Ben’s IEP meeting went better than expected, just as I hoped. When I invited the gentlemen from the Richardson School, I informed Ben’s teacher that I was doing so. I knew the school’s reaction would be to have someone with especial authority from the district attend as well, and that’s what I wanted to see. It wasn’t a manipulation, I assure you. I genuinely wanted the gentlemen to attend and I genuinely wanted their input. I knew, however, that the IEP team would need more authority than usual in order to make a truly effective placement decision. So, the extra authority was necessary and welcome, even if other parents might feel the district was stacking the deck against them.
You see, I wasn’t going into the meeting with the intention of “winning” what I wanted from the district. If I learned anything from editing Vaughn’s book, it’s this: What I want isn’t important, what the school district wants to provide isn’t important, the only thing that’s truly important is what the child needs. Getting Ben what he needed was my only goal.
They opened the meeting by telling me their objectives: determining whether Ben continued to qualify for special education services (he does); reviewing past progress (which we did); and setting his goals for the next year (which we also did). They then asked me what my concerns were, since it was obvious that I had at least one. I told them that my main concern was regarding Ben’s academic progress compared to state standards and his placement.
I was then given the opportunity to address these concerns and basically build a platform that would be addressed throughout the meeting. I explained that, as I saw it, Ben had reached the point where he was especially open to learning. My fear, then, was that if this window of opportunity wasn’t taken advantage of, he’d grow frustrated and the window would close. I knew that was a real possibility, because that’s what seems to have happened with Alex; which is not to say there will never be another window, but that it is an opportunity too precious to miss. My goal was to make sure Ben was placed in an environment where this window would be taken advantage of, where he’d learn and be challenged.
We talked about the progress Ben has made so far this year. As it turned out, he was making a lot more progress with social skills and language than had previously been reported to me. He was no longer spending his entire day in an isolated environment. He would have visitors and he would go around visiting, using practical language skills throughout the day. He had also made significant academic progress and his goals were either attained or emerging. As I put it, Ben tends to get stuck on a frequency. If the adults around him can tune into his frequency, they can access what he’s really capable of and help him develop that. His new teacher can!
It was great to hear. As the meeting progressed and the accomplishments piled up, I knew that we wouldn’t be changing Ben’s placement. I wasn’t disappointed the way a few seemed to expect. The point was not to get Ben “where I wanted him to be,” but to make sure Ben got to be where he needed to be. With the new teacher, he was right where he needed to be!
We talked about past goals, we talked about new goals, we talked about formal testing and accommodations and upcoming changes to state testing instruments. We talked about Ben’s services and what he needed to achieve his goals. There was a lot of excitement in the room, because Ben was doing quite well, and there was no hostility.
Then, we started talking about placement. I made it clear (directing my comments to the senior district representative) that this discussion shouldn’t be about what the district had available (she nodded) or about what I wanted (she nodded again), but that the decision was supposed to be based on what’s best for Ben (she nodded and smiled). I described briefly how the decision to transfer Ben from Kennedy to Wilson was made, how the decision was presented to me as “It’s either Kennedy or Wilson and Kennedy doesn’t work, so it’s Wilson.”
At this point, someone from Wilson broke in and asserted how much Wilson had done for Ben, basically defending the school. The hostility was suddenly palpable, and it was obvious to the right people that the hostility wasn’t coming from me. So, when I had a chance to speak again, I reiterated my point that this wasn’t about Wilson, but about making sure Ben was placed where he needed to be to take advantage of the open window. I made it clear that I wasn’t “against” Wilson and that I definitely recognized the teacher’s skill and connection with Ben. My point was that, for Ben’s best interests, we needed to have an open, honest discussion about where Ben needed to be, knowing there were real options (like the Richardson School), instead of anyone telling me there was only one choice.
That’s exactly the kind of discussion we had. And, in the end, considering the dramatic progress Ben is making, we decided—as a team—that Ben would stay at Wilson. The people from the Richardson school even said, “You’ve got a great team here and while, a year ago, yeah, Richardson might have been the right place for him, but he’s already making the kind of progress we like to see in our students.” I agreed. The point, however, was this time around it was a team decision made with real options, which is what it’s supposed to be.
I can handle the hostility. I’m especially glad I’m not the only one who saw it—I was looking at the senior district person when the person in question started her “defense” and her face was sufficiently expressive considering I was looking for her reaction. Hopefully things will improve in that quarter now, too!