Posts Tagged ‘IEP’

Flooding Tears

I recently visited a local high school with a friend. Her son who has Down syndrome will be a student at this school next year. The transition to high school is a big one. She and her family have been working on this transition for years, fighting the status quo in our state, which is to keep kids with significant disabilities in special classes away from their non disabled peers.

Special classes for kids with disabilities are called self-contained classes. Self-contained as opposed to mingling about and switching teachers, classrooms, and subjects throughout the day. Typically these self-contained students stay in one classroom all day long and receive their instruction from one teacher with the help of several aides. Sometimes the students in these classes are allowed to go to elective classes or lunch with other kids. But for the most part, they are kept hidden away in private classrooms without any interaction with non disabled students.

My friend and I and several other friends of ours have been fighting against this status quo for years. We believe that our children should be educated right alongside peers who do not have disabilities. We believe that the positive peer pressure from being with these students and the friendships with these other students are life-giving and important. We believe that even if our children can’t demonstrate that they are learning everything the other students are learning, they deserve to be exposed to everything the other students are learning. The difference is literally as plain as our children still learning about the calendar and the weather and counting to 30 in high school instead of learning about the Periodic Table or the Cell Cycle. (Disclaimer: perhaps that is a simplified example, but it is true to what I have witnessed and heard about in Texas high schools)

So the other day while visiting this local high school, my friend and I stood talking in the entryway to the school, right outside of the front office. We stood in an active, busy thoroughfare of the main hallway of the school. We watched groups of students filing to lunch and to the library; then we watched students filing from lunch and on to class. The students, of course, came in waves as the passing periods came and went in the middle of the day. I love teenagers so I enjoyed watching them come and go, laughing or joking or cutting up as they went.

But then, surprisingly, when the hallway was quiet since it was not a main passing period, a group of about 8 or 10 students came parading by. A couple of them were holding hands with teachers and being led down the hall. It became clear that this was the special education class. The self-contained class. The kids with disabilities. The hall was empty except for these few students. They didn’t even pass paths with their typical peers during passing periods. They didn’t even see other kids on their way back from lunch. It was just them in the empty hallway.

My friend and I watched silently.

“Oh my gosh,” I finally whispered. It was as though I had been punched in the gut. I could not breathe as I watched them walk by.

And then the tears came. And they came hard.

Now, I am not a crier. I don’t cry. But here, in the entryway of this high school, I started crying. And I couldn’t stop. I think I mostly controlled my heaving breaths that were trying to escape my lungs as I tried to control my tears, but the tears certainly came.

It broke my heart. It made me angry. It made me sad.

And the emotions flooded.

This. This is why we fight. This is why we work so hard to get inclusion for our kids. This is why we help families. This is why we spread the word that inclusive education is important.

I was overwhelmed with the injustice of it all — the injustice that somehow these students were deemed unworthy to be learning with the other students. The realization that without loud, vocal, fighting mamas– this is exactly where our kids would be, separated from the rest of the world, parading down the hall with these students all the way to their private classroom, away from the other students and away from the rich learning taking place in those other classrooms.

And I realized that all the nights I complain about helping Chloe with her difficult homework from her 9th grade biology class or her Algebra I class, I should have been so thankful that she had the opportunity to learn biology and algebra instead of being ushered down the hall away from those subjects. All of those nights of hours of homework with her are worth it!

That hard World Geography semester review that had frustrated me the night before? I was suddenly so very thankful that Chloe and I were able to struggle through it. Because the alternative is no homework, no world geography, and no inclusion.

That parade of students showed me, reminded me, that everything we do and everything we’ve done has a purpose and it’s all worthwhile. All the fighting, all the work, all the rocking of the boat and questioning the norm has a purpose. We are fighting so that our children won’t be a part of that parade that passes by after all the other kids are in class. We are fighting so that our children can learn everything that the other kids are learning. We are fighting so that when a friend mentions their 3-D cell project or the Periodic Table, our children will know what the heck they’re talking about.

Yes, the tears came. And, yes, it was awkward and embarrassing. But the tears and the emotion were strong enough to remind me of the importance of our fight. The emotion reminded me why we speak up. And the emotion reminded me what we’re fighting for and what we’re fighting against.

