Tomorrow, John and I get to attend another Individualized Education Program aka IEP meeting at our oldest son's elementary school. This is I believe is the 4th for the year in addition to planning / pre-planning meetings.
In this particular case, we thought our IEP for the rest of the year was fairly complete and that our next meeting would be to discuss transition from elementary to middle school. Unfortunately, a negative social incident happened on the playground at the school among a group of children including our son and during the problem resolution / restitution stage, our son's IEP was not brought into play or followed and there was a lot of embarrassment, frustration and humiliation for our son and a couple of his peers that could have been mostly prevented. The reason given was that there had recently been some staff changes and absences and as such, on the day of the issue, none of his IEP team were there to assist.
I understand stuff happens and as the parent of two children on the autism spectrum, I KNOW unexpected and unpredictable things occur but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be some sort of back-up plan in place and that if a child (any child) is brought into a staff member's office for problem solving / incident resolving, that the staff member (even if transitional or a substitute) should check and see if the child has an IEP first which addresses the potential issue.
Okay, as our kiddo's Mom, I was upset, frustrated, disappointed and confused. My husband was that and then some. Amplify it!!! We both were just shocked and wondered what good is an IEP if it isn't applied?? If there are staff changes on our son's "team", shouldn't we be notified? Shouldn't HE be introduced to his new case manager and the team supporting him? How can they advocate for him, especially in transitioning from elementary to middle school if they haven't even met him and it's a month and a half until the end of the year?
Of course when I wrote to the school, I toned everything down into a concerned but polite and professional letter requesting a meeting so that all new parties could be introduced and our son's IEP could be revised further so that it was more specific and less general in regards to social incidents. To the school's credit, we received a nice phone call the next day and a meeting was arranged. Let's just hope and pray it all goes to everyone's mutual benefit!
Let me clarify that I don't want to get down on the school or its staff. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and if we want to help empower our children, we have to be professional, positive and passionate for our child but respective of the ones helping them.
My husband and I want to partner with them but it's not always the easiest thing to do when they have so many children to take care of. This is a very well respected school with excellent teachers, one of the best public school rankings in the state and a progressive special education program throughout their district.
Unfortunately, the district also serves 27,000 students in 35 schools. Special needs programs are overflowing. Classroom sizes are going up and budgets are going down. Can you imagine how many IEPs they go through? I know just in our son's 5th grade of about 125 students, there are at least 5 with a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder and I know there are others with IEPs for ADHD and other special needs. It's WAY more than the 1 in 110 ratio that's out there for ASDs.
Even the best intentioned systems and staff have their challenges. So do well intentioned parents and kiddos too.
I do think that John and I will be well prepared going into tomorrow's meeting and if we can keep our emotions in check and keep thinking about the best interest of our son, it should go well. We are going to be proactive and positive and hopefully that energy will be all around the room.
Incidentally, John and I went to a meeting tonight that was all about IEPs. It was put on by the district and was for parents of children from preschool to 21 who were in the district's special education program. There were maybe 75 people there, mostly women. I recognized a few faces of others who had attended autism support group meetings in our city. We almost weren't able to go because we had no childcare but at the last minute two neighborhood babysitters were available who did a great job. I think they were very pleased with their payday, LOL. (John and I joked that if we keep paying so well, next time, we'll have 8 babysitters show up!)
Anyway, at the IEP meeting there was an introduction of the new Special Education Director and then there were breakout sessions. John sat in the group for pre-school - 4th grade and I sat in on the group focusing on middle-schoolers and 5th grade transitions. I learned that there are a lot of very well meaning people involved in special education but that there are a lot of inconsistencies in the district from school to school, program to program. When questions would come up, parents would invariably get referred back to their personal team.
I got the business card of the Assistant Director of Special Services and we talked for a few minutes since I mentioned my son's next IEP meeting was tomorrow and that there were some concerns with his current program being applied as well as confusion with how the transition to middle school works. She was aware of various staff changes in our son's school and seemed like an excellent resource and dedicated person to call upon in case we have additional challenges.
I do remain hopeful and I will continue this tomorrow with a blog about how the IEP went.
By the way, I invite you to check out my husband's blog, Life and Times of John Krejcha. He did a better job than me talking about the IEP stuff today and he always has some other interesting tidbits of life as well!
Thanks for stopping by!