On the last episode of School District Chronicles, the Morguess family received another Meeting Notice from the school district informing them of the mutually agreed-upon IEP meeting date and time, with a twist: the school district’s attorney would be present at said meeting. The Morguesses objected (in writing) to the attendance of the school district’s attorney, and said objection was followed up by a phone call to the Morguesses by the Program Coordinator. An extremely pointless and frustrating conversation ensued.
However, said fruitless phone conversation (which ended with the Program Coordinator saying, “I’m going to hang up now,” and, in fact, hanging up) was followed by yet another revised Meeting Notice (as well as a letter from the Program Coordinator confirming/mischaracterizing/recasting the phone call). The Meeting Notice noted several changes in personnel on the “team,” and the absence of the school district’s attorney per our objection.
This afternoon was the long-awaited IEP meeting. I dreaded it for days, and tossed and turned over it for nights. Michael repeatedly gave me pep talks about the importance of remaining calm, cool, and collected during the meeting (I won’t bullshit you – I tend to get, shall we say, high-spirited? pertaining to matters close to the heart). We spent hours talking about what we wanted to accomplish at the meeting, as well as longer-term goals pertaining to Finn’s educational placement. I debated the wisdom of downing a couple-three shots of tequila just prior to the meeting . . . you know, just to take the edge off (I kid!). Michael and I typed up an outline to take to the meeting so as to make sure all the points we wanted to cover got covered:
IEP MEETING - POINTS OF DISCUSSION Concerns not addressed- - Timeline of transition process/school district's failure to begin process by April - Manner in which assessments were undertaken - Our being deprived of opportunity to respond to assessment reports - IEP developed by school district without our input, and meeting held without us Recommended Preschool Placement- - No typical peer models - No interaction between the children/group activity - Physical restraint of students by teacher/aides - Five days/week, five+ hours/day Questions- - What other preschool programs are available? - What would speech therapy outside of preschool placement look like? Goals- - New assessments next year - Preschool placement in a typical preschool, full inclusion, with necessary accommodations
So we go to the meeting this afternoon, which was held in a conference room at the school at which the special ed preschool they recommended Finn be placed in is located. Michael and I walk in and there are TWELVE people sitting around a table. Now keep in mind that we were already none too happy that the last Meeting Notice listed ten people that were going to be in attendance (not including the two of us), and then when they agreed to uninvite their attorney, that brought the number down to nine. But suddenly we were faced with twelve people this afternoon, because they just for some inexplicable reason decided last-minute to invite a couple more people who were not listed on the Meeting Notice that we signed. What. The. Fuck?
So again, the atmosphere is charged with negative vibes and tension from the first second we walked into the room.
Why, why can’t these people just for once do something that feels cooperative and collaborative? Why can’t they do something that eases the tension instead of compounding it?
There were two empty seats, clearly meant for me and Michael, and we sat down and I immediately expressed my surprise and dismay at being faced with twelve people, and I asked for introductions. I can’t even remember who everyone was – who the extra people were.
We finally got to meet the Program Coordinator face to face. Not what we had expected! We both expected her to be older than us, somewhat matronly and a little prim maybe. Turns out she’s younger than us (by the looks of her anyway), somewhat of a funky dresser (fur-trimmed sweater-coat), and really? Kind of a bitch. I mean that in the nicest possible way. Not really.
Ms. Program Coordinator is in serious need of an extended workshop in Interpersonal Skills. We kind of knew this already from the letters and phone calls, but it was confirmed in person this afternoon. It was clear to everybody in the room from minute one that she doesn’t like us and the feeling is mutual. She was condescending to us and would get this sneer/smirk on her face. At one point I asked her how she would feel if she went into a meeting to discuss her child and was faced with twelve people. She responded with “I have.” Implying, no doubt, that she herself has a child with an IEP and that she’s been through this process on the other side. If that’s the case, I would think that would instill in her a bit of compassion, a bit of sensitivity, and a hell of a better tableside manner than she’s in possession of.
We were going to audiotape the meeting (and told Ms. Program Coordinator so during that fateful phone call last week), but Michael forgot to bring the recording device (boo!). Ms. Program Coordinator had in front of her on the table her own recording device, and there ensued a brief skirmish when Michael encouraged her to audiotape the meeting anyway, despite the fact that we wouldn’t be, so that at least there would be some neutral, completely accurate record of the meeting, but she refused. She was only going to record the meeting as a defensive gesture.
Anyway, things got heated right away because we were handed an agenda for the meeting and I said, “No, we have an outline, and there are things we want to cover.” The principal, who was actually very nice and professional, sent everyone out of the room for a few minutes with the exception of me and Michael, the Director of Special Ed, and Ms. Program Coordinator. Michael and I brought up the concerns we’ve repeatedly brought up which have never been addressed (including the fact that our concerns have never been addressed!), and eventually, Ms. Program Coordinator excused herself from the meeting, after expressing how insulted she was that we weren’t happy with the job she had done thus far. Honestly, after she left, it was a relief (and we’ve been assured that, although everyone on the team “adores” her and she’s “fabulous” at her job, we will never have to deal with her again). We gave the principal and the Director a run down of what’s happened so far – the school district dropping the ball and getting the transition process started very late, which created a time crunch which resulted in the assessments being undertaken in a rushed and stressful manner and ultimately the IEP meeting being held without us, despite our many protests.
They apologized. The fact of the matter is, there is no turning back the clock and starting over and doing it the right way. What’s done is done. But at least they finally heard us out and acknowledged that the pooch has been screwed.
Now, if we were actually interested in a preschool placement for Finn now, it would most certainly be worth it to fight the good fight, bring in an advocate, possibly an attorney, file a due process complaint, etc. But the fact of the matter is that we’ve already decided to forego preschool – any preschool – for Finn until Fall 2012, when he’ll be four. So we got our complaints and concerns heard and on the record. And we told them that:
– we are declining preschool placement for now;
– we are interested in hearing about speech therapy for Finn outside of a preschool setting;
– we expect new assessments to be undertaken next year (quite possibly by an independent party/parties)
– our goal is to have Finn enrolled in a typical preschool next year.
So we talked about speech therapy. And as it turns out, for his age, if he were to receive ST through the school district outside of a preschool setting, he would receive it at one of three schools in our district, and one of the schools they named is the school where our other kids attended preschool, Kevin attended middle school (it’s a K-8 school with a preschool program), and Daisy received ST when she was attending preschool there. So we already know (and like!) the SLP at that school. The truth? If we could get Finn in with her for ST a couple times a week, I would be happy.
As an aside, regarding speech: the SLP at the meeting today mentioned PECS. Is anyone familiar with this? I’d love to hear more about it (and will be doing my own research, of course).
Nobody balked when we said we intend to have him fully included in a typical preschool next year, but I know full well that that only means it’s not a battle they want to get into right now. I have no doubt that they will fight us on it when the time comes. Our school district seems to be against inclusion at this point – don’t know if it’s funding or the personal philosophies of the district bureaucrats or what. A perfect example is the little girl at our home school (where four of our kids attend school now) who had Down syndrome. She’s in third grade now, and has been fully included in typical classes since kindergarten, but the school district is now fighting to have her removed and placed in a self-contained special ed class at a different school. I talked to the little girl’s mother briefly the other day and she said she and her husband are on the verge of filing a lawsuit. It’s so discouraging to hear that it’s come to that.
Anyway, to summarize, today’s IEP meeting started off badly but, in the end, we were heard. We just have to make a decision about speech therapy now.