Power, Peers, and a Sad Evening: Part III

tuba practice

Last Tuesday, The Boy took me to lunch with a gift card Poppy had given him to do just that. I picked him up from Grammy’s, and we went to McDonald’s. Somewhere along the way, I asked him if he was still sad about the concert.

“Hm,” he said, indicating he didn’t have a ready answer.

“Or maybe you haven’t been thinking about it too much,” I suggested.

“Yeah, I haven’t been thinking about it much,” he parroted back. “I just wish it hadn’t have happened.”

“Me too,” I said. “Those kids made a poor choice, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they did.”

I told him a little bit of the conversation I had with the principal. He asked if the band director had done anything about it. I told him the kids had had to talk to the principal and Mr. Collins about their choices. “The principal didn’t think the kids did it to be mean, though. What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“It’s hard to tell if someone is just being mean, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“They told the principal they did it because you were playing wrong notes.”

“I wasn’t playing wrong notes!” he said, alarmed.

“Even if you were, it still wasn’t their place. You don’t touch other people’s instruments.”

“No, you don’t touch other people’s instruments,” he agreed.

I asked him to tell me if anything like that happened again, and our conversation moved on to other things. He’s sad because he can’t get that performance back. I think he knows the kids treated him differently than they would have treated a neurotypical kid. I think he’s wondering why they did it. I needed him to know the jist of what had been said at the meeting and what the kids involved had said to the principal. He has a right to know. Along with the right to play.

 

Band Plan

I met last week with the high school band director who had attempted to tell me that he didn’t think marching band was a good idea for The Boy, based on the experiences of a boy on the spectrum that had been in it last year. By the way, that boy is a friend of ours and busted his behind for that group, and found it very difficult to make friends in this marching band, but I digress… The high school special education teacher was there too, and I’m so glad she facilitated. She looks like she will be a rockstar for The Boy, and unfortunately, he needs a strong advocate in his own school system.

Shockingly, the band director had changed his tune a bit, although he did point out that the middle school band director also thought marching band would not be a good idea for The Boy, either. “But I’m not closing the door…” he said. Kinda hard when my foot is wedged in it, huh?

IMG_5331I had come prepared with a list of applicable laws, just in case, and a list of modifications and alternatives. Turns out, I didn’t need the laws (since he wasn’t “closing the door”), and when I suggested the first alternative, they both seemed receptive. After hashing out some details, we devised a plan: The Boy will play at Friday night football games only, and will play his sousaphone in the “pit” section, which is where the semi-stationary percussion instruments like xylophones and timpani are. This will allow him to participate without having to learn the “drill” (complicated moves), and without having to rehearse after school every day. He will be in the marching band class, but if they are not rehearsing music, the band director may send The Boy to English with the special education teacher, where he can work on any homework he may have, or get a second “dose” of a subject in which he has deficits.

And he will be in concert band in the spring, regardless of whether or not there is a second, “lower” band.

So, we have successfully shoved that damned door wide open, and created a place for my kid in their program. See how much can be accomplished with open minds at the table?

Battle over Band

In a week, I’ll meet with the high school band director and the high school special education teacher, and hopefully walk away with a plan for The Boy to be able to continue participating in band.

If you recall, after missing a meeting with me, the band director told me at orientation that he didn’t think The Boy should be in marching band, but there was a possibility that concert band in the spring could work out for him.

When I mentioned this to the Director of Special Ed for the district, a phone call was made to the high school principal to discuss it, apparently. Why? Because it is against the law to deny a special education student access to curricular, extra-curricular or co-curricular programs.  Which law? IDEA is pretty explicit, and in fact, if The Boy wanted to, he should be afforded all supports for the extra- and/or co-curricular programs that he is afforded in his regular classes (i.e. if he has an aide in class, then he should have an aide on the field in marching band, helping him learn his drill).

In fact, marching bands across the country have embraced their roll as an opportunity for students with disabilities. Kids with autism, kids with CP, kids in wheelchairs, and there is even an entire drum corps made up of kids with special needs.

Yet, this guy thinks he can tell my kid no. Or rather, he thought he could until I squeaked.

Now, will The Boy be up for all of the summer, evening, and weekend rehearsals that often entail grueling hours in the sun? Probably not. Will he be able to learn an entire drill and carry a sousaphone that whole time? Probably not. But there has to be a place for kids like mine, and if there isn’t one, we’ll create it.

You can’t just say no, sorryboutchya. And why would you?

IMG_3890

 

This Battle’s Not for Us

I was thankful for one of The Boy’s former teachers last week. She’s the one they moved to a different school this year, and we’ve missed her sorely.It’s funny to think that when we wanted to move him to his current school, she was not in favor and didn’t think he was right for the program, and she is now one of his biggest advocates.

I voiced all of my concerns over this Occupational Course of Study (OCS) with her – that he wouldn’t be in the least restrictive environment (LRE), he wouldn’t have access to his general ed peers, and he may not be able to take band.

She talked me off the ledge. She made me see some things from a different perspective, and made me realize that if I have to choose, this program could work for The Boy. And that he has every right to be in band, although logistically, he may only be able to be in it for one semester.

And I can live with that, as long as they make the “occupational” part of it something in which The Boy has interest. He won’t be folding towels at the hospital if I can help it.