I believe that my kids have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids. And I believe that ALL KIDS have the right to be educated right alongside the other kids.

I only wish I could help more students. I only wish I could convince more families to fight. I only wish I could stop that private and sad parade going down the hall while the rest of the world is off learning together.

Oh, how I want to change the world. Oh, how I want to change the status quo.

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Little Things

Today all 3 of my children are taking big district-wide exams. Math tests. Math tests that take 4 hours. Yuck. Picture with me, if you will, Zippy and Chloe taking a math exam for 4 hours … Yeah, nice.

But it’s part of life right now so we push ahead and make the best of it. (And pray fervently for education reform in our state and in our nation!!)

This morning I was having a talk with Chloe on the way to school. I was encouraging her to just do her best on her math test. Don’t let it frustrate you. Don’t throw your pencil. Just take your time. And use your calculator for adding, subtracting, and multiplying.

Elliot piped up, “She can use a calculator?”

“Yes,” came my reply. (Actually, unfortunately … I think my response may have been “Yeah.” Ugh. Trying not to use that word …)

“Why can she use a calculator?” he asked. And then the words that made me smile a great big smile. The words that showed how informed my 12 year old is. The words that proved how different his life is than other 12 year olds. The words that brought me joy. Words that others may have missed or words that other moms may not have even understood. “Is that part of her IEP?” he asked.

<SMILE>

“Is that part of her IEP?”

Yes, it is part of her IEP. An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is a very important part of every special education student’s education. It is the paperwork that lays out everything the child needs support in and lays out exactly what needs to happen for the child to succeed. It is the paperwork that is completed by the ARD committee or the IEP committee on behalf of the student.

While “IEP” may be a foreign concept and foreign word to many families, it is apparently a common phrase in our household. And it made me smile that my 12 year old again is listening and involving himself in the life of his sister. He continues to be an advocate for her. He continues to know what’s important in her life and in her education. He continues to understand — at least a little bit — how it is all so vital to her future.

And he certainly made me smile.

It is the little things, eh?

ūüôā

Positive Vibes

Yesterday we gathered for Chloe’s annual IEP meeting — we call it an ARD meeting in Texas. ¬†We had spent many hours preparing for this meeting. ¬†I have a couple of incredible friends who work with me in preparing for meetings and fixing Chloe’s education, and we have all worked diligently in preparation for the meeting.

We gathered for the meeting, completely unsure of what it would hold. ¬†Our last several IEP meetings have been combative and hostile — would this meeting continue in that?

Attending the meeting with Paul and me were my two friends.  (Remember I said I will never attend an IEP meeting alone.  No way.)  The four of us arrived at the school in our four separate vehicles about 15 minutes before the meeting was to begin.  As the school and district personnel arrived, they were sent on to the conference room while the 4 of us just waited in the lobby.  It was an uneasy feeling knowing that they were already in there meeting and getting organized while we sat, excluded, and watched the clock.  Finally 15 minutes after the scheduled meeting time, we were escorted to the conference room.  I did not have a good attitude.

But I must say that as we sat at that table and as we all — the school personnel and the 4 of us — took turns talking, asking questions, and reporting, I had the amazing feeling that sitting at this table was a team of people who had gathered for the benefit of Chloe — a feeling that I haven’t felt in over a year at school meetings. ¬†What an amazing feeling it was!

I feel like the tone of the meeting was nice, pleasant, and good. ¬†The teachers reported a TON of stuff that Chloe is doing for them. ¬†To hear that she feels comfortable and safe enough with them that she is actually showing them some of her skills was an exciting feeling — a feeling of relief.

In the end, I had to adjourn the meeting before we were finished because they gave some information that I was not aware of going into the meeting — information that we need to process and plan for. ¬†I wish I had thought to request it before the meeting. ¬†But I asked that we adjourn the meeting and reconvene after Thanksgiving. ¬†We will meet back Dec 1 to finish up this meeting.

I feel really good about things. ¬†Sitting at the table were teachers who care about Chloe. ¬†Both the general education teachers and the special education teachers obviously care about her, notice her, and value her. ¬†The therapists at the table feel the same way about her. ¬†I can’t tell you what that knowledge does to calm my soul. ¬†Literally. ¬†The hours following that meeting, my body and my spirit actually felt lighter and more at peace, knowing that the people who Chloe spends 7 hours with each day actually appreciate her and value her.

