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Another Development in the Continuing School District Saga
We received the Minutes from yesterday’s IEP meeting and are quite pissed off about some of the characterizations:
Following is a draft letter I’ve written to respond. It’s a draft. I realize it’s rather emotional. It will most certainly be revised and edited before it goes out in final. But I wanted to get this on my blog since this seems as good a way as any to create a timeline of this whole nightmare, and frankly, I’m too tired to type up a detailed post right now, so allow this draft response letter to the school district fill in the blanks for you.
Dear [Director] –
We received, via email yesterday, the IEP offer along with the attached Notes/Minutes from Wednesday’s meeting. Although the meeting got off to a tense start, we walked away feeling as though some headway had finally been made towards a collaborative effort on our son’s behalf. We are extremely disappointed that the notes you took during the meeting, and the subsequent Minutes, which are the product of those notes, do not reflect that, but instead cast us in a decidedly negative light. The Minutes you took omit a great deal and characterize us unfairly and, we feel, inaccurately. We therefore respectfully request that this letter be added as an Addendum to the Minutes so that Wednesday’s meeting is more fairly portrayed.
All we have ever wanted and expected is to be treated fairly by the school district and to have our son’s rights, and our rights as his parents, respected. We have never made demands or requests of the school district for more services, or more of anything – and in fact, we have declined both various assessments and services offered. To that end, we have not asked the school district to jump through any hoops, nor have we placed ourselves in a position of in any way depleting the school district’s resources. What we have asked for has been extremely minimal: honor our rights. Respect us, Finnian’s parents, as integral members of the IEP team – most certainly the most important members of the team. See Finn as an individual, and us as two people who are extremely invested in his wellbeing.
From the very first meeting – the Transition Meeting on June 3 – the school district has apparently seen us as opponents rather than true members of the “team.” Furthermore, it is clear that the school district is well aware of its own screw-ups and violations with respect to its handling of Finn’s transition and development of an IEP, and every action, phone call and letter on the part of the school district since that first meeting has been defensive and clearly meant to cover its own rear end. In other words, the school district screwed up, we have repeatedly raised concerns pertaining to those screw-ups (which the school district has repeatedly failed and refused to acknowledge or address), and therefore the school district views us as a potential lawsuit and treats us as such. Your Minutes from Wednesday’s meeting reflect that position well: we are cast as unreasonable and adversarial, none of the concerns we actually discussed yesterday are noted anywhere in the record (that would be documenting the school district’s screw-ups, which I guess the school district would like to avoid), and the school district comes across, at least in the written record, as completely reasonable and, in fact, victimized by us.
Let the record reflect the following:
• Mr. Morguess did, in fact, forget his tape recorder. [Corrdinator] had a recording device in front of her on the table, however, and Mr. Morguess encouraged her to go forward with recording the proceedings so that at least there would be some complete, accurate, and unbiased record of the meeting. [Coordinator] stated, “I can’t do that.” She refused to say why she couldn’t, which could only lead to the assumption that she was refusing to record the meeting, not that she was unable to. She acknowledged that, had we brought a recording device to record the meeting, she would then have also recorded the meeting. We could only assume that she only intended to record the meeting as a purely defensive gesture, and not as a productive or constructive gesture. The Minutes state “the District did not agree to record as it can set an adversarial tone to the meeting.” But the school district had no problem threatening to have its legal counsel present at the meeting, a practice that is strongly discouraged because of the adversarial and intimidating tone it can set to a meeting.
• We, the parents, did in fact object to the agenda that the school district had unilaterally drafted for the meeting. This meeting was to finally be, after months of unresponsiveness from the school district, our very first opportunity to be heard. The agenda set forth that we would be going over the Assessment Reports, proposed goals, and proposed IEP. We, the parents, had already come to the conclusion before the meeting that we were going to decline preschool placement for Finnian, and the only service we might be interested in would be speech therapy. It therefore seemed pointless and unproductive to adhere to an agenda that stated we would be reviewing all of the reports, goals, etc. The agenda also left no room for anything at all that the parents might wish to discuss. So yes, we objected to the school district’s agenda and expressed that we had brought an outline of topics we wished to cover in the meeting. The school district personnel were extremely resistant to this, and to straying from its own agenda at all. The Minutes state that we were “disrespectful of staff,” without any specific example or explanation. We object to this characterization; we do not feel that we were in any way disrespectful, unless standing up for our own rights and interests is considered “disrespectful.”
• You called a break at this point and temporarily dismissed everyone from the room with the exception of yourself, [Coordinator], [principal], and us. During the next thirty-five minutes (according to your records), we were finally able to bring to light in person the concerns we’ve expressed repeatedly in writing to no avail – namely:
o The school district’s failure to begin the transition process in Finnian’s case by the time he was two years and nine months old – or by April 2011 – as mandated by IDEA; this despite the fact that our Regional Center Service Coordinator began the transition process way back in January 2011 by sending the school district the appropriate paperwork. We did not finally hear from the school district to schedule a transition meeting until late May, and the transition meeting was finally scheduled for June 3 – barely more than a month before Finnian’s third birthday.
o Because of this initial failure on the part of the school district, the transition process was carried out in an extremely rushed manner, with multiple assessments of Finnian taking place by multiple people simultaneously. This was stressful, upsetting, and could not possible result in an accurate picture of Finnian.
o Because of the severe time crunch the school district placed itself under, in the end, the school district found it necessary to develop an IEP for Finnian without the parents’ input, and to hold the initial IEP meeting without the parents’ presence or participation, despite numerous pleas and objections from the parents.
o And again, we have repeatedly expressed the above concerns in writing, and the school district has repeatedly failed and refused to ever address or acknowledge a single concern. This in itself, too, is a concern.
• During this part of the discussion, Mr. Morguess asked you, “Where does the buck stop?” You replied, “I don’t know where the buck stops.” Eventually, you did acknowledge our frustration, and admitted that this all happened because the school district became very backlogged with IEPs around the time of Finn’s third birthday. Despite the fact, however, that you, [principal], and we spent thirty-five minutes discussing these issues, none of the content of this discussion is noted in the Minutes.
• You note in the Minutes that “The Coordinator requested to be excused from the meeting due to the parents’ continual disrespectful and demeaning remarks.” We object to this characterization. [Coodinator] has never made an effort to establish a positive rapport with us; she is continually condescending to us, she has refused over and over again to address any of our concerns or to have someone qualified address our concerns, she has repeatedly misquoted us in letters, recast conversations, omitted important information from “confirming” correspondence, and been generally argumentative with us. The tension between [coordinator] and us was well established when we went into that meeting on Wednesday, and throughout the meeting she continued to sneer and smirk at us (but, unfortunately, facial expressions wouldn’t be reflected in the Minutes, would they?). You and [principal] both made a point of telling us how much you “adore” [coordinator], and how “fabulous” she is at her job; this was not only inappropriate, but also completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how she might get along with you or with other families – she doesn’t get along with us. We were neither disrespectful nor demeaning to her or anyone at that meeting – we were understandably upset and frustrated.
It is highly doubtful that we will ever go into a meeting with the school district in the future without both a tape recorder and an advocate, at the very least. Again, there seems to be no interest on the part of the school district in a collaborative effort, and we are left feeling like it is we against you. And who gets lost in all of this? Finnian.
We appreciate your determining [SLP’s] ability to take on Finn for speech therapy at Beechwood. We are interested in pursuing this, but need to know whether the availability in her schedule would work for us. Please let us know how we should proceed with this.