Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Introduction to "What I Learned from a Series of Crappy IEP Meetings"

I have learned a lot about IEP meetings since Jaymes started going to public school four years ago. A lot of what I’ve learned, I learned by totally screwing up. Some of those mistakes were no big deal, some of them were huge. All of them taught me something.

I remember the first IEP meeting I ever attended. Jaymes was three and just starting in Pre-K, and I had no idea what the meeting was for, or what it would be like. I was very nervous, as sitting in a room full of people with college degrees and years of teaching experience was incredibly daunting. I was so nervous, in fact, that I did not say a word. I listened, I nodded, and I spoke only when directly asked a question. I assumed that they knew best, and that I was only there as a sort of representative for my son. I had no idea I was actually part of the team, and that I had just as much right to speak up as anyone in the room.

Throughout Jaymes first year of school, I continued to not have the slightest clue what an IEP meant. I doubt I even read the actual document. At one point, Jaymes was having a lot of weird unexplained fevers. Though he saw the doctor constantly and we had a note saying that he could stay at school unless the fever went above a certain reading, the school called me regularly to come pick him up. At the time, I assumed that an IEP meeting would be the appropriate place to bring up this issue. Thinking I was being super smart in figuring this out, I asked for the meeting. And I got it. Boy was that embarrassing.

When we moved to North Carolina, I still didn’t really understand much about the process, the meeting, or the document itself. We had a couple meetings where I nodded yes and signed the appropriate places, and that was that. But then when Jaymes was in his second year of Pre-K at his current school, one of the school staff handed me a flyer for a parent workshop done by the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center. I am so, so very glad I got that flyer.

I went to the workshop, where I learned a whole lot about my rights and responsibilities as a parent in an IEP meeting, and in the school setting in general. I learned that no, all IEP’s are not cookie cutter documents, and that YES, parents have just as much say as anyone else does in the meeting.

The funny thing was that the week prior to the workshop, Jaymes had had his Kindergarten transition IEP meeting, where the team decided that Jaymes would be put in one of the self contained AU (I forget the new, more PC name for the AU rooms) classroom with no interaction with his nondisabled peers. After the workshop ended, it dawned on me that I had seriously screwed up. I started talking to the presenter, Judi Archer, about how I’d totally messed up the meeting and I had no idea he could get time in the regular education classes or that he could get such-and-such services. I was really frantic about it, in my head, I’d ruined the school year for my little guy without it even having begun yet.

Judi was amazing. She gave me a long list of things to discuss with the school. She explained what was reasonable to ask for, and what was not. She filled my head, and my notebook, with a wealth of information. It was really incredible.

That was a turning point for me. I requested another meeting. As I recall, it didn’t go well… I looked through the blog archives trying to find it, but I got impatient about fifteen minutes in and gave up. If you want to read it that badly, it should be in April, May, or June of 2008 or 2009. I honestly cannot remember.

Anyway, the point of this post is to take a look back over the last few years, and to really think about how far I have come as a mom, with all the wonderful people who have helped me- in particular Judi and Doreen at ECAC. Thanks to these great ladies, I understand (mostly) the meetings. I can read the actual IEP and make sense of most of it. I’m not afraid to speak up anymore, because I know what is and is not reasonable. I know the whole “knowledge is power” thing has seriously been overdone- but in this case, it is SO true.

While I have a long way to go and a ton more to learn about the whole IEP process, meetings, paperwork, and dealing with the school in general; I’ve decided that I’d like to do a series of blog posts offering some of the basic things I have learned, that have helped me get Jaymes the best education possible with the least amount of hassle. So consider this an introduction. The “What I learned from a series of crappy IEP meetings” series should be fun for me to write, and may be helpful to someone else out there just starting out on the crazy journey of negotiating (arguing?) with their local public school system.

No comments: