Friday, June 06, 2008

Special Ed: My Experience Introduction

Another school year is about to end and my feelings about the system have not changed even a little bit. My advice for anyone who suspect any kind of learning delay, behavior or emotional issues or any other significant special need pay close attention to me when I say... Make your requests for evaluations in writing the moment you think it matters because no matter what--it will take a lot longer then a well meaning parent might expect.

I have learned a lot of lessons about getting my children the services they need in school and the most important things I have learned have been...

All about the same old cliche's of "The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil" kinds of morals of the story.

While it may have been different when we were children, and we may have attended schools where our teachers and the administration were all in it for the same reasons parents were--those days are gone. In the past our teachers may have had no problem going the extra step to help a struggling child, today they Don't even notice unless it has been written as a goal on the Individual Education Plan (IEP).

If your children are attending public schools from my experience teachers and educators seem to think they are not being paid to Notice. As long as no one notices that a child is struggling then no one is responsible to demonstrate how they made any effort to help the child--and no one has to fill out paperwork or plan a special meeting if no one notices there is a child dealing with issues that effect their educational experience.

The biggest mistake I made with my little ones, has been to believe that the public schools would be responsible to me and lead the way for making sure my children had the best chance and educational supports that are promised and guaranteed under the federal "No Child Left Behind" laws.

In the time before the teachers and educators had to fill out pages of documentation, hold meetings with parents under certain legal methods and disclose our child's rights to us the schools were able to use their own judgement and give a child the support they needed without making a court case over the whole issue. Now, the schools have so many legal obligations that a teacher who would like to care about a student doesn't dare be the one to open the can of worms.

In the old day's a teacher might just call the parents and let them know that Little Johnny was having a hard time learning to read. The teacher and the parents might discuss some ideas that may help, and little Johnny might have some extra quality tutoring after school or during lunch for a few weeks. A little effort and communication between Johnny's teacher and parents with the common goal of helping Johnny learn to read was often resolved with just a small amount of effort from a teacher who was free to actually care about the fact Johnny was struggling.

Today, the teacher cannot do this. The teacher needs to have a piece of paper that say he or she is "Required to Care" and specifically what the teacher is required to care about. The teacher can't just pick up the phone and make a plan of action with the parents because that requires a legal document. And the schools need to be careful about how they spend the extra money it takes to create the legal documents the order for the teachers to care about the specifically stated things everyone agrees needs to be cared about.

So the teacher who sees a child who might be helped with just a little extra effort can't even give that child a little extra attention without costing the school district additional funds. Even if the those funds are only used to create and support the process of making sure the legal paperwork is in order allowing the teacher to care.

Funding is always a big concern and of course the schools want to meet the legal mandates of the special needs children in order to qualify for more funding... But, they also don't want to have too many children getting too much attention because that all leads to paperwork and legal obligations which cost money and use up the funding for process rather then the delivery of service. So for the public school system today it's better to just pretend they don't notice a child has a problem.

If no one sees the problem then there won't be any need for the time and money to make sure there is the legal document allowing the teacher to care. The school has enough to deal with keeping things right for those children who do have their papers letting the school take some time to help and care by giving a little attention to a child who needs some help. The last thing they need are any more IEP meetings or papers to keep updated and sorted out.

It boils down to the parents and today the parent of Little Johnny might be worried he is struggling to learn to read but, his teachers will hold a straight face when his parents start asking questions. The teacher may even give some helpful support to Johnny's parents even some additional educational materials to work with Johnny at home. The teacher might even agree that Johnny has a little problem and may benefit from some more Help...But, the teacher isn't going to do much more unless Johnny's parents understand the ball is in their court.

The fact is that until Johnny's mom and dad actually make a written request that the teachers and school evaluate the suspicion that Johnny is having having a problem learning to read--No One is going to do much more about it at school. Without that written request the school isn't paid to care more then they do. Your written request for evaluations triggers any kind of "No Child Left Behind" mandates and makes it possible for the school administration and teachers to care by offering them a rule book with all the procedures and steps required to prove They Do Care. The only way to get that paper giving the school permission to care is for everyone involved to jump though the painful process, extra steps and requirements, time and school funds in order to write the paper that tells the teacher they can care about a child's special needs.

My experience has been that by the time Johnny's parents understand the school isn't going to care without the Individual Education Plan IEP) telling them they have too care under federal mandate--a whole school year slips by. Parents come to realize by the end of April that there is something Johnny needs and that it appears the school needs to be told they Have to find out what that is? The whole straight face denial that Johnny has a problem is in fact the effort to make Johnny's parents prove they have gone every extra step to help him at home first.

If Johnny's parents are the type who believe that the School would surely notify them if their son had a learning disability and waits like polite people for the school to make an issue out of it... Then Johnny might not get any help for Years.

The fact is parents need to learn how to Not be so nice about it, and to not expect the school to initiate special education service. Even when there are 100 red-flags indicating there is a need. In the end it is Now the parents who are responsible.

We are responsible to know where our children should be progressing with their education and what they should be able to do at what age. We are responsible for understanding the process of accessing the services we believe our child needs. The parents are the Only Advocate for the child at the schools and securing the required documents to have our child's needs even recognized is not even half of the battle.

If there is any question in your mind about your child and the possibility your child may need just a little extra help to recieve the most benefit from attending school then don't wait for the school to tell you. The only option to access services is to initiate them in writing. Request an evaluation for your child's needs and start the time-clock ticking so that you might get someplace before this time next year.

Submit your concerns about your child's education and your concerns about the possible need for special services in writing and make the letter as detailed as possible. My next blog on this subject will go over a few more details about getting ready to Advocate for your child's special education needs.

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