The Math Muddle Update

The Senate Committee has sent the bill to the Senate, but has modified it to allow students the choice of taking integrated math classes, or a more traditional set of discrete math classes. They have also re-instituted the provisions which allow students with disabilities to substitute classes in order to earn a diploma.

We, personally, have dodged a bullet, but the teachers may now be left scrambling, trying to figure out how to offer completely different classes concurrently, and the senate committee members comments were basically summed up as, “suck it up – you’re teachers and you can figure it out.”

Why, oh why do they meddle in a profession about which they have no clue? Do they issue mandates on how medical professionals examine their patients? Do they issue bills requiring dentists to fill cavities according to a proscribed set of guidelines? Nope, just the educators get the benefit of their omniscient wisdom.

It is no wonder we parents of special needs parents have chronic stress and anxiety, when issues like this face our kiddos. When their very futures hang on the whims of pompous know-it-alls who have the power to change policy at a moments notice. I avoid being political here, but voting is necessary. We need to ensure that level heads prevail with our children’s futures on the line. Vote out the bad, and vote in the good. That is our only power, and it’s on us if we don’t use it, or if we throw it away.

When Government Tries to Make Decisions About Education

It’s an unmitigated disaster. You have people whose only experience in the classroom was as a student, people who don’t understand the depth and breadth of education philosophy or pedagogy, people who bring their own agendas and axes that they would like to grind.

I just finished reading an article that applies to the senate in our state considering a sweeping bill that would make sweeping changes to high school requirements for students with disabilities. You see, my state has already created a quasi-legal situation students with disabilities, creating a separate but equal “track” to “train” kids with cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities in an occupational course of study, with the idea of getting them prepared for the workforce rather than college. And due to the lack of availability for accommodations, modifications, and supports in the traditional course of study, many like my son, have no real choice to make.

calculator-scientificNow they have decided, these wonderfully removed legislators without a lick of educational background, that the provision that allows for the integrated math course taken over the course of the occupation program is insufficient, and that disabilities be damned, no student will graduate without taking four consecutive and specific years of math. You can’t do your times tables? Screw you kid. A statement from the nonprofit Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center said in an alert they sent out Tuesday, “Under this law, if a student – any student – cannot master a math course even more challenging than Algebra II, they cannot earn a high school diploma.”

And we are back to discriminating, folks. Kids who are not allowed to earn a diploma based on the way they were born, based on their neurology. “Here’s an alternative to a diploma, a certificate of completion, which is like a participation award. That should make you happy,” they seem to say. It’s a case of “raising the standards” to look like you are trying to make things better, rather than addressing the very real issues of poor teacher pay, and lack of funding for even textbooks. It’s a case of caring more about your image than the kids of your state. It’s a case of politicians being so completely arrogant in their righteousness that they are literally doing harm to children.

I couldn’t be more disgusted or enraged.

 

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

 

Orientation

high schoolFor most, high school orientation is an exciting time. I watched the 8th graders sit quietly and listen to the high school administration and teachers speak in the auditorium, and afterwards wander the halls, almost running at times they were so excited to see their friends and figure out how the building was laid out. During the presentation they were told what classes they would have to take as a freshman, and that they may not got the electives they want because they build the schedule from seniors down. They were told about foreign language, core classes, Career and Technical Ed classes, and counseling services.

Not once did they mention IEPs or 504s.

Few teachers were there, and only two out of the three counselors for the entire 900-student population were there. It was not a night designed to speak to teachers, or counselors, even though they made themselves available in the hallway after the presentation.

I spoke to the band director who had been a no-show for a meeting the previous day during my lunch period (drove 20 minutes to the school, waited 20 minutes while he was in a meeting with the principal, drove 20 minutes back to work). He took the wind out of my sails by saying The Boy may be able to participate in band second semester if they add a second, more remedial band like they hope to, but that was pretty much our only option at this point. This Boy who adores band, probably has perfect pitch, and wants to be a band director…

I attempted to speak to the counselor in the hallway to find out just how all of this scheduling would happen with us, but another parent cut right in front of me, and by that time I was frustrated, tired, and hungry so we walked away, and I allowed The Boy one more stop in our wandering tour before leaving.

A registration form came home two days ago, and since, again, I had thought this would be handled by the IEP, I emailed The Boy’s special ed teacher, the one who coordinates his program and the IEP meetings. She responded that she is on indefinite medical leave and had no idea, maybe I should email Mrs. X…

I asked The Boy how long his teacher had been gone. “Since last week,” he said.

As a result of all of this, I am disappointed, anxious, angry, and frustrated. And my attempt to meet with the director of special education was met with a promise of a phone call. I’m afraid if she does follow through with the phone call today, she may get an earful.

Special Education should not be an afterthought, an attempt to comply with the law. Special Education should not be something separate that isn’t talked about. Special Education should not be a reason to exclude kids.

And I should not have to pull teeth to find out information about my child’s educational experiences and program in the coming year.

This is unacceptable.

