Don't give up. Don't ever give up.
- Jim Valvano
We had an IEP meeting at the school this past Tuesday. Those of us who have been through this process know that IEP should really be a four-letter word.
This wasn't a typical IEP meeting. A typical IEP meeting, by my definition, is one where the parents get together with the school officials each year and develop a plan to ensure that the child with special needs gets the assistance needed to receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. We had this meeting for Helena back in the Spring.
No, this was the IEP meeting you have when things are not going right and need to be changed. A parent, or the school for that matter, can call an IEP meeting at any time to discuss their concerns about the child, with the hope of rectifying the situation. It's the kind of IEP meeting you should never have to call, because it's an indication that the special education program at the school is failing your child.
It failed the parents of Pat Fuglei. They called an IEP meeting to address their concerns about his bullying, yet they still felt compelled to pull Pat out of school because the Hellgate school district did nothing to alleviate their concerns. And they got thrown under the bus in a public meeting for doing so.
The Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA), the Federal Law that is the basis for the IEP process, has been in existence for well over 30 years. Yet even to this day, the majority of parents with special needs children can all recount at least one instance where they have had a major IEP disagreement with a school. I'd like to think that things have improved since IDEA was promulgated in the 1970s, but given some of the things I have heard or read lately, I am not so sure.
There's only one thing for us parents of special needs children to do. We have to fight.
Why do we fight? Let me count the ways...
We fight because situations like Pat Fugleis and the ASD child who was bullied out of Hellgate last year, where according to the parents the school never intervened until the police were called, are not isolated. A recent survey in Massachusetts found that 88 percent of the respondents, parents of children of autism, said their children were bullied, with over 50% saying their children were hit, kicked, or chased, and only 32% saying the schools adequately responded to their complaints about bullying. Here is link to the Boston Herald article about the survey.
We fight because students are not the only ones doing the bullying. Across the nation, special needs students are routinely physically restrained by teachers and school staff - some 18,000 cases at least in Texas during the 2007 - 2008 school year. Students are suffering physical and emotional injuries, even death. One school's response: they have "tougher special education populations than their peers." Here is a link to the Texas Tribune article about this horror.
We fight because students are not the only ones who are being bullied. On October 7, 2009, the California Dept. of Education held a conference where a well-known anti-parent advocate was paid thousands of dollars to instruct attendees from school districts across California on how to not provide special needs children the services they need under IDEA, yet make it appear like they are doing so. When an attendee asked how they should respond to a parent requesting a service they did not offer, the speakers response was "Just sue the parents." Here is a link to the Examiner.com article about this atrocity.
We fight because some bullies are allowed back in school. Wendy Portillo, the teacher in the Port St. Lucie (FL) school system who was suspended for having 5-year old special needs child Alex Barton voted out of the class by his classmates Survivor-style, was recently reinstated by the school district, and will now teach 6th grade science and reading. The school board vote on her reinstatement was unanimous. Just what we need, another middle-school bully. Here is a link to the Autism News article on this deplorable action.
We fight because situations like these occur every school day in this country. Some get media attention, the vast majority don't.
Most importantly, we fight because we love our children, and we want the best possible educational experience for them, to prepare them to have the best possible future.
And we won't give up until that goal is achieved.
We won't ever give up.
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