So much I want to respond to in your comments! Good thing there’s a weekend coming up…
One important point I didn’t get to yesterday is this piece of information regarding homeschooling with an IEP in California: as soon as the child reaches legal kindergarten age, more options open up. Wonderboy will be four in December. Part of the system’s inflexibility has to do with his age. He falls in a murky space between the Early Intervention cut-off age of three years, and legal kindergarten age. No, murky is the wrong word: the law is very clear. It’s a rigid space; that’s a better way to describe it.
As soon as Wonderboy reaches legal kindergarten age, I have the option of ditching his IEP. That’s because I am homeschooling under California’s private school provision, one of several options open to home educators in this state. According to the state of California, my three older children are enrolled in a private school called Bonny Glen Academy. The "headmaster" is my husband, and I am the other member of the faculty.
When Wonderboy reaches legal kindergarten age, I can enroll him in our private school and turn down his IEP in lieu of an ISP, an Individualized service plan. This is how students in actual private schools can receive special education services like speech, physical therapy, and occupational therapy from the public school system. I’m still wading through the regulations, but there seems to be more flexibility with an ISP than with an IEP.
But Wonderboy won’t be legal kindergarten age until the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. He misses next year’s cutoff by one week. I find it hilarious that I am suddenly going, Shoot, I can’t believe we miss the cutoff—in all other circumstances, I would be thrilled not to have to fuss with enrollment paperwork for him for an extra year. (Especially since kindergarten is not mandatory in California. Yet.)
For now, we’re solidly in IEP territory. And despite how complicated it has become, I don’t (yet?) regret pursuing speech and audiology services through the school system. I love the district audiologist. She is very good at her job, she’s flexible about scheduling, and her services do not cost us anything. If I’d foregone the whole IEP adventure, we’d be getting audiology services via the medical establishment, which means a significant expense of time and money.
As for speech, well, I’m on the fence. But that too is fodder for another post. It’s a big topic, so I’ll save it. This one is going to be long enough, I fear.
IMHO the school systems just don’t *get* the homeschooling mother’s
mentality of "I *can* and *will* do this at home because it is part of
my job as homeschooling parent" – we saw so many parents (good parents,
mind you) who just "left it all up to us" as "professionals" and never
really worked with their kids at home. Not that there was much TIME
with the kids coming home late from school, two income families and
many activities! I know I’m generalizing here, so I hope no public
school families are offended. There were some great parents, but many,
many hands-off parents, therapy wise.
and that is indeed what informs the school personnel’s decisions—that
and the related issue of parents filing suit against school districts
for failing to do enough. And knowing how hard some of my
public-school-parent friends have had to work to GET necessary services
for their children, I am well aware that this is a complicated problem,
a swinging door that smacks faces in both directions.
Sitting in that room, debating with the team, I knew I was talking
to people who think well of me, and the ones who have worked with Wonderboy do truly care about my son. Pam, I am quite sure, was enduring a
form of anguish in "having" to recommended against what she knew I
Not that her anguish excuses her for failing to tell me in advance
what she was going to do—if she wasn’t going to recommend cutting back
to one session, there was really no point in having the meeting. No
need to assemble the panel if you aren’t going to change the paperwork.
Really, what it means is that she didn’t have the courage to tell me
herself—she let the district rep, a stranger, do the dirty work for
her—and in quite intimidating circumstances.
It’s HARD to argue back in the face of authority. It does not come
naturally to me, let me tell you. The reason I can do it is because
underneath my oh-gosh-they’ll-get-mad-if-I-buck-’em insecurities, I
know that in truth *I* am the authority. I learned this during our long
ordeal with Jane’s cancer. It took me months of hospital living to get
to a point where I could be "frank, firm, and persistent" with doctors.
I had to assimilate the knowledge that although they knew more about
fighting cancer than I did, I knew more about my child. I am the
authority on that subject.
