe all is fine until something goes terribly wrong and then they wish to point fingers instead of deciding what THEY could do to be involved and change things. It is up to all of US – community members, to do something. We have no business finger pointing until we are involved. Finger pointing is just a way to assuage guilt over not being a person who steps up to responsibility.

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