As any parent who has a child with special needs in the USA knows, every spring there is a meeting in which the student's individual education plan (IEP) is discussed and set up for the next school year. This process is supposed to be a collaborative effort between the parents, teachers and therapists with a little bit of administration thrown in just for fun. The idea is to set out a series of learning goals for the child that will maximize their potential for growth in the upcoming school year. In theory it sounds delightful and right.
The practice of this is however, far from theory. Today my wife Heather is going to meet with Liam's IEP team to discuss his goals for next year. Notice how I say I am not going, it is just too frustrating for me. So when did we receive this supposedly collaborative document that needs to be completed today? It was in Liam's book bag last night when he got home from school about 4:00 PM. That provided us less than 24 hours to read, digest and potentially research the contents of the document. There is no time to consult with Liam's private therapists on the contents of the document to ask their expert opinions.
Further, the document is written using technical language that if you did not take the time to learn it, you would have little idea of what it really means in real English. I am indeed lucky that I have a School of Education and a couple of friends who teach in it to explain what some of the goals really mean to me. I fear for parents who do not have this kind of resource at their finger tips. Then again, this time I won't even have time to ask them to look it over since we got less than 24 hours with the document.
How is this process supposed to be collaborative if the parents are given the proper time to prepare for the discussion? Oh wait, while in theory this meeting is meant to be a discussion - in practice it often turns into a dictation (with allowing you to ask a couple of questions to make you feel better however, they will shut you down if we don't like what you are asking). This is why I do not attend and Heather does. I get too frustrated by the system as it is set up.
So what am I learning from this experience?
- Next year, I will insist that if i don't get the document at least 72 hours in advance, Heather or I will not attend the meeting. They can't progress without one of our signatures so...;
- If you want changes in the document you have to be polite but firm. They do not want to change the document. Please remember that the changes you request have to be reasonable but if they are, and they can not accommodate you, make them explain why; and
- Please remember that this process was set up by bureaucrats that seem to have no basis in reality. The teachers and therapists are trying to work in a system that fights them constantly as well. I am always polite to everyone at the meeting as a result. I do believe that they want what is best for my child and if they had unlimited resources they would go the extra mile every time. They are however, quite constrained by the system and as a result this process can become combative as people become defensive. Be nice, be polite and remember that you are on the same team (even when it is so difficult to do so at times). You can respectfully disagree but do it in a way that is constructive.
In truth, the three points above are hypocritical of me to be writing and recommending. I get very frustrated by the whole process and while I prep Heather for the meeting, I do not attend because I have such a hard time with how the system is set up and I do not think I can be constructive at that moment. My child is close to my heart and while I am almost Vulcan in my ability for logic, when it comes to him, I lose my objectivity.