Back to Amy’s point. I know that my decision not to avail myself of
the very good deaf/hard-of-hearing preschool program our district offers is utterly
mystifying to several of the members of the team. You can practically
hear them thinking, "But…you could have him off your hands for hours
every day!! Whyyyy wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that break?
As you say, you’re juggling a ton already…"
"She homeschools her children," I heard one team member whisper to
another. "OHHH," the other, who was meeting me for the first time,
responded, as if that explained so much. Heck, maybe it does.
In the interests of fairness, I want to clarify that the person who
whispered "She homeschools" was my biggest advocate in the meeting. I
think she really was offering that information to her colleague as a
relevant fact: this is a mom who is very involved with her children’s education. It was the colleague’s response that was so telling. "Ohhh," in a tone that conveyed: "So that’s why she’s being difficult."
(More fairness! By the end of the meeting, the Ohhh woman seemed to
have completely revised whatever negative impression she had of me at
the beginning. She told me I should write a book. Hee.)
I want to reiterate that although I was in opposition to the team’s
initial decision, this wasn’t an overtly hostile environment. These are really
nice people, dedicated to their jobs, working from their best
understanding of how kids learn, how families work, what the law says,
and how the system works. Almost by definition, a homeschooling family
is going to run counter to that understanding. What we believe about
how kids (people) learn and how families work tends to be dramatically
different from the views of mainstream educators. (For one thing, I
don’t think I know any homeschoolers who would commit to a definition
of "how families work"—the "how" is different for every family!)
There was a point in our meeting when it really looked as though the
team was not going to budge on the reduction of service. The
conversation had become about scheduling: since our current schedule
doesn’t work, what other options were there. As you may recall from last year, when I first came
seeking speech therapy, the district’s strong recommendation was for me
to enroll Wonderboy in that five-day-a-week deaf/HOH preschool program. I declined, for a
number of reasons.
One thing I was interested in for this year, though, was having him
receive speech therapy from one of the two therapists involved with
the preschool. Since they work with deaf/HOH kids, they are specially
skilled in meeting the kind of speech needs my son has. (Our current
therapist’s specialty is preschoolers, but he is her first HOH child,
and she is learning as she goes. She makes some classic mistakes, such
as forgetting that he can’t hear her when she whispers. But again, that’s for another post.)
We discussed a number of options. He could get his one-on-one speech therapy at the preschool. Pam and I both wondered whether that would be too distracting, to have a bunch of other kids around doing other things during the session. The preschool teacher said that no, it was a play-based program, so Wonderboy could do whatever he liked, and the speech therapist would simply follow him around the room, working speech into Wonderboy’s activities.
"Um, how is that any different from what I do all day at home?" I asked. I reminded them that his IEP doesn’t say anything about developing expressive and receptive language. He has no delay in that area—in fact, he’s ahead for his age, since (speaking English and ASL) he is bilingual.
His IEP goals for speech—there are only two goals, by the way—involve the production of five new sounds. That’s all the district is supposed to concern itself with: helping him gain a finite number of consonants. He has already gained three of the five sounds specified in the goals.
Back to the drawing board. If he were enrolled in the preschool program even part-time, they told me, he could get speech during the small-group session that would be more in line with the goals we’re working toward. Would I consider a two-hour time slot, once or twice a week?
I gave this idea serious consideration. Once a week, for speech and audiology? It might possibly work…he’d be working with the deaf/HOH-trained speech pathologist, for one thing, and having seen her at work (she attended one of our sessions to give Pam some pointers), I was very open to the idea of finding a way to work with her.
But then it hit me, and I asked the question. "What happens if I
agree to this, but in a few months’ time I have determined it not to be
in his best interests? What if I wanted to go back to what we have now,
the 30-minute private sessions?"
There was a pause, and the district rep exchanged glances with the others.
"Well," she said slowly, "we would have to have another meeting like
this one, and the team would have to agree that he would be best served
by pulling him out."
"In that case," I said, "we can stop talking about this option right
now. And it’s too bad, because I do think there are some strong
arguments in its favor. But I can’t take the risk of running into
another situation like this one. If there is any possibility of my
having to walk back into this room and be told by a panel of people
that I can’t do what I know to be in the best interests of my own
child, then forget it."
