Monday, September 29, 2008

Equal Members

The way current special education law is written and interpreted, parents are supposed to be "equal members" in a child's IEP team. That means that a parent is expected to participate in developing a child's IEP, and their opinions are supposed to be counted as much as any other member of the team.

And the more I get into developing IEPs, and dealing with schools, and looking at regulations- especially the new regulations being written in Virginia- the more I think this is wrong.

By making a parent "just another committee member", the parent is outnumbered in every committee they walk into. When I walk into an IEP meeting, I am, at best, outnumbered 3:1 in favor of the school. Often it is more like 6:1. I've had it be as high as 8:1 (administrator, student services director, special education teacher, regular education teacher, autism coordinator/specialist, psychologist, occupational therapist, and speech therapist to me), and I haven't had any monster IEP meetings I've heard legends of. No matter how hard a parent advocates for the child, they are under the weight of school personnel consensus.

The fact is, as a parent, I am the one legally responsible for my child's education, rearing, safety, and health. At the end of the day, the year, the childhood, it is me, the parent, who must bear responsibility for the decisions of this ever-changing and often-hostile committee; and my child who bears the consequences of every failure along the way. In every meeting, my child is guaranteed only one voice in his defense and favor. Everyone else has a very basic conflict of interest- they are employed by the school, with a budget and a whole school population to consider. Only I (right now- until Joey can self-advocate) have only Joey to think about.

So why am I only just another member? Shouldn't I at the very least have 50% say? In all the complaints from schools about parents who want basically the ability to veto, I must say, damn straight I want veto power. This is my child we're talking about.

We have been fortunate this year and last year. Joey's current case manager is a person who really does care about Joey as a person, and is interested in getting him the support he needs to be successful. She considers what he needs individually, and not based on what other children in the program might or might not need. Unfortunately, we know from experience that it doesn't always work that way. What will his case manager be like when we move to the upper elementary? Will we revert to the attitude of the preschool, "we need to consider the kids with more needs- your child is too high-functioning to get support"?

No one knows Joey like I know Joey. I should think that even if this "committee of equals" must be, my voice would be the likes of Athens: a first among equals.


JoyMama said...

Wow. "First among equals."


I have to say, we're still in the early-childhood phase of the school-district journey, and we've had a wonderful team so far, and I *have* felt first among equals in the day-to-day discussion of how things are going. But in the big meetings with the big administrators -- the vibe changes, and so does the balance of power.

Miss Kitty said...

WOW. I would indeed think that parents would be given veto are dead-on about everyone else having a conflict of interest.

CC said...

What you are saying makes tons of sense. I'm sure it all comes down to money :( Luckily, in all my IEPs the specialists usually want as much or even more than support for the child than the parents were even dreaming of. So it usually works out. We had one meeting last year with 15 people! And I think the parents were really impressed with how much care and support we were trying to give their child.

Joeymom said...

It must be nice to be in a system that can offer appropriate support, and is willing to do so without a direct request from a parent. In many schools, every little support is a battle. We had a real problem brewing in the preschool- over gum. A very simple accommodation to allow Joey to focus, at no cost to the school (I provide the gum!) and you would have thought we were asking for the moon. If another child enters the system who needs intensive support, Joey will not even have an aide in his inclusion room. Obviously that is going to be a problem, and we will eventually have to cross the bridge- put "aide" in the IEP? Or hope they will have him prepared to be independent in the inclusion setting before a more needy child comes along?

I assure you, Joey is too "high functioning" for the school to allow him his own aide in his IEP.