September 20, 2007 @ 10:59 pm | Filed under: Special Education, Special Needs Children, Wonderboy
As some of you guessed in the comments, the meeting I alluded to the other day was a doozie. It will probably take me several posts to sort through everything. But let me spare you the suspense and say this: It ended well. I got what I wanted. But it took two hours of intense discussion to get there.
Remember last winter when I wrote about getting Wonderboy’s IEP in place? Remember how I said:
Which leads me to a very interesting and important thing I learned at
the end of the meeting. I need to look into whether this applies to
California only or the entire nation. As my pen was poised to sign the
final paperwork, the psychologist notified me (as she is legally bound
to do) that once the parent signs the IEP, the child is officially "in
the system," and the parent can’t just decide later to pull him out of
services without a big to-do. From that point on, the appropriate district personnel (in this case, speech therapist) must agree that the child no longer needs these services in order to cancel them.
You know, I worked pretty hard to make sure my son’s IEP was worded exactly as I wished it to be, lest this section of the law come back to bite us later. But you can never, never be too careful. I should have been, it turns out, even more careful than I was.
The IEP says Wonderboy will receive 60 minutes of speech therapy a week. That’s what we did last year, in two 30 minute private sessions. He did very well, and because I was present during the sessions I was able to repeat the activities at home, daily. He made great progress and gained several consonant sounds. It was very exciting.
But the two-day-a-week schedule was difficult to juggle. He sees a number of other doctors, and that adds up to a lot of appointments. Add in the girls’ activities, and it makes for a great deal of running around. The speech therapist and I agreed that Wonderboy was making fabulous progress. When we started back up after the summer break, I said I wanted to cut back to once a week.
She was hesitant, worrying that if he only saw her once a week, she wouldn’t get as much out of him in the sessions. That wasn’t a concern for me: I don’t really care how much she "gets out of him" (meaning, how much he speaks for her in session); I care about whether he is learning to make new sounds. At home, and out in the world, he is quite a chatterbox—and that includes using the consonants we’re working on in therapy. When the speech therapist puts him on the spot, he clams up, grinning his funny grin. Often he’ll be quiet for 29 minutes of therapy and then burst into conversation on our way out the door. The speech therapist and I have often laughed about this.
So we talked about my reasons for wanting to cut back, and we threw around some other ideas for scheduling—the current schedule doesn’t work at all for us anymore, not with a new year’s lineup of activities for the older girls—and she suggested that we could look at switching to another time with another speech therapist, if her availability didn’t work out for us. We talked about all of that, and none of the options seemed to fit, and so we came back to my preference to cut back to one session a week.
To do that, she said we’d have to set up a meeting with the "whole team" to revise the IEP. The "whole team" means all the school district personnel legally required to sign off on this document. It’s a big slate, in Wonderboy’s case: our speech therapist, the speech pathologist connected with the district’s deaf/hard of hearing preschool program, the preschool teacher, a district rep, an early childhood education rep, the district psychologist, the deaf/HOH itinerant teacher, the district audiologist, oh, and me.
I’m only being a teeny bit snarky in listing myself as an afterthought there. You see, and this is the most significant thing I have to say on the subject of the IEP, the parent is considered "a member of the team." Not the coach, not the person in charge. A member, a single vote.
It is for this reason that a parent must exercise extreme caution in signing an IEP. As I said before, don’t make a mark on that dotted line until you are 100% satisfied with the language in the document.
But I’m jumping ahead of my story. As far as I knew when I walked into that meeting on Tuesday, I was there simply to sign paperwork: the team was assembled to sign off on my request to cut back from two weekly speech therapy sessions to one.
And then, after the introductions around the table—a little low table in the deaf/HOH preschool room, with all ten of us squinched into those tiny little kindergarten chairs—they sandbagged me.
The district rep was leading the meeting. We were there, she explained to the room, because I had requested a reduction in services and the speech therapist had declined the request.
I looked at our speech therapist. (I should give her a name. Let’s call her Pam.) I was shocked. She hadn’t indicated in any way that she was going to recommend against granting my request.
(Do you know how disturbing I find it even to use the words "grant my request"? The very idea of having to ask permission to do what I know to be best for my own child—it’s repugnant.)
Pam looked like she wanted to sink under the table. "I’m so sorry," she said miserably. "I just—I mean, going by Wonderboy specifically, knowing you and how much you work with him, I know he’d be fine, but it’s just—well, a child with his level of need—legally, you understand—I just can’t see how I could justify it on paper, that a child with his level of need could have a reduction in services."
"A child with his level of need"—that’s a key phrase, one which would be used often during the next two hours. It quickly became clear to me that the district personnel were making a distinction between my son and his actual, specific circumstances, and a generic "child with his level of need." Over and over, I was told—not just by the therapist, but by several of the other people on the "team"—that it was clear Wonderboy’s situation is unusual (hearing loss is but one of his many issues; we juggle a boatload of medical appointments; his parents and siblings work with him constantly at home; and so on) and they all had confidence that he "would do fine" with one session a week, but "legally, a child with his level of need…"
I could make this a very long story. I will probably examine specific points of the discussion in future posts. I think this is an important issue, not only in regard to my family, but in regard to all American homeschoolers—and, indeed, parents in general. We are, as a country, quietly ceding our parental rights to the state.
But I will not cede mine without a fight. In this case, I did eventually bring the "team" round to my point of view. It took two hours of intense discussion. Not heated discussion; no voices were raised. But I had to be frank, and firm, and persistent.
In the beginning, when the district personnel were holding fast to their position, I was told that if I could not agree to stick at the 2 sessions per week, the next step would be to go to mediation, and after that (if we refused to comply with the decision), arbitration. This is California law. As I said in my first IEP post quoted above, in this state, once you sign the IEP, you can’t withdraw your child from services without the consent of the team. I should add "or reduce the level of service" to that sentence.
This post is to be continued. There is lots more to tell (I haven’t gotten to the most outrageous part), and lots to talk about. For now, it’s enough to be able to say that I convinced the team to look at my specific child, not "a child with this level of need." We’ve cut back to one session a week. I’ll continue to work with him every day at home. That’s my job. I’m not a team member. I’m his mother.
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