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Director’s Corner February 2018

February 27th, 2018

Not long ago I came upon a meme from one of the Facebook groups I follow. It read “How many of you cry after every IEP meeting?” At the time it included over 120 comments and by my count only three disagreed. It included things like:

I left many IEP meetings in tears. In one meeting in particular, we had to sit through various psychologists, teachers, and administrators tell us how our first grader was one of the most violent, ill-behaved children they had ever seen. The reading specialist told us “why bother” when we expressed the desire for our son to learn to read. We walked out of the meeting in tears. So, I feel for you!

It takes me days to recuperate afterward.

I use sarcasm as a shield then cry in my car.

I had one this week and everything went as well as one could ask for. Still totally exhausting.

From what we see at CPAC, it is not an exaggeration to say many parents hate and fear PPT meetings. Most often that is because there is a real power imbalance in them. When they are bad you come in to face a phalanx of six to fifteen people who all know each other work together and often seem to be united against you.

So, what do you do? The simple answer is get help. Sometimes that means getting a lawyer or advocate to come and work for you in the room. I did that for 16 years and I believe helped a lot for most of the families I represented. But lawyers are not cheap and honestly much of the time you have the resources in yourself to effectively represent your child’s needs. But even then, you need help. You need training and information. Online groups can help a lot, but nothing does the job better than talking to someone who has been trained and thorough training from people who really know their stuff.

At the risk of blowing our own horn, one of the best places to start is CPAC, or if you live in another state, your state’s Parent Training and Information Center or PTI. IDEA requires each state have at least one PTI to train an empower you to effectively work for your child in the special education process. You can find a link for your center here.

I’ve been going to PPT meetings for some time, starting with those for my son starting in 1996, as a lawyer since 2000 and those I’ve discussed as PTI Director for the last 2 years. What I have seen are most conflicts between parents and schools involve two things. First and most importantly, lack of data. I have never seen a case where parents and schools disagree where either side had enough actual documented information to support their position. IDEA is filled with requirements that there be data to support an action, and mechanisms where you as a parent can ensure that there is enough evaluation information and that it is of high quality. CPAC’s parent consultants can show you how to navigate this.

Second, parents and schools often speak different languages. Words in special education often mean what the law says they mean and not necessarily what they mean in normal day to day life. So many times, parents ask for something in a way that makes it easy to say no when they could get the service using the right “magic words”. By the same token I’ve seen dozens of situations where a school is telling the parents what they need to do to show the need to be a given service and all mom and dad are hearing is “no”.

There is a reason people say knowledge is power. And heaven knows as parents we need all the powers we can get, so please take advantage of your opportunities to get it. So, take every opportunity to increase your knowledge of the law, or disabilities and your child. Pay attention to which of the things said in your son or daughter’s PPT meeting that are based on knowledge, and which are based on opinion with no data to back it up. This is especially important for what you say. Don’t rely on generalities. It is less important to say that kids with a given disability need something than to say this evaluation shows my daughter, as an individual, needs something different. And listen, even when you are disagreeing. Knowing why that administrator is supporting a course of action is vital in explaining why your alternative is appropriate, and keep in mind that you may be wrong and they right. Only real information can show that for sure.

Use us. In addition to training and individual support CPAC has a lot of on line information and links to other resources. In the next few weeks our website will take on a new look and we will be adding new information every week. We are not going to solve every problem, but I promise we will help.