The School District vs. The Anti-Preemie

Sam the Anti-Preemie: At SchoolI have debated writing about my battle with my local school district publicly. What if someone reads this and all my hard work goes down the drain due to someone’s bruised ego. But then I remembered, I don’t shy away from anything on this site. And I have never once worried about what someone else might think. Plus, it’s possible my story and journey could help someone else.

So.. here it goes: The School District vs. The Anti-Preemie.

Sam has had an IEP (individual education plan) in place with The School District since he was 3. The original offer from the district was for Sam to receive OT, Speech and a full day of special ed preschool. I accepted the OT and the Speech, but rejected the classroom placement. The classroom just didn’t feel right for Sam. For one thing, he would have been there 5 days a week – for a full day. That seemed excessive for him. Plus – the entire school site smelled of pee – and that just set alarm bells off in my head.

The OT and Speech services we got were fantastic. Both of his therapists were fantastic, and made amazing progress with Sam. As we neared time for his tri-annual review – and ultimate elementary school placement, I was feeling pretty confident. Both therapists that had worked with Sam for the past 2+ years felt he was an ideal candidate for an inclusion program (general education classroom with an aide and specially trained teacher) – or even possibly just a mainstream placement. Who was I to question them. These two therapists knew Sam. They knew what he was capable of. They knew what he needed.

Based on their confidence, I went and toured every inclusion school near me. Because Sam was doing so well, I even toured the bilingual immersion magnet school that doesn’t offer special education placements. I felt I was prepared for whatever school Sam was offered.

Then the evaluations happened. The psychologist that evaluated Sam was awful. He made no effort to connect with Sam, which resulted in Sam not wanting to perform for him. These two were like opposing magnets. Sam didn’t want anything to do with the psychologist and the psychologist didn’t want to take the extra time to try and reach Sam. I sat in the room for one of the evaluations and was shocked by how poorly things were going. I could see Sam trying and the psychologist just dismissing Sam.

When I finally received my advanced copies of the evaluations the night before the big IEP meeting I was shocked. The Sam that was presented on paper had nothing to do with the Sam in real life. The most gaulling part of the evaluation was where the psychologist wrote that Sam has “no ability for imaginative play. Instead, he just stemmed and made noises when asked to play independently”. Since I was in the room for this particular moment, I knew what was written was total bullshit. Sam had turned the entire table into a kitchen and was cooking, brewing coffee and running his pretend microwave. Not once did the psychologist attempt to understand what Sam was doing so he just chalked it up as stemming.

Based on 6the psychologists evaluation, the offer from OUSD was to place Sam in an SDC (Special Day Class – or isolated classroom for special needs kids). I am sure you can guess what happened next…

I summarily rejected the offer from OUSD, demanded an IEE (independent education evaluation) and placed Sam at the school where he had his general education placement – the dual-language magnet school. I made this choice for a number of reasons:

  1. Sam really wanted to go to school in Spanish
  2. Every SDC classroom I visited felt wrong
  3. I firmly believe that children with special needs benefit from being included in a general education environmnet
  4. As performs to the kids around him. If he was with other kids with special needs, he might regress in all of the progress that he had been making.
  5. After a brief meeting with the distrcit, they offered Sam an inclusion placement – in one of the worst schools in the worst neighborhoods in my city. And that is saying A LOT.

By the time I enrolled Sam in his general education classroom, the district offered Sam support – a whopping 30 minutes a week, plus OT and speech. By this time, I had done enough research and spent enough time talking to DREDF to know I needed to hire a special education attorney.

Sam’s first week at school was amazing and awful. He had a great first day, but the second day was traumatic for both of us. Sam screamed and cried for 2 hours. I was sure I was going to have to bring him home and go back to the district with my tail between my legs. Luckily, between the amazing staff at Sam’s school and his one-of-a-kind-I-wish-I-could-clone-her kindergarten teacher, Sam settled down.

In the weeks that followed, I arranged for Sam’s regular ABA therapist to help with the transition to the classroom. That was a huge success, and after the Thanksgiving break, we had phased that out. Sam’s ABA therapist has also been able to help in the classroom at times when Sam is struggling. Between Sam’s teacher, myself and Sam’s therapist, we have a system going that is allowing Sam to excel and thrive where he is.

