Monday, February 15, 2010

On Meetings and Other Battles

So apparently I am going to become "that parent".

Let me start with the story, and then move on to the rant. It'll be a little more coherent that way.

A few weeks ago we met the J-man's new teacher and speech therapist from the school district. Over the next few weeks we are going to lose Ms Kristin (much to our deep sadness), and Ms Becky and Ms Jane will be working with him at his preschool. Of course, Ms Kristen has set the bar shockingly high, but I am going to remain hopeful that his new teachers will be as excellent.

During this initial meet-&-greet with the new folks, the subject of J-man's ESY (Extended School Year) eligibility came up. Essentially, ESY is summer school in 'special ed' language. And yes, the J-man qualifies. Apparently, however, they do not provide the community based services in the summer like he is getting now. The only way he can get any coverage of either speech or teaching is if we enroll him in their multi categorical classrooms.

Now, we have already addressed the issue of the multicat classrooms. We toured, we considered, and we rejected the idea. The reason he is enrolled at his current preschool is because we believe, strongly, that typical-developing peers are a tremendous benefit to our boy. He has been hugely successful in this environment, and the idea of putting him in an environment that is exclusively with other special needs kids (many of whom have significant behavioral and language issues) does not jive with our goals for him.

Now, the rant.

See, this all goes back to the idea of Least Restrictive Environments and Inclusion. In a nutshell, inclusion is the ideal in which all children learn together, regardless of disability or ability. According to Wrightslaw, the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act states that the Least Restrictive Environment policy says that school districts are required to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible.

Dan Habib eloquently deal with the issue of inclusion for his documentary Including Samuel.

I highly recommend this documentary (check out your local PBS station for viewings!)

Now, the issue of inclusion is a thorny one. I know this. Inclusion is difficult to start, requires lots of teacher training, good classroom supports, and a commitment from all involved to make it work. It isn't always easy. Another documentary series, Educating Peter (and later, Graduating Peter), highlights both the challenges and rewards of inclusion (another series I highly recommend).

I believe that whether or not inclusion is appropriate for a child is truly on a case-by-case basis. However, I also believe that.... done well... inclusion should absolutely be the goal for the vast majority of children. And for the J-man... well, this is a no-brainer. His current achievements in preschool, with appropriate support, is crystal clear. Hands down, inclusion is the only way to go. He needs typically developing peers. They help him learn. It is essential.

So now, we get to have a meeting with All-Powerful School District people to argue about getting him some summer service at Jack and Jill. Have I mentioned that we PAY for him to be in preschool... a lot of money...? And we are only talking about 3-5 one hour sessions over the summer to address issues and help him maintain skills?


So I get to be "that parent", and see if I can convince them that his least restrictive environment IS preschool, and they do have an obligation to continue his current programming. Wish me luck, because GEMM might have to peek out on this one.


pixiemama said...

Go ahead, babe. Be "that" parent - it's what your J-man needs, and you are the J-man expert. You always will be the J-man expert, regardless of what "they" tell you.

I STRONGLY advocate for inclusion for my boys. When Foster was 3, I sent him to a preK for kids with special needs and he regressed so badly that I almost didn't start him in Kindergarten when he was almost 6. It took a lot of work to undo the damage done at that school.

You're absolutely right about the need for the school to make a major commitment when it comes to inclusion, but remember this - it is their JOB. I also believe that if you stand your ground now, the higher ups will know you mean business.

Always here when you need to vent, rant, celebrate ...


Anonymous said...

but you can do it! you can be 'that' parent!!! i know you can. and what IS that parent? one who is eloquent, informed, insistent, and passionate about meeting her child's needs!!!!!

Anonymous said...

which is what you already are!!

: )

Tahna said...

The only teachers and educational "professionals" who call parents like you "that parent" are the BAD ones. The good ones LOVE "those parents"

abby said...

Definitely be 'that parent'. Always be 'that parent.' We had a very similar struggle, where we were told that they could not do 'x' and they could not do 'y' and that the only option for Hallie was a (cookie cutter, and not a nice cookie at that) reverse mainstream environment. That they could not provide a one-on-one. That we had to accept their offer.

Turns out that arming yourself with Wrightslaw (and being 'that' parent) really does wonders. We put together a binder of material, including the findings of Hal's developmental ped that asserted that she required typical role models, a structured and regular preschool environment, etc etc and got our way. We also cited a lot of legal precedents from the local circuit court and other decisions relevant to FAPE in the LRE. We ended up mediating this case, but got most of what we asked for (and everything that we asked for in terms of services for Hallie). Email me if you want to talk more about this, (though of course I can't and won't disclose the terms of the mediation, as stipulated by law, but I think the research that went into the argument we constructed might be helpful to you guys).

Kristin and Mike said...

Why are you even referring to yourself as "that" parent? As a teacher I can say you are not even close. "Those" parents are the ones who don't have a vested interest. You are "A" parent and you are doing what is best for your child. I have been a teacher for 11 years now (not preschool mind you) but I believe in inclusion all the way!

Go in fighting! From what I know of will come out on top!

Pia said...

Thanks everyone!!! The meeting is next Wednesday, and I think I am ready. Not sure how they can possibly deny us, but I have my arguement ready! I already know the teachers are supportive... it is more of an upper level management thing. Someone said something important for me to keep in mind: The services need to conform to the needs of the CHILD, not the child conform to to available program.


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