Friday, August 28, 2009

School Review

School Review
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

―Benjamin Franklin

Now that school has started, I wanted to recap a few things for everyone. If you want the full articles you can check out the previous blog entries or drop me a line. I’m very pro-education and have tremendous respect for those people who dedicate their lives to our kids. Teachers work 60+ hours a week for little pay and benefits. And for those in the special education world it’s even more time and effort.

As a parent of two special needs kids I want their school year to be as smooth as possible. Today I’m on potty patrol. Sami has an injured arm, leg, and hip so getting on and off the potty is a fragile weight lifting dance. I’m very thankful I have an employer who understands I need to leave when the school calls (and nature calls). I could be bitchy and demand the school deal with things, but I’d rather be flexible now so when I do ask for big things they are more likely to accommodate us.

If you or someone you know is new to the SPED world, here are some tips:

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. This plan came out of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). It is the framework for your child’s day at school and the services they need to receive. Your child must qualify under state and federal criteria to have an IEP; it’s not just a given because they have a disability (this means a day’s worth of testing). All decisions for your child are made by the IEP team which consists of parents, teachers, therapists, a case manager (usually the special education teacher), and a district representative (usually an administrator in the building). No decisions can be made, or actions taken, without the signatures and agreement of every person on the team.

If you have ANY concerns, thoughts, or ideas, you MUST speak up during the meeting and have it documented. This isn’t the time for shyness. Be calm, clear, and open to suggestions. Work with the district to find compromises and solutions. You know your child best and the staff needs to know what tricks work best with your child. Make a list and bring it to the meetings. If he or she needs some quiet time every two hours, then say that. Most likely, your school can provide a space within a classroom or library for some quiet time. If your kiddo does better with a snack in the afternoon, you may have to provide the snack, but they can find a place and time to give it. If he or she needs a special bus for transportation to and from home or daycare, you need to be upfront about it. Does your kid have a special routine at home? If so, let everyone know it and they can try to mirror some of it at school, while you change your home routine to fit the school’s normal activities (eat at same time, quiet time, etc….). Everyone involved is going to have to COMPROMISE, including your child.

A 504 is actually Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 504 is a civil rights law to protect people with disabilities from discrimination because of their disability. There should be a 504 coordinator (usually a vise principal or counselor, but probably not the special education teacher) and a team like the IEP team to help with the accommodations. Notice that a 504 is not something that guarantees your kid will have an IEP. This is separate. A 504 is basic accommodations to help override impairment so your child can have the same public education as everyone else….this is not an individualized plan for educational learning…in other words, this is not to accommodate mental or emotional disabilities that effect learning, but accommodations for physical surroundings. For example: your child is deaf in their left ear. They can have a 504 plan that states they need to sit in a certain spot in the classroom. That’s it. The kid then has to perform up to the teacher’s standards and receive the grades they earned like everyone else.

I have one child with each plan. My son with Aspergers has an IEP, and my daughter with brittle bones has a 504, of which will follow them to college if need be. They both have an adapted day at school with special services. Both plans look and work very similar, but the legal paperwork is slightly different.
In most states, there are programs for children ages 0-3 where you can begin therapies (First Steps, Early Intervention, etc.). You can ask about these at your County Health Department. Starting at age 3, most school districts have an Early Childhood Program you can begin the legal IEP/504 process with to receive therapy and additional help in a half day pre-school class.

To continue our vocabulary lesson, “LRE” is Least Restrictive Environment. This is the biggest stickler and fighting point you’ll read or hear about from other SPED parents. The concept is to place your child in a situation that is the least restrictive for their learning = where they can blossom the most. Each child’s abilities will determine their own LRE. Here are a few different scenarios:
*In most cases, LRE means spending most of the school day in the regular education classroom, like everyone else, with some accommodations. That is called “mainstreaming” or “inclusive”. The accommodations could be as simple as having an aid to help with motor skills or a certain seat.
*The LRE could mean being pulled out of their normal classroom for some special classes in another room (usually the SPED room or a “resource” room) a few times a day or week, working on specific skills. For example: a child with Aspergers may be pulled out to work on social skills with a small group.
*For some, the LRE is being in the SPED room with 2-4 other children for all day specialized instruction. This is a “self-contained class”. They also can integrate into a regular class for story time, recess, etc…
*Finally, there are some children who need an alternative school. You need to check your fears in place here – you heard “alternative school” and your anxiety raised – don’t think I don’t know. It’s not the fault of you or the child, but their actions may not make it best for your child to be in a regular school. The alternative schools can provide even more attention as they do not have to educate the masses of kids in the district.

The number one fact you must understand is that school districts have budgets just like you and me. And there is always more needs, kids, and school days than there is money. Right now many districts are doing some major shuffling to keep as many services as they can.

There is a huge difference between letting your child fail in order to learn how to get back up and not giving your child the tools to succeed. The school district is required to provide adequate tools for your child but they can’t make your child use the tools or to bend the rules so your child gets an “A”.

My recommendation is to make sure you are assigned to a seasoned teacher ….someone who isn’t on their first or second year. New teachers are full of life and ideas, but since they don’t have a routine down yet, they are making frequent changes in the school day routine to see what works for them and that’s not good for SPED kids. I’m not doubting their abilities as teachers, I’m just being practical.

If your child has a mental, emotional or social disability I suggest asking for a Triage each morning with a staff member. During this morning meeting, your child will find out if they have a substitute teacher, if the day will look different (fire drill), organize the papers in their backpacks, and see how their mood is. If they are in a funk mood, there is no point in continuing onto class and getting in trouble. The triage can halt the negative pattern so they can be successful the rest of the day. It could be any teacher in the building, but the SPED teacher would be ideal. He or she can then relate your child’s moods to the rest of the team and do extra checks on your kid if necessary that day. I, personally, love the triage for my son each morning. There was a huge difference in his daily success rate once we started the triage process. Wish I had thought of it sooner!

I hope your school year is fabulous, your child receives a superb education, and you are able to take more time in caring for yourself as a priority. I’m drinking the last bits of my Quik Trip Hot Chocolate and Almond Amaretto Cappuccino combo. It’s been a long week of injuries and sleepless nights for all of us and the $1.28 I spent at QT this morning was a welcome treat for me. I better hit the potty myself before Sami calls :)

All my best,


  1. Deaf school
    wow... find it interesting... hope it'll be beneficial for me and my friends...

  2. Wow! Great job explaining all of this! I'm definitely taking notes here for in a few years we will be going through this with Sonya. I didn't know about the Early Childhood Programs with therapy in Pre school. We are just getting into Early Intervention now. Very informative, thank you! I hope back to school for your kids goes smoothly and that Sami heals quickly!

  3. I can tell you that it's been easier to get the school to adjust for Sami's physical stuff than for my son's Aspergers. And it makes sense because you can see her disability, where his is all mental/emotional/social.
    What I can say helps is that I tell the staff over and over how much I appreciate their efforts for little things. I figure it will help when I have to ask for something big later.