Transition to High School: He Has No Idea

Last week, I wrote about the “attempt” by the district to get some input from The Boy regarding his future for our upcoming IEP meeting during which we will discuss the transition to high school. The amount of effort put into getting his input was exactly one worksheet, borrowed from another school district. At that time, I was too busy shaking my head to know exactly what to do next.

IMG_4678I took that worksheet and put it into a digestible format (PowerPoint), and added some possible answers for The Boy to choose. I didn’t send anything in on the “due date” which was Friday. Over the weekend, I sat down briefly with The Boy and the roughly 15 slides with questions about his future. “Hm,” he’d say. “Go to the next one,” and “I haven’t really thought about that before,” were common responses. To summarize, I got nothin’. Monday, I sent in my responses to the parent survey (it is now Tuesday morning, and they are still in his backpack, by the way), and emailed his special ed teacher to explain that he didn’t have much response to the student survey, and it was either because he really doesn’t have any idea, or he’s not comfortable sharing his ideas at this time. Her response was that she had a simpler survey format she could send home. No doubt copied from the same school district… I replied that I didn’t think it was the format, as I had modified that for him, but the content was the issue, and that he really has no response.

What do they expect? Mom asks 15 questions or hands him the worksheet and they’re magically going to get profound and thoughtful answers to just what is going on inside my son’s brain? For the umpteenth time in the past three years, I have to ask, “Are you NEW here? Do you not know ANYTHING about autism?”

A serious, thoughtful, student-centered approach would be to integrate some of this transition planning throughout the 8th grade year, directly within the “social skills class” curriculum… You know, that curriculum that the principal wants to change willy-nilly based on what she feels like is important for my son? But what do I know?

I sometimes wish I didn’t know how half-assed they are approaching my kid’s education. Maybe ignorance would be bliss. But I do know, and I’m powerless to change the culture of the school and the district. That change has to come from within. I can scream and shout and threaten legal action all I want, but change is terrifyingly slow in education, and even those on the inside are mostly powerless to change it, as well.

My only course of action is to muddle through and shake my head.

 

 

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

We’ve had much discussion over the past few weeks, the school and I, about executive functioning skills and the need for a homework folder so that I know that what comes home needs to be completed/signed/looked at and returned, and the teachers and TA know the same about things that come from home. His teacher offered up a cat folder two weeks ago… via email, and I haven’t seen a single cat folder since.

Last night, while retrieving The Boy’s band music from his backpack, I found a random envelope that said “return by 3/18,” which contained a “Student Dream Sheet” and a “Parent Transition Survey,” which I have filled out multiple times before. The “Student Dream Sheet” is new, however. I took one look at it and immediately thought, “Yeah, right.”

IMG_4678It is a front and back sheet with 15 open-ended questions on it. I get that they can’t supply multiple choice answers because they are trying to understand just what it is The Boy wants to do in his future, but really? Is this the best way? They really think that this is even a possibility for someone who is fairly nonverbal? And it’s “due” in three days?

I don’t even have words at the moment, and I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about it. Yes, he needs to be involved, and ideally answers to “What kind of job do you want when you graduate?” and “Where do you want to live after graduation?” are important for us to have when considering his high school plan. But to expect that I can just sit down with him in an evening and get these answers (no doubt, preferably in full sentences – ha!) belies how little thought, effort, and expertise is behind this whole thing anyway. Shouldn’t an “assessment” for an IEP meeting follow the dictates of the IEP? Shouldn’t educators modify an information-gathering tool to the child with specific special needs?

“Do you have any significant medical problems that need to be considered when determining post school goals?”

Really?

Updates and Upcoming

SPRING IS MY FAVORITE SEASONIt’s almost the end of February, which means it’s almost spring, which means, it’s almost IEP season. And at our next IEP meeting, I have to let the school know what we’ve decided about The Boy’s future – college or no. I’ve since found that isn’t technically accurate, but it may as well be, with all of the extra work The Boy would have to do just to get into college.

Before that time I would like to meet with the high school band director. I sat with The Boy on Tuesday night as his band warmed up for a pre-contest performance, and listened to him play. And that boy can play. I would absolutely hate for him to have to give it up. I also absolutely hate that this district has decided that they can dictate a child’s program and undermine this little thing called an Individualized Education Program

A friend and I have long wanted to meet with the director of special education, and I also think it’s high time we do that, to discuss how high school works here, and how it violates children’s rights. I may also mention a certain band director who has thankfully moved on from my child’s life, but is still negatively affecting those of other kiddos on the spectrum – another friend of mine had to pull her son out of his class because he was being yelled at, as in verbally abused. That’s four kids that I personally know on the spectrum who have been bullied by this guy, that he has attempted to force out of the program, and someone at the district level needs to know.

Before I do all of that, I will have to respond to The Boy’s current educators and see if I can help them connect the dots to try to make it through this school year. I intend to do this without calling another IEP meeting, but via email and a simple suggestion to contact the autism specialist if they are struggling with implementing strategies, and understanding how to help him meet IEP goals.

