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Directors Corner October 2018

October 30th, 2018

As you’ve certainly heard from a wide assortment of sources, October is National Bullying prevention month. And as parents of kids with disabilities, we know that our students are two to three times more likely to be subject to bullying and harassment than the general population. This edition of the e-News and our website provide a lot of information on the problem as well as thing we as parents can do to help the situation.

I want to add a couple more. Many of us rely on the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) for the tools to help protect our students, and the court interpretations of the law make it clear that bullying can create a condition that interferes with a student’s ability to obtain a free appropriate public education (FAPE). IDEA requires your school to take steps to remedy situations where your child facies bullying. That can include a whole range of services, including counseling to deal with the effects, teaching him or her social skills to help avoid and respond to potential bullying, and even changes in placement to free them from the bully. It can even include training for parents to recognize situations and to have family strategies to help their students.

If only it was that simple. If only a couple of amendments in an IEP could make the problems go away. Bullying can be a remarkably difficult thing to get your head around. Incidents rarely occur where there are reliable witnesses. Additionally, conditions that might not affect one child may be very significant to a child with a disability; this makes the child particularly susceptible. Teams often find it hard to recognize this fact. We regularly get calls from parents frustrated because it appears that their schools are not doing enough to ensure their children’s rights.

We have found a few things that can help. First, as I mentioned the IDEA can be you most powerful tool. You have the right to call for a PPT meeting anytime you understand that there is a factor adversely effecting your student’s education, you also have the right when faced with this to call for evaluations by trained professionals to help design effective solutions. Having your child’s day assessed by a mental health professional of behaviorist can go a long way to finding effective solutions to the problem. You do not have to rely just your own ideas or the school’s policies to find ways to make things better.

Having said that, it is important to know what your school’s policies are on bullying. Quite often adults can try to minimize something that has a profound effect on a child. We’ve all heard “Boys will be boys.” Or “You shouldn’t protect her too much, she needs to be tougher.” One way to get past this kind of lack of understanding is to remind the folks of the “Letter of the law”. My town’s policy on bullying for example has just been revised and is now extremely detailed and specific, over twenty pages! It does not provide much leeway for not addressing issues and it gives fairly specific responses the school is supposed to follow. It’s good to be able to refer to a policy like that when you are trying to find ways to protect your child.

None of the solutions we have found are perfect, and many times everyone involved ends up frustrated and unsatisfied. One particular area that bothers our callers is the fact that schools are unable to share information about the consequences the bully received. As frustrating as it is, the law protects the privacy of every student very strongly. Just like it prevents educators from revealing anything about your child without your permission, it provides the same protection for the bully. As much as the administrator might want to tell you what has been done the law prohibits that and there is nothing to be done about it.

As with every other issue we face the details for each child are going to be different. If you are facing a situation where your child has been bullied give us a call and we will help you understand your rights and responsibilities in his or her unique situation.

A Follow Up.

Last month I wrote about the shortage of related service providers and suggested some ideas to help. In particular I thought schools should work together to provide support to fill in the gaps that are always going to crop up. As it turns out people have already thought of that. I had a conversation with one of the staff of the Capital Region Education Council (CREC) the regional education center (RESC) for the middle of the state. They have a program designed for that very need, providing professionals like speech and language pathologists, OT’s and PTs to schools in need. If we did not know that it’s possible your school may not either, so if you are faced with the SLP who goes out for a month suggest your school contact your RESC or even CREC, to see if they can help so your student gets the services he or she needs