Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Negotiating Season? Not quite.

I was taking a break from IEP prep this evening by scrolling through my Flipbook feed when I ran across this blog from Parenting Magazine about the IEP "Negotiating" season. I've read it a few times now and I get more frustrated each time.
The blog author, Robert Rummel-Hudson, a father who is getting ready for his child's IEP warns other parents of what the process will be like. At first I thought he was writing to encourage parents to take an active role in their child's IEP and to understand that they are an essential part of the IEP team. This is great! I thought. I want more parents to understand their role and how important they are. I want the parents to have a voice.
Then I kept reading.
Rummel-Hudson is speaking from his own experience, which I sincerely hope readers take into account as they read. His experiences are not going to be indicative of IEP meetings everywhere. Each state, each county, each school is going to hold them a bit differently. The same legal guidelines are the same, but every county puts its own spin on it, and each school, each set of personalities and school cultures is going to change how the meetings go.
I fear that parents gearing up for their first IEP meetings are going to be frightened by Rummel-Hudson's post, or will feel that they need to come in ready for a fight. He writes,
As parents, we advocate for our kids receiving as much in the way of services as we can get, and we do so knowing that our success could very well mean fewer resources for other students. That sounds harsh, but we shouldn't worry too much about that, because the school's position is the opposite. Giving each student as little as they can in the way of individual resources means more for everyone. It's an awkward dance that shouldn't be about money and resources but absolutely is.

Um, no. We do not sit at the table thinking, "let's give each student as little as we can because that means more resources for everyone." We sit there and think about what will be best for each individual student. As teachers we are passionate about your child- we want your child to succeed and we want your child to make unbelievable gains. We also know that some things that look like they will be beneficial actually can be a determinate to your child's learning. Some services look great but will hinder your child's ability to scaffold his/her learning, transfer skills and be independent. And then there is the legal aspect that we are, in fact, held to. Schools are required to provide what is considered a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE). Sadly appropriate doesn't always transfer to your child achieving their full potential. This "appropriate" piece stumps us too. It's not us, it's the law and the courts and how the word appropriate is determined. But many of us, if we think there is a way, will fight for you. 

I don't know Rummel-Hudson's situation and I am not a frequent reader of his blog so I may be missing important key points.

I'm not saying that parents shouldn't fight for their kids, but I'm worried that readers may get the wrong impression of IEP meetings from his post. It should never be a school vs the parents meeting. Tomorrow my post will be about what to expect in an IEP meeting.


Robert Hudson said...

I do appreciate your perspective, and your dedication to your work. I hope you'll understand that I've spoken to literally hundred of parents in the appearances I've done at conferences and book signings and such in the past five years. I think I can say with a measure of certainty that the adversarial nature of IEP meetings are not the exception to the rule. And as I tried to explain, there are reasons this is such a persistent issue.

Am I saying not to trust the schools, or the teachers? I am absolutely not, at all. But the thing that parents need to do most of all is trust their instincts and not be afraid to advocate for what they know is right. That can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and from what I seen from the many parents I've spoken to, circumstances are very rarely the best. But the investment for parents is complete, and doesn't end at the end of the school year. For parents, the stakes are unbelievably high.

Thank you again for your perspective.

Juliet Neary said...

That may be your perspective, as a teacher, but having dealt with three different schools systems, I can tell you that it is our experience as parents, more often than not. The schools I've dealt with do as little as possible. Then, when you hire an attorney, and threaten a due process hearing, your child's needs magically become reasonable.

You can get mad at Mr. Rommel-Hudson all you want. But his writing comes from experience, as does mine. Instead, you might think about doing so,etching constructive and informative with the knowledge you have, to help families navigate this process more effectively.

organized chaos said...

Thank you both for your thoughts. I do think that your voice needs to be heard, and I can't say it enough that I want parents to be more involved in the IEP process. (If you search my parent involvement tag you'll see the amount of time and thought I've put into working with parents). My IEPs tend to go on much longer than most, I do home visits prior to the meetings, and I spend a lot of time making sure everyone at the table is heard. Parents are an essential part of the child's progress. It is heartbreaking when parents come in ready for a fight and will not be a part of the team. We get nowhere and the child suffers. Parents need to be their child's advocate, but part of being an advocate is listening to the educators and using what is said at the table to make informed decisions.
I have heard horror stories from parents, and I have sat in on IEPs that have horrified me (not at my school, not run by me).
We'll be more productive as a team if you come in assuming good intentions but are ready for anything. Coming in ready for a fight only deepens the gap between parents and schools, when the best thing for the child is for everyone to be working together.

Robert Hudson said...

I appreciate your positive attitude. I hope you really do understand that the reality of the IEP process for a great many parents (probably the majority that I've spoken to, and I've literally talked to hundreds in the past five years), that process is fraught with anxiety, largely due to obstacles put in place by school administrators and teachers.

We would love to have the option of coming to the table and trusting that the rest of our team is putting the best interests of our kids above the policies and financial concerns of the district. We would love to trust that the decisions being made were done for the right reasons. And we would be thrilled if we were treated as equal, informed and invested members of the team, and not condescended to.

We would love it if that were a smart move for us to take. But we also understand how very risky it is. If we've become distrustful, it's probably worth its own discussion.

organized chaos said...

So here is what I want to know: what can we do as educators to improve the experience? What would make the perfect IEP? What can we do so that you will trust us? What do we need to do to build back lost trust?