I worded it strongly because I needed to make sure they understood
the point. I will not cede my parental authority to a panel of school
district personnel. End of story.
This statement seemed to hit home. From that point on, the tone of
the meeting was different. I think several of the people in the room
had assumed I was completely closed to the idea of any participation in
the preschool program because of some anti-school prejudice.
In fact, there had been a funny moment earlier in the meeting when I
teased the audiologist for making exactly that assumption. She
mentioned that she knew my older girls go to "enrichment activities"
(her words) like music and dance. "Maybe," she suggested, "you could
think of the preschool program as an enrichment activity for Wonderboy."
I grinned. "You don’t have to come up with other names for it," I said. "I’m not going to break out in hives at the word school."
There was a ripple of laughter, and it was clear that a few people at the table had assumed I would categorically refuse anything with a schooly label.
"Listen," I said, still smiling but also serious, "what I’m about—the reason I homeschool—is because I’m about individualized education, the freedom to do what’s best for each individual child."
We all had a nice chuckle over it, and someone else joshed the audi
for trying to slip something past me, and she said she wasn’t slipping
anything past me, she didn’t think I missed much. Which was nice of
her, but thinking back over the meeting, I see that there were some nuances I nearly missed. (And probably some I did miss, but I wouldn’t know, would I?)
I almost missed the fact that opting for a two-hour dropoff at the preschool would have meant increasing the level of service—when here I was fighting to decrease it in the first place.
I almost missed the fact that dropoff therapy would negate the most important aspect of our therapy experience: I wouldn’t be there to learn techniques and activities to use at home.
It rather amazes me, now, looking back at the meeting, that I came
close to making such a colossal mistake. I’m sharing that part of the
story here, embarrassing as it is, because I think it speaks to
something very important for parents to know as they head into meetings
like this. When you’re under that much pressure, and facing disapproval
from figures who speak with authority, it is very, very easy to lose
track of what you want and what you know to be true.
You are trying to be reasonable, and you begin to think in terms of
compromise, because to do anything else is to make yourself a royal
pain in the tuckus. But there are certain things you should never have
to compromise, and your child’s best interests ranks mighty high on that list.
So the way it turned out is that I said, "Listen. This is intensely frustrating. What you are saying—what several of you have articulated very clearly—is that you agree that because we do so much work with Wonderboy at home, and because his life is filled with so many other appointments eating up our time, and because he is making such terrific progress, it makes sense to cut back to one speech therapy session a week. But you say you can’t agree to that change because it doesn’t look good on paper. Pam, what you said was, ‘On paper it’s hard to justify a reduction of services for a child with that level of need.’ So what I’m hearing is that you are going to stick to a decision we all agree is not in the best interests of this specific child, because of a fear of how it looks on paper."
Some of them were nodding. The itinerant teacher, the one whose curriculum I had declined last year but who came to our house a week ago for the annual 30-minute consult I did consent to (and that in itself is another whole post topic), spoke up on my behalf. She said that having seen Wonderboy in his home environment, having heard him chatter, having watched how I interact with him, she had to admit that there wasn’t one single thing she would recommend to a parent that I wasn’t already doing on my own.
She was very complimentary. I was grateful, and yet it was strange—it felt like having a great defense witness testify for me when I shouldn’t have been on trial in the first place. It bothers me, still, that part of what eventually won me the result I was after was that I had allowed a district employee into my home, had been observed and passed muster.
Believe it or not, long as this post is, there’s a lot I haven’t told yet. Maybe I’ll get to it later. Maybe I really will have to write that book.
You know the end of the story already—the end of this chapter, at least. After a whole lot more discussion, the team agreed. We signed the papers. Wonderboy will attend speech therapy once a week. His IEP expires in January and we’ll have to reconvene the panel at that time, to revise, update, tweak.
That means this isn’t over. But I’m learning more about the system all the time.