<sigh>

 

We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to talk about in the reconvene in a couple of weeks. ¬†Praying that our team stays this positive and this eager. ¬†I have more hope right now than I’ve had in over a year. ¬†Cautious hope . . . . but HOPE!

 

School Tales Told Gently

I know I need to give you an update on what’s going on with Chloe and school. ¬†I have decided that this post will be bare-bones and unemotional. ¬†(Yeah, right!) ¬†No, seriously. ¬†I think it’s important that it be both bare-bones and as emotionless as possible.

Many meetings have taken place in the last 3 weeks — several with me and several without me.

When the meetings first started, I felt that the people around the table were angry and frustrated and convinced that Chloe was in the wrong place and that she couldn’t succeed in her current placement. ¬†My frustrations grew more and more intense as I heard of their frustrations and of Chloe’s emotional distress.

I offered ideas and suggestions. ¬†I offered explanations. ¬†I continued to witness frustrated “teammates” around the table. ¬†While some of my ideas were put into practice, I still felt that perhaps the frustrations were insurmountable for my teammates. ¬†I wondered if they had already given up on Chloe.

I understood everyone’s frustrations — the staff at Chloe’s school were not prepared for the level of Chloe’s needs. ¬†They lacked the training and the tools.

Chloe missed 4 days of school while I struggled with whether to send her back or not.  I needed to know that school was a safe place (emotionally) for her, and I needed to know for sure that we were all focused on her success and her well-being.

I spent many hours reading and studying the federal and state laws on special education.  I had several meetings with friends and other people who are knowledgeable about special education laws and placements.

Paul and I struggled with whether to fight for what we know is right for Chloe and for what she deserves or to pull her out of a difficult environment and put her somewhere “safer.”

It has been a very emotional, very difficult couple of weeks for all of us.

When some of my requests were denied with the explanation of “We can’t do that,” I called in for some help. ¬†I didn’t think the staff was completely aware of the laws and of their meanings — again, this was their first experience with a child with needs like Chloe’s. ¬†I wrote a letter explaining my experience this year and requesting the assistance of someone within the district who I felt probably better understood the law and what was allowed. ¬†This person proved to be very helpful. ¬†Yes, she understood the law; she understood Chloe; she helped train and educate and encourage the staff at Chloe’s school; and she had lots of practical ideas to help Chloe succeed.

The status now? ¬†We set some IEPs — some modifications and accommodations — in place for Chloe for the next 60 days. ¬†She is allowed much prompting, guidance, and help from the teacher and her aide. ¬†Her writing assignments will be limited. ¬†Chloe will be allowed to respond in different ways besides writing on a worksheet. ¬†And she is getting a full re-evaluation in the next 60 days, too. ¬†The evaluations will include: ¬†IQ, achievement / ability, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, assistive technology, adaptive PE, psychological. ¬†Hopefully when we reconvene at the end of November, we’ll have some good ideas of Chloe’s abilities and needs and be able to go from there in an effective, successful way.

Chloe has been happier at school for the past week or so. ¬†I am very much encouraged that the staff and I are all working toward Chloe’s success. ¬†I think the staff has allowed their frustrations to fall so that they can strive to help Chloe succeed. ¬†And I think Chloe is feeling “safer” and cared for and encouraged at school so that she is starting to do more and more work for her teachers.

I thank you for your thoughts and prayers over the past days and weeks.  You and your prayers mean the world to me and to my family.  If you think about it, I would love your continued prayers for favor and guidance and wisdom as we continue on in our journey.

That’s what it is, isn’t it? ¬†Caring for our children. ¬†Looking out for our child’s best interests. ¬†Fighting for what we think is right for our children. ¬†Protecting and training our children. ¬†It’s all a journey. ¬†A journey that never ends! ¬†If it’s not one thing, it’s another! ¬†I pray that you are strengthened and encouraged in your journey today. ¬†Keep up the good work. ¬†You are doing an excellent job! ¬†ūüôā

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