Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Winning the Battle Without a Fight. For Now.

I walked into the office just before 9 a.m. A classroom of first graders was huddled with the principal, helping to say the Pledge of Allegiance over the loudspeaker for morning announcements. They did their thing and headed out with a minimal amount of giggling and a pretty huge measure of self-control.

Then I was ushered back into the principal's office for The Meeting.

Yeah, this was the meeting we'd been wondering about and waiting for. The one to plan next year. The one where we wondered: would the fight to keep Ethan in special ed. be lost? Dan was going to come as well but we figured Chloe would be a distraction in that cramped little room. So there I sat, feeling woefully unprepared.

Here's the thing about these IEP meetings, or as we call them around these parts, the PPT (Planning and Placement Team meeting). Apparently in a perfect world, I would show up at the meeting and nothing would be finalized yet. The meeting would actually be to decide Ethan's course of action of next year. We as parents would be given ample time to speak, upfront, before things really got rolling. We'd collaborate on a plan and in a few days I'd receive his brand spanking new IEP reflecting our mutual decisions.

Instead, I've learned these 3-plus years, we walk into the room and the principal immediately commandeers the meeting. She says a polite hello to the parents but unless we were to interrupt gives us no outlet to speak, jumping quickly to each "professional" in the room to ask for feedback. Very quickly it becomes obvious that everyone in the room already has pretty much decided what Ethan should be doing/which services he should be receiving, and it's usually apparent that lots of discussion has been going on behind the scenes well before we sit down at the table.

This is why I was especially nervous about the meeting, at least up until a few weeks ago. The theme at our last one, when we decided to do several evaluations on Ethan to paint an accurate picture of where he's at right now, was that we needed to start justifying why Ethan was in special ed. There was a polite demand from the principal to prove if Ethan needed specialized support, and the sense I got from his teachers is that well, maybe he didn't.

I spent an hour on the phone with someone from the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center last month talking about this. I was tired of hearing from all directions: the school saying he was fine and should go on a 504 plan; other special needs parents telling me not to dare give up an IEP; even my mom cautioning me that Ethan not take services away from other kids who may truly need them. Do this...no, do that...I felt stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war.

Talking with this wonderful parent advocate at CPAC, I got some clarity. I wanted to know, after describing Ethan's skills, where we stood. What kind of case did we have? She pretty much spelled out for me that we may very well have difficulty justifying Ethan's need for special ed., and that the best route would probably not be to argue that he needs to stay in the special ed. system because of what he may need in the future, but to try to find weak spots right now that could be measurable -- such as lags in abstract/critical thinking pertaining to reading comprehension, for example.

I was all ready to try to build a case and even emailed Ethan's teacher about this, but to be honest, life got in the way. I'll be blunt: I'm not Super Special Needs Mom. When it comes to these types of things, I'm perhaps not as assertive as I should be, and...I have a three-month-old, a business to help with, freelance writing projects, a 9-year-old who wants to be 20...sometimes I just don't have the energy for a fight.

Which is why I was so amazed that I didn't need to, this time.

I should have had an inkling when the speech therapist saw me after school for a moment last week. She'd heard about my email to Ethan's teacher; about my concerns. "You don't need to worry about the meeting," she said to me pointedly. "We've got it covered."

I walked into the room and waited for the principal to start in with her spiel about Ethan not really needing services. Instead she let the speech therapist speak first. I then sat there trying not to smile as his therapist played all sorts of subtle games to paint Ethan in a "needier" light. She downplayed how he did on his evaluations (most of which seemed to be in the "average" range), emphasizing some articulation issues (Seriously? We've never talked articulation. Not once). With one test she appeared to try to be hiding the score...the principal insisted on seeing a result and she kept talking about how with that test they usually just pull out certain elements rather than looking at the total. Anyone with any sense would be able to tell this was a snow job.

The fun continued throughout the meeting. Honestly, if I hadn't been aware of what they were doing it would have been hard to listen to them try to make Ethan look bad. The one thing we all agreed on was that it'd be okay for Ethan to be dismissed from OT. So in that area, they let the occupational therapist gush on Ethan's improvement over the past few years.

Other than that, the speech therapist and special ed. teacher continued with a steady stream of references to Ethan's difficulties that I knew were part of their valiant fight to try to illuminate the issues kids on the spectrum have for a principal who still doesn't always get it.

In the end, we walked out of there with just what I hoped for. For now, he still has an IEP. Next year he'll be done with OT, get a half-hour of speech and attend a social skills group two days a week. Anything else, we'll play by ear.

Obviously, it'd be nice to talk to Ethan's teachers. I need to know: what made them change their minds? Did they realize we were rushing things? Was there indeed something about his testing results that made them think, hmmm, even though he's scoring at age level mostly, this really isn't the best idea?

I have no illusions. Things will not always be this easy. I'm not quite sure what happened this time, and maybe I'll never get to the bottom of the story. But for right now, we'll take it. Life has been swirling by these past few months. Sometimes it's felt hard to come up for air. But at the PPT, we got a breather, just when we needed it. For that I am immensely grateful.

1 comment:

Leisa said...

Sometimes we just won't know the reason why things worked in our favor, so we just praise the Lord, and go to the next thing. Hang in there, hon, He's got you covered.