In the interest of advocacy, and hopefully reaching other parents dealing with similar situations, I’d like to share our experience openly and honestly. If you are just now tuning in, the earlier parts of the process of transitioning Finn from Early Start services, which covers ages 0 – 3, to School District services, which typically begins immediately at age 3 for children eligible for services (in Finn’s case, Down syndrome is the diagnosis that qualifies him for services) can be found here:
Following up the second round of assessments, Michael and I drafted the following letter to the Preschool Assessments Coordinator for the school district, with a cc to our Regional Center service coordinator, and mailed it on June 12:
We are writing to document our request to receive, at least one week prior to our son’s scheduled IEP meeting on June 28, drafts of any and all evaluation/assessment reports before they are finalized. As we are sure you know, this process is overwhelming for parents, and we need time to analyze the results and determine whether they appear to be a fair and accurate portrayal of Finnian’s abilities, or whether it is necessary to request an independent evaluation.
We would also like to bring to your attention and have you address some concerns pertaining to Finnian’s transition from the Early Start program through the Regional Center to the school district.
First, we and Finnian have been rushed through this process in a manner inconsistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). We expected, and were given the impression, we would have an initial transition meeting well ahead of the evaluation process and IEP; and that we would be sent the District’s proposed evaluation plan so that we could review and understand it, and investigate whether the evaluations proposed were appropriate, as well as learn who would be the evaluators and their credentials. Second, we expected that the evaluations would be administered in a manner that would at least appear designed to accurately reflect Finnian’s abilities. As explained below, we are concerned the District may not be meeting its obligations under the IDEA with regard to these issues:
We received a letter from our Regional Center service coordinator, __________, dated January 31, 2011 stating that the transition process from Early Start to the school district had begun. In that letter, Ms. _______ informed us that a transition meeting with the school district would take place in April. However, April came and went with no word of a transition meeting being scheduled, so we contacted Ms. _________ by email on May 4 requesting a status. She responded by phone shortly thereafter and said she was still trying to coordinate a transition meeting with the school district and did not yet have any potential dates. It wasn’t until mid-May that we finally received a call from your office to schedule three meetings: the Transition Meeting, Assessments, and IEP. Given that Finnian’s third birthday is on July 7, time was clearly running short, and we were offered very little flexibility in the scheduling of these meetings; basically, we were told these were the three dates available (June 3, June 8 and June 28), period, with no alternatives.
Based on information given us by Ms. ________, we were under the impression that the transition meeting would be an opportunity to meet everyone on “the team,” discuss the transition process and possible assessments that would take place, and work together to come up with a transition plan, and discuss any concerns we had. Instead, we arrived on June 3 and were faced by a table full of people, had a consent form placed in front of us and were expected to read, understand, and give consent for multiple assessments of our son on the spot, and then go forward with said assessments right then and there. We were quite taken aback by how this was handled; we still do not understand why the consent form and descriptions of possible assessments couldn’t have been sent to us prior to the meeting so that we could have had an opportunity to give it some meaningful thought; we were told simply that it is not your policy to do so. As you know, we had to ask for a few minutes of privacy to discuss the consent form and ended up declining the majority of the assessments proposed for Finnian.
Directly after signing the amended consent form, your team began the assessment process, conducting multiple direct assessments of Finnian simultaneously. When I (Finnian’s mother) returned with Finnian on June 8, it was the same: you, the SLP and two occupational therapists proceeded to conduct assessments of Finnian simultaneously, intermingled with two or more of you asking me questions about Finnian simultaneously for purposes of written questionnaires. It was extremely stressful, to say the least, and not fair to Finnian at all. How any young child can be expected to “perform” in a strange setting, with multiple strange people all at once is difficult to fathom.
We therefore feel we have been rushed through the process and are concerned, based on time limitations and the manner in which the assessments have taken place, that the assessments might not yield a completely accurate picture of Finnian, and if this is the case, it will be difficult to construct a meaningful IEP for him.
We look forward to receiving the draft evaluation reports and proposed IEP as early as possible, but no later than one week before the scheduled IEP meeting of June 28. Thanks.
Lisa and Michael Morguess
Just yesterday (ten days after our letter was sent, and the day on which we had requested to have the assessment reports in hand), we received voice mail messages from both our RC service coordinator and a different person from the school district – not the person our letter was addressed to (who was present at the Transition Meeting/Assessments), and not a person we’ve ever met or spoken to before. I didn’t even bother calling our service coordinator back; there doesn’t seem to be much point, as I imagine this is all pretty much out of her hands at this point with Finn’s third birthday looming in just a couple of weeks. We did copy her with the letter, mostly for purposes of making sure Finn’s file is fully documented.
I did return the other person’s call this morning. She identified herself as the Director of Assessments. So, it appears that we’ve now added another person to the process. She informed me that the purpose of her call was to let us know that she would be sending a letter to us addressing the concerns we outlined in our letter, and to let us know that they will not, in fact, have the assessment reports to us until the end of the week (she said they will go out in the mail Thursday, which means we wouldn’t receive them until Friday at the soonest, and Finn’s IEP meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, and we will be out of town this weekend).
I’m really irked by this. We stated at the very first meeting on June 3 that we wanted the assessment reports in hand by one week prior to the scheduled IEP meeting. “The team” agreed to make this happen (we did get the sense, however, when we requested draft assessment reports prior to the IEP meeting, that this is not their typical protocol; I got the distinct impression that they usually do not send the parents draft assessment reports prior to the IEPs at all, and just expect everyone to deal with all of it on the spot at the IEP meeting). We reiterated this request in our letter. It’s not that we’re trying to be pains in the ass – we truly do want to have time to go over the reports, understand them, request modifications we might feel are warranted, and/or, worst-case scenario, arrange for independent evaluations of Finn (which is within our rights). One week was by no means an unreasonable request to accomplish what we, as Finn’s parents, need to accomplish on his behalf. I understand that the school district is dealing with its own over-burdened, understaffed, under-funded system, but where does that leave us, the parents, and the children who are supposed to be helped and educated by the system?
What upsets me most of all, though, is that it doesn’t seem to me like they’re even trying to pretend that we’re all on the same side here, attempting to work together for Finn’s best interests. The whole thing spiraled down into an adversarial us vs. them from the first few minutes of that first meeting a few weeks ago, and I have such a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing at this point that I would love to just wash my (our) hands of it. How am I supposed to feel good about putting my son in the hands of a system that clearly doesn’t give a shit about him?
Anyway, I told Ms. Director of Assessments that, since they cannot get the reports to us until the end of the week (if that), that we will not be attending the IEP meeting scheduled for Tuesday, and it needs to be rescheduled. She said that she will send a letter to us to reschedule the IEP.
Looks like Finn’s file is going to be growing very fat.