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The Right Decision Done Right

  • Posted on February 14, 2014 at 10:00 AM

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!

Special Education Special: Placement

  • Posted on April 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM

For the last few months we’ve been struggling with Ben’s new school to reestablish the environment we expected Ben to receive when he was moved from his old elementary school to this new school. Finally, finally, finally we achieve that goal, and Ben’s behaviors and his academic progress are already seeing dramatic improvements.

So, why then, at his latest IEP, did the principal inform me that the environment Ben needed would not be available next year due to space requirements?

For those who may not be familiar with special education law, placement—including the environment in which services are received—is a decision that is supposed to be made based on the child’s needs, not on the basis of “administrative convenience.” This obviously includes Ben’s classroom environment, which is obviously a big, big issue considering Ben has lost several months of academic progress due to inappropriate placement.

So, after having proven, two years running, that environment is a big factor in Ben’s needs and having countless meetings to “figure this out” again, why would they change his placement for next year?

It looks like this is going to become an even bigger battle than we’ve already been through. So, what’s your child(ren)’s placement like? Does your child(ren)’s placement meet the child’s individual needs or the convenience of the school district? What have you done about it?

Too Tight = Too Soon

  • Posted on May 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Okay, so as I’ve reported, Ben was “suspended” from school.  We had our meeting on Friday to discuss what we needed to do to get Ben back in school.  As you may also know, I’ve been working with Dr. Vaughn Lauer, a fellow writer who is also an expert in the field of special education.  I’m currently editing a book he has lined up with a publisher, which coaches parents through the questions to ask during an IEP meeting.

My “sneak peek” at this material was immediately helpful.  It was proposed that we start the meeting off by going over Ben’s existing Behavioral Intervention Plan.  As per the book, I countered by saying that I would prefer to start by describing (or having described to me) the behaviors that triggered this meeting.  I asked questions to gain more information and I discovered that last week (the week of the bad behaviors) was a major transition for Ben.

You see, Ben had been struggling.  He wasn’t making enough progress to meet his goals.  So, because Ben needed it and because they would have an “extra” person for a limited amount of time, we started an experiment in which Ben would receive one-on-one support and would be in a smaller, less busy environment outside his special education classroom.  The week in question was the week they were transitioning him back to the special education classroom.  He was still getting the extra support, but he was getting that support back in the super busy classroom.

We also learned that the one-on-one support outside of that environment had been working.  His aggressive behaviors had decreased and his educational gains had increased.  In transitioning him back to the busy environment before he was ready, his aggressive behaviors had gotten worse.  So, basically, Ben was being “punished” for bad behaviors that were triggered by a situation outside of his control that adversely impacted his educational progress.  In other words, he was trying to tell us in the only way he had available that he was not ready to go back into that busy classroom—that place was too overwhelming for him to function in.

As we discussed what to do with this information, I pointed out—in a non-confrontational manner—that the only reason we couldn’t continue with what was working was because the district was experiencing significant financial hardships.  The budget was too tight to provide Ben with one-on-one support.  It was also too soon to transition Ben back to the classroom.  And, once I’d put it that way, it was suggested that Ben should continue to receive the one-on-one support that he needed, and that he could continue to receive this support.

This was a major victory for Ben.  This was exactly what he needed.  Then, the only thing left to discuss was whether kicking Ben out of school was an action taken too soon.  See, as you might remember, when Ben saw me he was better.  Then, I took him home.  We determined, if the need should arrive again, that I should try calming him down to see if he could stay.  That way bad behavior isn’t rewarded with a break from school.  We also discussed not sending him on an all-day field trip.  And, we determined that sending him and Alex to school when their classes would be gone on a field trip I’d refused to allow the boys to attend, would be a mistake, because they’d be going to school, but everything would be different—so they’re both staying home that day.

One more thing was brought up and that was the question of placement.  This one-on-one support is the last trick in the bag of resources available to this school.  The district representative suggested that, after we tried this for the rest of the year, we should consider the possibility of placing Ben in a different school next year.  So, there will be (at least) one more meeting this year.  *sigh*