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?

Presumption of Competence

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned since moving my son to another school, another school district, another state has been that one should never presume competence with anyone who deals with your child.

 Unfortunately, classroom teachers know very little about IEPs and special education law.  It just isn’t required of them in teacher prep programming, and if it is, there’s very little of substance that is taught. Many times, when a teacher is in your child’s IEP meeting, they are following the lead of the special education teacher and the administrators. If they do any modifying of assignments, or make any accommodations for your child, it’s usually under the direction of a special education teacher (and many don’t do it at all, and leave this entirely to the special education teachers and even the TAs). This is not the case with all general education classroom teachers by any means, but if you presume competence about special education matters, you will most likely be unhappily surprised.

The same can be said of administrators. Those that know about special education law are in a shocking minority. I worked for and received a degree in school administration, and only a portion of our one law class covered special education law. Administrators rely heavily on their special education teachers to know the law, as well.

Why is this important? When you head into that IEP room, you are relying on the expertise of one person, your child’s special education teacher, to ensure that what is happening that day is legal, and that you’re child’s rights are being met. And if that person isn’t quite up to snuff? Then what?

It is imperative that you learn about what should be happening in that IEP meeting, in your child’s classrooms, in that whole district. Get your hands on anything from Wrightslaw and read it until you know it. Otherwise, your IEP meeting could be “run” by and administrator who wants to reduce your child’s social skills time, and have the TA take him out into the school to practice unlearned skills because that’s what she thinks should happen. (true story…)

With the proper knowledge behind you, you can respond, “But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

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.

Raising the village

The Boy and I walked down to the park a few days ago, which is about 3 blocks away.  It was evening, and there was a multitude of baseball games being played on the diamonds.  We were headed for the playground, because team sports aren’t really our thing.

Often, at this park, parents are attending their children’s games, and will send their younger children to the playground area to have something to do while their big brother plays baseball.  Not usually a problem, but not much adult supervision in the playground as a result.

Tonight, I noticed there were some older kids hanging out on the periphery of the playground — a small group of boys on one bench, a slightly larger group of girls on the swings nearby, and another group of boys sitting in the slide, preventing the kids from using it, throwing things, and being a general nuisance.  I watched this group for a bit, giving them my best, meanest, evilest teacher eye, which had absolutely no effect.  A dad of one of these boys came over, spoke to one of the boys, and this group gave up their perch and moved behind the other two groups of kids.  Now, as this was happening, I could overhear the first group of boys swearing, but I didn’t say anything because it was in their private conversation, and I didn’t think any of the nearby kids could hear it.

As soon as Group Of Boys 2 moved behind these other two groups, the whole mating ritual began with the trash talk between the groups, and the swearing, getting louder.

My son, bless his heart, watched an episode of Spongebob a month or two ago, and has been fascinated with the concept of “bad words” ever since.  As you may or may not know, kids with autism will often have these little obsessions over weeks, months, and even years (God, I hope this one doesn’t last that long!).

I believe The Boy heard one of the girls swearing, and went up to her and told her she shouldn’t be using words like that (because that’s how he rolls).  She proceeded to swear directly at him (or so I gather), because he laughed and ran to me saying that she owed him a quarter.  Yes, this is a recent addition to our conversations, when the adults in his life let one slip.

As the swearing continued at a higher volume level, my inner teacher/assistant principal came out of nowhere and yelled across to them, “Hey!  Do you think you could stop swearing?  I mean you ARE at a playground.  There’s little kids around!”

And do you think they said “Yes, Ma’am.  Sorry, Ma’am”?  No, I am sad to say, they did not.  They got even louder, sprinkled their speech with even more foul language, and started yelling about their First Amendment Rights.  I told them that it is indeed against the law to swear in front of children in our state, and that they should look that up.

Luckily, The Boy’s timer was about to go off, and when it did, we left.  But not before I looked up the Police Department’s non-emergency number.  Dialed it as we were leaving and informed them of the group of swearing belligerent youth in the playground.  If they won’t respect a random adult, maybe they’d respect one in uniform.

Kids of any age, shape, color or size need to be called out on their bad behavior in public.  And I say that thinking of the old biddy on our train who shook her head and made loud disapproving noises when The Boy and I were riding to Chicago when he was a toddler, obviously aimed at his rambunctious (little-did-we-know-it-then-autistic) behavior.  So to qualify, in the absence of a parent or other adult figure, when children are trying to get away with poor behavior, we citizens of society need to stand in the place of those parents and guardians who would no doubt disapprove, and call them out.

I know we hesitate because it feels like we’re meddling in someone else’s business, or judging someone else’s parenting.  It’s NOT that.  It’s creating an immediate consequence for a negative behavior.  That’s how they learn to be human beings.

What say you?  Would you stand up and call out a kid that’s not yours?  Have you done this?  Share your story below.