A Closer Look at Special Education: Is Your IEP “Policy-Proof?”
Yesterday I shared my old fear of “Raising the Kindergarten Bully,” and some of the struggles my Special Education children are experiencing in their new School environment. We had an “emergency” IEP meeting last week, per my request. In my email and at the meeting, I also requested an Aide for each of my youngest boys, Enrique and Andres. The meeting concluded without resolution and we all agreed to have another IEP meeting for each boy, three weeks from now.
Today, my eleven-year-old walked Kaitlyn to her classroom in the morning and I walked the boys to their class. I walked them both inside and turned around to leave. Andres started reaching for me. I quickly reassured him that everything was okay and proceeded to walk out of the class. He ran out of the non Special Education classroom towards a large playground and an Aide (she’s there 40 minutes only, each day) walked quickly after him. He continued to run, but faster, much faster! He went from one side of the outdoor corridor to the other, then down the hall, and close to the entrance/exit of the School. I stopped near the Office before the exit and made eye contact with him. He stopped for a moment and I saw the Aide begin to run to catch him. I turned back around but stayed in place, trying hard not to give into my sweet boy’s breakdown. The Aide caught up to Andres and tried to escort him back to class, but he was pulling away and flinging his body back. He ended up on the ground. With my eyes, what I saw was that while he was already in a mostly laying down position, he slipped from the Aide’s hands and banged his head on the concrete-like ground. The Aide later stated that he did not “slip” but was laying down already and very intentionally hit his head on the ground, but not enough to really hurt himself. Let me tell you, I heard the loud bang and literally gasped out-loud! Truly, he was okay, but it was an awful sound. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I walked towards him, gave him a hug, and managed to get him calmed down. It took a few minutes. Andres agreed to go back to class with the Aide.
The rest of the day was very difficult for Andres. He did not participate in any of the work. He had extreme emotions and even hit his teacher before the end of the day. Something has to change! I’ve been to countless IEP Meetings over the last few years. I’ve even filed complaint and gone to mediation with our last District. I’m used to this, but it’s exhausting and scary. While I play the hurry-up-and-wait game, my children’s safety and education are at risk. Since I don’t have any longtime “allies” in the new School District, I realized I have to approach these IEP meetings a little bit differently than I did in the past. It really is, or at least feels like, it’s me against them, for the sake of my children. The people involved are called “the IEP Team.” It doesn’t feel like a real “Team” because I am painfully aware of the politics in Special Education. The biggest obstacle is always budget, although no one will ever admit that is what stands between what your child needs and them actually getting that. Still, remember that your Team is your best immediate resource. They are people too, and often you’ll find that they will get very creative to work around “policy” if it interferes with providing your child what they need, as long as you don’t make them feel like the enemy.
Taking A Closer Look…
I’ve been constantly thinking about possible solutions for my children and considering any potential obstacles with the District, so I can be prepared for rebuttal. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you consider School & District Policies when going into an IEP Meeting. Theoretically, your Special Education IEP should trump any conflicting policies, but it likely won’t work like that. Mostly, this is because the IEP specifics are written in a way that doesn’t specifically address the conflict, then later comes up incidentally. For example, noting that a child elopes in the IEP and that staff should be prepared to “catch” the child doesn’t address specifically what the first-responder person (like the Teacher) is supposed to do. I’ve heard that our District expects a Teacher to stay with their class. Sure, I understand the policy, but how does that help my five-year-old? How long will it take for the Teacher to notify the Office, and TAKE ACTION. I’ve personally tried to call the office for up to 30 minutes at a time with no ability to get through to anyone, even using a direct number. When I can’t get through, the call transfers to the District Office. You must be prepared, so that you can think straight and rationally through your emotions. IEP Meetings can definitely bring on the emotion! If you have a child in Special Education, here are some things you should find out about before your meeting.
- What is the policy on “restraining” a child, including keeping the child from leaving a designated area and holding a child in a still position to keep them from self-harm or harming another peer. If allowed, specifically, under what circumstances is it allowed?
