Having been a full-time educator now for 15 years and having been a parent for almost 8 years, there are moments when the two experiences collide and one sheds light on the other in a blinding way.
This happened recently with my son’s IEP process.
WARNING: This is along one, readers.
[For those of you not in NYC, the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is what your child gets if s/he needs special education services–anything ranging from physical/emotional delays/disabilities to learning disabilities to services like speech.]
My sweet boy has speech issues–nothing drastic, but serious enough that it impacts his emerging reading and writing skills. We were told he needed help at the end of his last year of daycare right before he turned 4. They told us the public schools would test him. We got to our public school for pre-K and the pre-K teacher said that a lot of speech issues work themselves out from age 4 to 5 therefore they evaluate in kindergarten. We understood this to be true because our daughter had some speech issues that simply disappeared during pre-K, but that didn’t happen for Nico. At the end of pre-K his teacher said he would need speech services in K because it would affect his literacy skills.
Okay. We were on it.
At the first parent-teacher night in October, I discussed this with his teachers. They are wonderful, talented, brilliant women who know their craft inside out. They agreed speech services needed to happen. He was beginning to sound out words, and his speech problems were impeding him from sounding out/spelling correctly. For example, he walked up to me one night and proudly said, “I know three numbers that start with F!” I replied, “Fabulous–what are they?” and he said, “Fee, Four, Five!” He can’t say “th”. He has problems with “r.” He doesn’t have “g” or “k” down. Those are four year old milestones. He’s over five.
We agreed it was time to have him evaluated. This was October. And….
I emailed. They said the speech teacher was busy and she needed to do the first informal evaluation. They’d ask again.
Now it’s November.
I emailed again. They said they’d try again.
Now it’s early December.
I emailed the principal with a photograph of his writing on the class bulletin board that demonstrated that he’s writing like he speaks. (Photo below: Squirrels live in trees. He can’t say “q”, so he says “skirls” like “girls” but with a “sk” on it)
Thankfully, I am on the School Leadership Team and I saw the principal the next week and spoke to her directly. That week he was informally evaluated. We are told he needs speech (duh…). He would get at-risk speech services twice a week until he got an IEP.
The IEP process is slow and painful. They do an intake interview with the parents, and from that day forward they have 60 days to complete the necessary testing to determine if the student needs an IEP. He needed a psychoeducational evaluation and a speech evaluation. They didn’t happen. More emails from me. They happened *just before* the 60 day deadline. We got a envelope in his folder saying “Your IEP meeting is ———– date and ———- time.” I couldn’t make that date and time. I am in a fellowship and I had to present my writing at that exact date and time. There’s no number to call, no way to change the date–as a parent you have NO VOICE.
At that moment I wanted to light a candle and apologize to the dozens of parents I cursed out (either to myself or my colleagues) who didn’t show up for these IEP meetings during my 11 years in as a teacher. I often sat in on these meetings as the student’s general education teacher, and parents hardly EVER showed up. As a teacher, I was like, “WTF?! Isn’t your child’s special education status important to you? What’s going on? You suck!”
Well, to quote Biggie, “if you don’t know, now you know” because now I know what was going on. Most likely, these parents didn’t suck. They were at work. Or a meeting. Or sick. Or whatever. And they didn’t get even the smallest of voices in determining the date and time of this one very important meeting about their own child’s education. Pathetic.
Adam took the morning off and went.
But wait! The speech evaluation never got sent in. The meeting was at 10:30, Adam took off an entire morning to attend, and when he arrived some cog in the machine hadn’t done her part therefore the meeting couldn’t happen. Adam was not happy (understatement) and said (in a more professional way), “Awwww, hellz no, this meeting WILL happen” and it did. Nico’s speech teacher at the school was called in. His kindergarten special ed teacher was there (he’s in an ICT class so he has two teachers, a regular ed and a special ed teacher). They determined that he had serious problems with speech (again, not hitting 4 year old milestones) and he needed an IEP. It was collegial, professional, and Adam left with the strange sensation that this bureaucratic monster called the DoE might actually work from time to time.
Ha! Haha! Hahaha!
Well, you guessed it–he was wrong.
Nico was supposed to come home with his new IEP in his folder to be signed. It wasn’t there.
I got a call from the school’s parent coordinator asking could I meet with the principal at 8:30 Monday morning about Nico’s IEP.
So we went to meet with the principal. No teachers were present = no educator voices. The principal had acquired Nico’s speech evaluation from the MIA speech pathologist. It said no IEP was needed. His psychoeducational evaluation report said he was very, very smart. We argued that his intelligence was never in question–his speech was in question. His report card said he was at grade level. What did that have to do with his speech problems? We were told he was too smart and his grades and the test indicated he was fine. Trying to clarify WTF was happening, we said, “So you’re saying he has to FAIL in order to get speech?”
The answer from everyone at the table was YES.
Let me say that again: OUR SON HAS TO FAIL IN ORDER TO GET SPEECH SERVICES THAT ALL HIS TEACHERS SAY HE NEEDS.
Even though a professional speech pathologist who has been working with him twice a week for three months says he needs mandated speech, even though a special education teacher who has been his classroom teacher since September says his speech problems impact his reading and writing, because he tested as super intelligent and is at grade level (note: not above grade level, which is where I think someone with such high test scores should be if he’s so freakin’ intelligent), he does not get an IEP and gets no speech services.
We were livid. And frustrated. But talking to this bureaucratic monster is like talking to an automated machine. There’s no nuance, no critical thinking, no true understanding as educators. Appalling.
The principal is keeping him in at-risk services until June as what I feel is a consolation prize for what is obviously a broken system. She suggested we can pay for additional speech services out of pocket. We can do that. Not easily, but we can make room in our budget for that, But what about families that can’t? What do they do?