I sometimes wish I didn’t have to work so that I could have the time to properly manage all of this. And then I think, if I didn’t have to work, I would probably homeschool at this point, and wouldn’t have to!

I Can’t Fix This

“He must have neglected to turn it in.”

This is what The Boy’s language arts special education teacher told me when I let her know I had sent in the reading log for last week. She also said she doesn’t like to go into his backpack because it would be invading his privacy.

While I understand the sentiment, it smacks of ineptitude. That would be like a physical therapist ignoring your issue with your elbow because they didn’t want to ask you to expose it.

She went on to say that he is not completing work in class, which is an IEP goal, because he is spending too much time drawing. His TA (yes, his TA) came up with an incentive program for this, but the teacher claims that because the TA isn’t in her room for her classes, The Boy does not want to participate. And it’s hard because she’s got all the other kids in there.

Well, I’m sorry. Darn it, life is hard, and sometimes you just have to do your job. You can hope and wish and pray that your student with autism will suddenly find his missing executive functioning skills under a desk in the corner, but most people work on them instead. Because that’s what they get paid to do, and that’s what they’re in it for.

Could I call another IEP meeting? Sure. Would it do any good? I think you can cure this as much as you can cure autism itself. I think this is a response email, possibly cc’d to the TA who is the only freaking one at the school with a clue, and maybe we can muddle through the rest of 8th grade.

I hate that my son’s education has come to this. But there are only so many times you can bang your head against a wall. This particular issue is the teacher’s and not The Boy’s. And it’s not my job to fix it.

BANG HEAD HERE

Ask Them to Put It In Writing

Our local chapter of the Autism Society has a regular monthly “Friends and Fun” party at the rec center of a local church where kiddos on the spectrum and their siblings can come and celebrate their birthdays with other kiddos in a non-judgmental setting. We set up some games like Twister, and there are ping pong tables, and then there are also some more structured games, but no one is forced to play, only encouraged. There are snacks, cupcakes, balloons, and even presents for the birthday kids. For kiddos who attend and are not celebrating a birthday, it’s a chance to get some social interaction on their own terms.

It’s also an opportunity for autism parents to meet and vent about issues their having, seek comfort from those who understand, and even advice. This past weekend, I struck up a conversation with a mom who I have come to respect because of her knowledge of special education law, and her commiseration with the state of our school district when it comes to autism awareness. Over the past couple of months, I have been sharing with her what I’ve found out about the transition to high school, and she is eager to hear because her son is about two years behind The Boy.

I told her that it seems like we have two choices, and that the IEP will not be the driving force behind The Boy’s education, as it should be. I told her that I’m not sure how far I would get fighting the system as it is without involving lawyers and spending money I don’t have.

She shared a tip that worked for her, and I thought I would share it with you, as well.

When her son transitioned from primary to elementary school, they attempted to put him in the resource room for the entire day, even though he had had success at the primary school with the proper supports. She knew he could handle general ed classes with continued support and that the school was making this decision based on staffing. She simply told them to put their rationale for their decision in writing. Quickly, the school changed their tune, and her son was placed in general ed classes with supports.

Why?

Because when they put something in writing, they have to be able to defend it legally and they couldn’t. This tip is brilliant. It may not work as well for big issues, but for the smaller ones, it most definitely will, especially when you are dealing with personnel who are not all that familiar with the law, but know enough that putting things in writing could potentially come back to bite them in the ass.

Add this tip to your bag of tricks and pass it on. It’s simple, but potentially powerful.

ed law 101

My Valentine to Those Who Get It

I’m so grateful for staff who get it.

Let’s face it. People don’t go into special education for the money. Whether a teacher, a TA, even a special education administrator… they all go into it for the right reasons. At least I hope so, and intuition and experience tell me this must be true. But just like any profession, there are those who are just naturally meant to do it, and there are those who lack some skills and somehow never pick them up.

As a parent of someone with an IEP, I’ve encountered all kinds of educators, and luckily almost all of them had their hearts in the right place. That I can work with. And I’ve learned to work with those who call in a panic because they don’t know what to do, or those who call because my son has a temperature… of 99 degrees. Or those who send me multiple emails, giving me the play-by-play of the meltdown they are trying to handle at school, all with the undertone of please-come-pick-him-up…

My Valentine to Those Who Get ItBut I am especially grateful for those that just do it, as if they were put on this planet for that express purpose. They do it with compassion and insight, with fortitude and humor. The one who, in the midst of a less than stellar day, emails me to let me know that even then, she notices improvement. The one who, after a string of days of heartbreaking behavior, simply says, “Tomorrow will be a better day,” and I know she believes it. The one who always texts me after the meltdown to let me know it’s all ok.

This is my valentine to you folks. The ones who make me a better parent, and make my child a better human being for having been cared for by you. Words cannot express how much I love you all. Keep on rockin’ your natural talents and making the Earth a better place to live. ❤