While Sam’s teacher and I worked on how to support Sam, the results of the IEE came in – and basically supported everyting I had been saying. Specifically – that Sam belonged in an inclusion classroom or a general education classroom with support and that the first evaluation that was done was crap.

So, with the IEE in hand and two months of school under Sam’s belt, I called an IEP meeting. This time, with my lawyer by my side, the attitude of the district was much nicer and conducive to working with me not against me. Now, the district that was so quick to tell me my son needed to be in an SDC was saying he seemed to be doing so well, that they didn’t think even offering Sam an inclusion spot was right anymore. Instead, they upped his support to 30 minutes a day + an hour a month of supervision from a school psychologist. While I still do not think this is enough, it is better than where we started.

I am still supplementing the support with visits from Sam’s ABA therapist. If all goes well, Sam will be able to stay at his school (which he LOVES) through 8th grade. Of course, things can change. But for now I would say the score in my fight is:
School District: 0
Anti-Preemie: 1

Its Been 4 Months since Sam’s IEP

Want to know what overwhelmed looks like… well… it looks like me.  Since Sam’s IEP, I have done what I do best – educate myself.  I have read the full IDEA statute.  I have learned terms like LRE, FAPE, ADR, Prior Written Notice, and, well, IDEA.  I have become a minor expert in Special Education Rights.

What this minor expert can tell you is this system is BROKEN.  Totally, completely, absolutely, broken.  I am at a loss for words at broken this system is.  We as parents to kids with special needs need are forced into horrible positions of fighting for something for our kids which should be so simple – an appropriate public education.

As you know, Sam’s IEP did not go well. The results were off and clearly done by people that don’t know Sam. Since the evaluation was completed in January, Sam has mastered reading (in two languages), figured out how to hold a pen in such a way that allows him to write, and has generally just grown in his social/emotional world. This kid is thriving in his mainstream preschool. He has friends. He goes on playdates. He is starting to understand his actions can have consequences. Taking him from a mainstream environment and placing him in an isolated classroom would be a huge setback for Sam.

But hey – what do I know, I am just his parent.

So, here I am, almost 2 months from the start of kindergarten and I have no idea where Sam will go to school. I have tried to be reasonable. I have tried to negotiate. I have hit a brick wall.

So now, we are at the point of no return. Do I accept a placement I know is wrong for Sam or do I lawyer up and fight the good fight or do I throw in the towel and place Sam in a private school. No clue – but in the meantime, I write angry emails, read up on the laws, and plan all the possible variations of Sam’s future.

Blindsided by an IEP

I knew it was coming.

Every three years, children with an IEP in the Oakland Unified School District have a major review of eligibility. Besides, Sam will be entering kindergarten (holy shit!) in the fall, and I figured the IEP they did for Sam when he was three would need to be updated.

I started laying the groundwork in September. I talked with his school district provided speech therapist and occupational therapist weekly about where they thought Sam would be placed. They both confidently told me that Sam should be placed in the inclusion program. I heard this from them over and over. Week after week.

As the open enrollment period neared, I started touring schools. I must have visited at least nine schools. I wanted to make sure I really understood what each of the nearby inclusion schools looked like. I even looked at a few schools that didn’t have an inclusion program – as Sam was doing so well.

We started the hours and hours of testing come January. Three testing sessions with the OT. Three testing sessions with the speech therapist – well, the English speech therapist. Three testing sessions with the learning specialist. Two sessions with the school psychologist. And, just because I am a bit of a glutton, one long session with the Spanish speech therapist. All in all – we are talking well over 7 hours of testing… of a five year old. This doesn’t even include all the classroom observation time.

Through all of this, I was sure that Sam would be placed in the inclusion classroom.

I filled out his options forms as if this was a foregone conclusion.

I walked into his IEP meeting this morning unconcerned and confident of the result.

And then – BAM! Sam was not offered the inclusion program. Instead, he was offered a “special day class” for “mild to moderate” kids. He was not going to be mainstreamed. He was not going to be placed in a neighborhood school.

I am still a bit in shock from all of this – and trying to figure out what my next move is. I am not sure I agree with the assessment, but want to make sure whatever decision I make is the right one for Sam. I would hate to fight for him to be in the inclusion program if he really isn’t ready – just as much as I would hate to accept his placement in the special classroom if he is at a higher level.

I knew advocating for Sam was going to be difficult at times. I just didn’t think this was going to be part of it!