- If not, what are the other allowed and practiced procedures to keep an eloping child safe?
- Who is trained to restrain a child? Is the Teacher?
- Is there an “Alert” policy and procedure for when a child elopes?
- What is the policy, administrative procedure, and parent notification process if your child hits another child or an adult?
- Do YOU have EMERGENCY CONTACT Numbers for at least three people at your Student’s School? (Now this is sensitive, because I don’t believe a Teacher should be “required” to give their cell-phone number to parents or have their privacy invaded in that way. However, are any of the Staff willing to do that? Is there other Emergency Numbers, that is not the main number, such as a direct number to a few classrooms, a floating staff cell phone line, etc?)
- What other Teachers, including Substitutes and School Staff are given access to your child’s IEP? (This can be a crucial discussion because due to privacy, many Schools do not allow other Subs, fellow Teachers, and School Staff access to this information. You need to decide how you feel about it. Personally, there are key people I want to be completely aware of the details of my children’s IEPs, including the Teachers in the rooms nearby, the Office staff, and Lunchroom staff, just to begin. Personally, I’d sign a waiver, but the School may not allow it. So then what? This is something I’ll address at the next meeting.)
- If transportation is provided, who takes your child from the school to the bus and from the bus to the school? Is there a backup person?
- Are missed service minutes made up if it is the School’s fault for failing to provide the service? (For example, my children should be getting Speech services but the School still doesn’t have a Speech Therapist. I need to find out if those minutes will be made up. The IEP may state xyz minutes per week, but it doesn’t specifically address the failure to provide those minutes in any given week.)
- Is there a backup Aide if your child’s 1-1 Aide calls in sick or is out for any reason? How will this situation be handled, should it occur?
- Are there any School, Fire Department, or Local Government safety compliance regulations that may interfere with your child’s IEP? For example, can a Teacher put a high lock on a classroom door, a safety gate in the doorway, etc?
- If there is a Behavior Plan along with the IEP, who exactly is responsible for implementing it? Is there a regular meeting for reviewing and modifying the Behavior Plan, for example, monthly?
- What is the policy on sharing School & Transportation video with Parents? Suppose there is an issue, on the school bus, in the hallway, or in a classroom, and the video has been reviewed by others, used to look into and resolve a situation, but policy states that for confidentiality, or some other reason, the video cannot be shared with you. I’ve heard of this happening repeatedly, both regarding School surveillance and Transportation surveillance.
Sometimes, we are so worried and fixated on making sure we get “everything” into the IEP, we completely overlook the semantics. Yes, that’s what they are. If we get what we “want” in the IEP we’re so happy to have it in writing, we can often forget to include measures to ensure implementation is realistic. We forget about the what-ifs, are caught off guard by the little details that weren’t addressed at all, and find ourselves just as frustrated as we were before getting the IEP, just the way we wanted.
Special Education is political. It’s an extremely difficult environment for almost everyone involved. It’s hard on the Parents, restrictive to the Teachers, and I’d imagine, quite stressful for the Administrators. Special Education demands continue to grow each year and many Districts are in desperation, just trying to keep up with the increase of Students in the Special Education Department. Knowing this doesn’t mean you should stop advocating for your child, ever! Simply, it’s a complicated arena. Teachers are often limited in their ability to address things according to what they believe to be in the best interest of a child, due to policy, procedure, or budget. Parents can get lost in “Process,” because it can be lengthy, painful, and confusing. Administrators have “fiscal responsibilities” that quite often contradict the best interest of the children they serve.
Whether you’re a seasoned IEP Parent or just beginning, I urge you to start your journey of thinking outside of the box. Be creative. Be thorough. Ask questions. Research. Make sure your IEP addresses the what-ifs, because they will come to surface.
If you found this article helpful, please share! What are some of the “solutions” included in your child’s IEP? How have you creatively advocated for your child. Has policy ever interfered with your child’s IEP needs? We’d love to hear about your thoughts in the comments!
By: Alicia Gonzalez