Parents and advocacy for their special education child, family II

The past two weeks have been a further  confirmation of WHY PARENTS MUST BE INVOLVED with their childs delivery of special services and  of all I thought I knew and believed about special education at public schools  and an eye opener as to what passes for special education, even in wealthy school districts, even when the parents are educated……even when the teachers are experienced.  Special education is a nightmare and it is actually a wonder to me how children ever exit these programs, much less why we as a society accept so little for our tax dollars. 

My friend (a teacher colleague of mine) has a  younger sister,  seventeen years old who was diagnosed years ago (as in at least 9-10 years ago) with a variety of issues from dyslexia to auditory processing issues is getting ready to leave high school.  This child has received a variety of special ed services over the years.  Up until this past six months, there was marginal parent involvement as the parents felt that the school (and district) had everything in order for their daughter.  This child turns 18 in June 2010 so there is an imperative to accomplish as much as one can in the three remaining months.

I was asked to ‘consult’ on this students IEP as my friend felt it was too close to home for her to do since it was her sister and I would be more objective. In addition, it would eliminate any parental transgressions and recriminations from the process so I felt comfortable taking on the task.  Although I know the parents, it is indirectly and so this is a more clinical view of the IEP and its execution.

My role in all of this was to be an advocate for the seventeen year old in as she ages out of the public school system and progresses to college.  I am a credentialed teacher with a background in speech pathology.  My goal was to help the parents do everything possible to make the system work for their child within the reasonableness of what public schools are expected to do (or should morally do).   In this particular situation, I needed to follow up on why said student had not been receiving the services noted on the IEP and identify why the school seemed to want to ‘offer’ up a deal that required parents to sign/waive their rights and their childs rights to future recourse for something which had not happened…….

First goal: Review the paperwork the parents gave me which include most recent IEP’s of last two years and services which were supposed to be rendered.

The IEP pages were so incomplete as to border on ‘why bother’.  It is impossible for me to identify where student is at educationally and why services of a specific type were being provided, who provided the services and what the ultimate goals were.  Clearly implementation of this IEP was ad hoc. I am backtracking with no less than 26 questions to the parents to sort out relevant information.

The second goal was to evaluate what goals had been met, which ones had not been met, which ones were of concern to the parents and what the parents felt were the next goals to reach certain landmarks, most notably passing through algebra.    (If you have read my previous blog on special education advocacy, the previous sentence most likely looks identical……it is.)  Essentially an IEP has goals which are to be met and this can be done quantitatively, qualitatively or both.

There are a number of issues at play in this particular situation – most notably the student has not been given homework in at least a couple years.  This in and of itself is not a problem as philosophically not everyone agrees that homework should be given or how much or what kind.  I do not have evidence that the student is using their planner/agenda book and that could be part of the problem(s).  The parents have been some what out of the overall ‘looping’ of this students education other than showing up for IEP meetings, so I am working to reconstruct (with honesty from all involved) what has and has not gone on in the past of the last few years.

Personally, I can understand a lapse of two weeks or a month of not using the agenda book, however, I can not fathom letting it go longer than that nor could I deem it appropriate to allow a child with an IEP  to slip this far. Again, I had parents tell me they believed their excellent school district would look after the best interests of their daughter and so they were not much involved.

After not having answers to many of my questions/concerns, I spoke with the parents and indicated it seemed completely wrong for them to sign away their own and the rights of their daughter for future recourse.  I could not in any type of good faith recommend accepting a ‘deal’ which was nothing different from what the school district was reasonably expected to provide but did not.

This child has managed to obtain a C in Spanish at a local community college. She did not test in to college algebra and is having to now  re-do pre-algebra and then intermediate algebra to get to college algebra – about 6 -8 extra units of study. It is difficult to sort out what might be recourse as this child did pass the high school exit exam which contains basic algebra skills. I am not sure there is recourse as nothing in the IEP indicated a goal of this child passing through algebra to be college ready.

Since I could not understand why some services on the IEP were being given (actually, they had not, which is part of the problem) as there was no diagnosis to indicate the need nor was there any kind of description of services, I suggested the parents meet with the high school counselor and go to the community college with their daughter to get in writing all the courses she would need to transfer to a Cal State or UC campus and to create a list of goals to achieve these courses.  Disabled student services at community colleges have been cut much like services in other places so I am unsure what the community college will be able to do to augment this students learning.

What was also difficult to me was explaining to the mother of this child how she was entitled to take up the issue of what was not done, however, it could be months before anything would be resolved and her daughter would have graduated by then. In this case timeliness was of the highest order and I am not sure what can be accomplished in three months.   It was painful to explain to the mother the problem with not being college algebra ready and now having to pay for tuition and books to meet that goal  – something her other daughter (my friend) had been saying for a number of years but the mother did not want to listen as it was a GOOD school district.

For the second time in two months, my heart was broken. I knew I would never have been allowed to get away with such low delivery of an IEP and yet, some teachers and a principal in another school district were able to work the system.