But that’s not what I’m telling the district. I had contacted the director of special ed, as she had been an ally in getting The Boy his current placement, and had earned my respect. I wanted a meeting, but she said she would call me instead due to expediency. Except that all she wanted to do was sell me the OCS program, and I wasn’t going to let her. I wanted her to explain how it was legal, without placing kids in their LRE. After she figured out I wasn’t going to be sold, she told me she would set up a meeting with the transition coordinator (with whom I already met and wasn’t all that impressed) and the occupational coordinator. She told me she would get back to me the following week. That was last week, and she didn’t.

When I emailed her again yesterday, she said that the transition coordinator had been waiting for my call to answer my questions… What?

I sent an email – you know the one. The one I crafted for an hour, making sure to sprinkle acronym bombs all over the place so she would remember that I wasn’t some ignorant parent who didn’t know anything about student rights or IDEA.

Lo and behold, she was able to set up a meeting after all. For tomorrow. Fancy that!

But, I’ll be honest. This meeting isn’t really for us. I don’t expect them to re-design the entire high school setup for us, because they won’t. I don’t expect them to wave a magic wand and put him in band all year, because they won’t. I don’t expect to hear much but placating platitudes. But I want them to know that I know. And I want them to know that I’m not going away, so that if something isn’t working, I’ll be back. And I want them to know that there is a whole host of kids coming up through their schools, and that if I know that what they’re doing is illegal, they better damn well know that those kids’ parents will know it too. And they better think about just what they are going to do about that.

high school

 

IEPs and Trust

It’s IEP season again, and we have our appointment set.  We’ve also had a curious email from The Boy’s program teacher.  She was excited to tell me that they were going to offer science and social studies in a special ed classroom next year, as well as math and language arts, which The Boy already has.  He would be with students who are “academically equivalent” to him, but in classes taught by resource teachers. He would still have access to her social skills class and his elective classes.

IEP documentationConsidering the goal of special education is to place students in the least restrictive environment, and considering he would lose virtually all access to his neurotypical peers, I politely pointed out that I did not think this would be an appropriate placement for The Boy.  His program teacher cautioned me not to make any decisions just yet, because she felt this would be a good placement for him “due to his academics”.  Curious, because The Boy has gotten all A’s and B’s this year. I told her I wouldn’t rule it out, but at this time, I didn’t think it would work for him.

I added a post-script, and asked if she thought the pilot program in which The Boy participates in the Middle School would extend to the high school, to which she replied that she didn’t think so.

Fast-forward to a few days ago, when I heard from a friend whose son is in the program, as well.  She said she heard they may not continue the program at all, as in not even for next year’s 8th graders… And the tumbler clicks into place.

Even though I trust this person with my child each day, I cannot take her suggestions to heart because I fear she has been directed to encourage me to accept this put-all-the-kids-in-resource-room plan so that they can both comply with IEPs and discontinue the program. Once we change the IEP to say he needs to be in resource, they no longer have to fund a paraprofessional to be with him in his general ed classes. It’s not what’s best for the kids, but what’s best for the school district.

Silly school district! They continue to underestimate me, because I know the law, and I know my son’s rights.  They are going to have to have data to back up that he is “academically lacking” in his general ed classes to show that he needs so much more support as to be placed in a self-contained classroom, and removed from the general ed curriculum.  And they don’t have it.

Let the games begin.

Teachers: Please Educate Yourselves about IEPs and the Law

School LawLet me preface this by saying that I know the struggles faced by teachers everyday.  I understand the Sisyphean nature of the job, and that it is almost impossible to stay on top of all of the various responsibilities. When I taught, I quickly learned to prioritize those responsibilities, putting the ones that directly impacted kids at the very top.

Knowing your responsibilities to your special education students, and the legal ramifications if those responsibilities aren’t met should be one of your top priorities.

If you’ve followed Simple. I Just Do for awhile, you know that we encountered teachers at the beginning of The Boy’s 6th grade year who acted as if they had never had an autistic students in their classrooms before.  I had to become “that mom” just to ensure that The Boy was receiving the very basic modifications and accommodations.  Truthfully, his IEP was being violated on a daily basis.  Comments from teachers during that time included:

  • “He refused to take the test, so I gave him a zero”
  • “He doesn’t do any work in my room, so he needs to be in the special ed room during my class”
  • “He should take the test the same day as the rest of the class because we have other lessons that he would miss out on”
  • “If he doesn’t understand something, I don’t know how to help him because he won’t tell me what he doesn’t understand”

I have also found that classroom teachers in this state do not modify assignments themselves, most likely because they do not know how.  Somehow, providing these modifications is the responsibility of the special education teacher.  This was not the case in my training and experience up north.

Here’s the thing.  You, as a teacher, can be sued (and possibly have to pay damages out of your own pocket) for not following the IEP, and claiming ignorance will not be a sufficient defense.  Claiming that the special ed teacher didn’t make the modifications for you will not be a sufficient defense. You are responsible for knowing the law (IDEA and ADA, for starters), and for following it, by providing each student’s appropriate modifications.

This past week, I had to be “that mom” again, and send several emails to remind three different teachers about the modifications The Boy is supposed to be receiving.  In one response, from the band director, he mentioned that he was “willing to let (The Boy) play for” the band festival performance that same week, but that he did “not want him to participate in the sight reading portion.”

The Boy has a right to access the same curriculum as his peers, therefore he has a right to participate in both the band festival and the sight reading portion.  And it is the band director’s responsibility to know that.