Archive for September 20th, 2007

The IEP Story

September 20, 2007 @ 10:59 pm | Filed under: , ,

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.

:::::deep breath:::::

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…"

Et cetera.

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.

In Which We Make a Brief Foray into the Realm of Product Testing

September 20, 2007 @ 7:51 am | Filed under:

One of the most unexpected aspects of blogging has been the barrage of emails from marketing departments asking me to try a free something-or-other, and if I want "to post a review of it on my blog, that would be great." I turn most of these requests down, because I have a dread of sounding like a commercial. I fear I already sound like that too much of the time, when I’m waxing enthusiastic about a book or resource I love. It is in my nature to gush when I like something, and we all know it’s a fine line between gushing and ad copy. What differentiates them is sincerity. When I gush, I mean it.

Which is why I turn down most of the product review requests. (Books for review are an entirely different matter. Books, I jump at.) I did agree to try the package of Luvs diapers—they were launching some kind of new stretchy elastic system at the leg openings—because I have two kids in diapers at the moment, and hey, those things add up. And actually they were quite good and I keep meaning to do a price comparison to the Target brand, because if the Luvs are cheaper I’ll switch. (As to why I don’t use cloth diapers—when I did the "how crunchy are you?" meme a long while back I came up just shy of super-granola crunchy because of the disposable diapers thing—it’s a long story related to living in Queens with no washing machine.)

A well-known maker of disposable cleaning tools sent me a sample kit of a dusting "system," and it came in a house-shaped box which my young daughters deemed perfect for converting into a fairy house, but I looked at the dusting "system" and burst out laughing. If I need an instruction brochure to show me how to assemble a duster, it ain’t the duster for me. Heh. Besides, I’m already filling landfills with diapers. I can’t possibly add paper dusting cloths to my trash column: I’d lose yet more crunch!

Then there was the email asking if I’d like to receive a free sample of new reduced-sugar NesQuik. One of the kids read it over my shoulder, and there was a great clamor of YES! YOU WOULD LIKE TO! YES! So we tried it, and my children thought I was the coolest mom ever, because people sent us chocolate milk mix in the mail just because I have children and write about them on the interwebz. Our NesQuik interlude was a most comical chapter of our lives. I couldn’t write about it because the children sounded like commercials. If I’d had a camera rolling on Beanie, I could have made a fortune: golden ringlets bouncing, bright smile, chocolate milk mustache, "Mommy, this NesQuik is DELICIOUS! I can’t even tell it has reduced sugar!" I kid you not. It was a ridiculous moment. I kept waiting for the director to yell "Cut! It’s a wrap!"

They are still tormenting me, my children, with requests for more NesQuik. That’s what they call it, NesQuik, and it drives me crazy. Quik! I cry. Just plain Quik! I grew up with it and I know what I’m talking about! I don’t care what it says on the package. Rassafrassin’ marketing departments, messing with my childhood brand names. Humph.

After that episode (and the subsequent and still-occurring barrage of please for more NesQuik), I decided I’d had enough of free product samples. But then came an opportunity to try out a new kind of cell phone service called Kajeet, and since it was related to something I had posted here a while back, I was curious to find out more. This is less a product review than an FYI kind of post. I don’t yet have a need for one of my kids to have a cell phone, but with the teens just around the corner (pardon me while I go tend to my husband’s heart palpitations), I can anticipate a time when I’m going to want them to have that means of keeping in touch.

Do you remember when I posted a mini-rant in response to an article about kids racking up huge credit card and cell phone bills, and I wondered aloud how such a thing could even happen? A commenter (I wish I could find the post—Google is letting me down) clued me in to just how easy it is for kids to download games and burn up phone minutes without needing any access to the billing info; you can download anything you want and your cellular service is more than happy to add it to your tab.

Kajeet seems like a reasonable alternative. When you set up a Kajeet account, you have a parent’s wallet and a kid’s wallet. (Or kids’ wallets, if you are activating more than one phone.)

You put money into the parent’s wallet via your credit card, and then you decide how much to transfer into your kid’s wallet.

Instead of a monthly service fee, you pay an access fee of 35 cents a day. This is deducted daily from the sum in your child’s wallet. There is no time commitment—you can cancel service whenever you want, with no fee or penalty. So you’re looking at ten or eleven dollars a month for the service, plus the cost of however many minutes you use.

Phone calls are ten cents a minute. Text messages are five cents each to send or receive. Picture messages are .25 a minute.

I worked out a price comparison to my current cell phone plan, and it looks like the cost of, say, 150 minutes of Kajeet service (including the daily access fee) would be only slightly higher than the cost of adding another phone and 150 more minutes to my current plan. The main difference would be that Sprint would bind me to a year-long contract, and with Kajeet there is no time commitment or contract. So that’s a plus.

The wallet system is pretty clever. In addition to controlling how much money goes into the wallet, the parent can also allocate a number of minutes to be used per day. So if you’re wanting a cell phone just so a child can keep in touch with you, it would be easy to keep the cost minimal by allotting only a small number of minutes a day. There’s no way for the child to rack up a nightmarish bill, because the parent controls the purse strings.

You can also control what phone numbers can make calls to and receive calls from your kid’s phone, and whether those calls will be paid for from the kid’s wallet or the parent’s wallet. Similarly, you can manage settings for what the child is allowed to download: games, ringtones, wallpaper, and so forth.

At this point, my kids and I almost always travel in a pack, and (sorry, Jane) we really don’t have a need for any of them to have a phone. And I’m starry-eyed enough to think ‘my kid would NEVER surprise me with a bunch of games she downloaded without telling me’—but I can easily, EASILY, see my beloved daughter chattering away to a pal and racking up hours’ worth of minutes without realizing it. I can see this because I’ve done it myself now and then, ahem, and we all know that what we DO has far more influence than what we SAY.

Since we got to play with a nifty blue phone all week (I think we get to keep it?), my kids would like me to add that the phone is AWESOME and you can download games (also funded by the wallet system) and the games look AWESOME and can we buy some, please, please, Mom, that would be so AWESOME? And *I* would like to add that there are other descriptive words in their vocabulary, but apparently something about hip cell phone technology brings out the latent 80s teen in them. Gnarly!

(And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)