Yes. I know I missed a blog in April. It has just been too busy to write. Many of our preschool children are transitioning into Kindergarten. Some have been with us for 3 years and have come such a long way. I am excited, their parents are excited, everyone thrilled that many of their disabilities have dramatically improved. All we want is for the public school to provide a program that will allow them to continue to grow and learn and be happy. So when the March meetings in the local school districts started for the parents in our school, I had no idea what lie ahead. One day after another, however, they sobbed on the telephone after leaving the eligibility and IEP meetings. The schools only wanted to talk about placement. Nobody would write an IEP before discussing placement. If the child was given an “autistic” classification, they were automatically given an ABA program- the same ABA program! I referred the parents of our preschool graduates to both lawyers and nonlawyers. Some had mediation. The state mediator said that nobody is settling anymore and that everything is going to a hearing. For others, who were afraid to go to a hearing, I went to a second IEP meeting. Again- the litany- Oh! My God! You really are still alive! (This is getting to be an old line. They need to think up a new one.) Each of those cases settled with the parents getting the IEP contents they requested. I’m sure that was because the school district thought I would represent the parents if they did not settle. There is a genuine insanity about it all. Nobody discussed the specifics of the child’s needs. They were only worried that I would show up again. They talked about Inclusion, about “infusion” (therapies will be infused in the general ed curriculum), and I left the meetings needing seclusion!
Our kids cost schools money. But the current economic situation forces immense budget cuts, and creates public fury toward parents of disabled children when they insist on certain expensive testing or certain kinds of individualized instruction. Almost no school is agreeing to independent evaluations anymore. Most would rather litigate that issue than provide the independent testing. Obviously, this is because the testing will show what the child actually needs instead of what the school chooses to provide. No matter what the issue is, when there is a dispute either the parents give up or have to pay for representation. After all of these years, we come back to where we started…if you cannot litigate your case, you may be forced to litigate your case. Either way, everybody looses.
Various list serves have described the growth of RTI, Response to Intervention, as a way to avoid having to test and classify a child. To date, I have never seen a successful effort to serve a disabled child through general education. Children knock on my door as do their parents. “Can you please tutor…Can you please help…” I’ve lived here for 35 years, and this is the first year this has happened to this extent. These kids are all classified. They are all in general education classes. And none of their IEPs show any individualization. They sink or swim in the tide of core curriculum standards. And their young parents have no clue what their rights are. Inclusion is the law, right?
The front page of The New York Times tells the tale (For City Schools, A Mainstreaming on Special Needs, Jennifer Medina, 4/29/10).
This fall, more than 250 schools will be asked to accept more students with disabilities rather than send them to schools that have specific programs for special education, as has been the case for decades. By September 2011, principals at each of the system’s 1,500 schools will be expected to enroll all but the most severely disabled students; those students will continue to be served by schools exclusively to them.
Anything strike you as odd about this? Maybe for starters, that placement is not decided by City Hall but by the IEP team and the parent- after developing the individualized goals and objectives. But this City Hall type edict is everywhere throughout the country- Inclusion and mainstreaming. But an individualized program? Forget it.
This is what has happened. Section 504 was an access statute that required programmatic access, accommodations and modifications. No IEP was discussed or required for placement. Because nobody has enforced IDEA, and parents and schools only think about placement. That would be OK for 504, but not for IDEA. IDEA requires that the individualized program first be written and then placement considered- a totally different mindset and approach than 504. Then there is the famous “medical model”, the educator’s anathema against thinking about a “cure” or medical approach to designing the program. There have been several articles on medical breakthroughs, such as in the field of auditory processing (Little-Known Disorder Can Take a Toll on Learning, Tara Parker-Pop, The New York Times, 4/27/10). Rosie O”Donnell’s son has this disorder and is featured at home with his therapist. There is one sentence in the large article about school: “Help inside the classroom is essential.” It makes you want to pound your head on the floor. All of us know how common this disorder actually is and that the reason that many inner city kids aren’t diagnosed with it is because the schools won’t pay for the testing. Then there is the continuing insistence on medicating children in school with a new book on the value of such medication (We’ve Got Issues, Judith Warner, Riverhead Books, 2010).
Yes, justice really does boil down to the 800 pound gorilla behind the parties in the dispute. If power is not afraid of you, it walks over you and tries to crush you. There are immigration marches, gay marches, all kinds of marches- except one. There has never been a special education march that demanded enforcement of our rights. This abuse is systemic now, so that few know the difference between how it is and how it should be. The only solution, as it was in the past, is the ability to litigate a case when the dispute cannot be resolved. My little preschoolers have the Wicked Witch of the West available if needed. But someday they won’t and that worries me.