Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

That was quite the shitstorm!

Today I went with a client to a school meeting. My client is a lovely woman, the mom of two teens, but she's not sure of herself in school meetings and needs an advocate to speak up for her when the school system tells her untruths. So many untruths.

Although she put my name in her IEP demand letter, the school was quite surprised to see me. They've been pushing my client around quite successfully for years, and they weren't initially all that thrilled to see another person who might not believe their take on things.

The meeting started out amicably, with our reviewing her son's work he's making up with his case manager, work that he missed due to severe chronic medical problems and hospitalizations. Work that the school felt was the son's responsibility to get from his teachers, make up on his own, and have handed in by now. Um, this is a teenage kid with very severe medical issues, issues that impact his schooling, his daily life, and his ability to function in a school setting without special help. Never mind his additional ADHD and emotional issues.

Once we got through the school work being made up, we turned to the current 504, which was not worth the paper it was printed on, and then worked to improve it by adding things like, oh, his freaking chronic illnesses (that would be plural), his ADHD, his depression, etc. None of those things were even covered in his 504.

During this part of the meeting I spoke up several times, and the head of SpEd figured out that she wasn't going to bamboozle me. She tried once, and I cited that the school would be seriously out of compliance if they tried that tack, and she backed down pretty quickly.

This was a 2-hour meeting, and I was drained by the time we finally got out of there. Since we've just drafted a document, there is another meeting to come, and then a third one once all the boy's testing has been redone and we can evaluate it.

Why I'm telling you all this is because I feel so good about myself right now. My client has been through the mill. Both of her kids have life-altering genetic diseases that take hours of her day to deal with. Her son is the sicker of the two, and the school really hasn't given him much of a break despite knowing how sick he is. He's been in and out of the hospital many times in the 3 years he's been in high school, and he's never had any help on catching up, never mind working with his parents to ensure that he won't be getting all incompletes.

But today, my client walked out of her first school meeting ever where she felt empowered. She felt as if the meeting went her way (and it did), that the school listened to her complaints and moved forward to make them something to acknowledge and improve. She felt happy and relieved, and she hugged me over and over again, thanking me for making them listen and act appropriately for the first time ever. Her son has been in this school system for 12 years now, counting kindergarten, and through all that schooling his special needs have been overlooked or ignored.

So much of why she felt relieved was because I did simple things like ask for a copy of his testing, last done when he was in 9th grade, and then went over each of the tests to show her the asychronicity of his results. I explained why certain things like math were difficult for him based on his test scores. Things the school should have done, but didn't.

The school, I have to admit, became very cooperative once they got the idea that I wasn't going away and that I wanted this kid to have the best possible outcome. We agreed on many things, I argued against other things, and I made them tell me why they came to certain conclusions.

I love what I do. I've said that before. This is why. I love when a parent can walk away from a meeting feeling like they have been heard and respected. I love when a parent feels supported instead of attacked. I love when the intimidation level is seriously lowered because they can't bullshit me the way they bullshit the parents. And mostly I love that a deserving kid is finally going to get the educational resources he should have been granted all along.

If you're frustrated with your school system and are not receiving the proper educational supports for your special needs child, hire an advocate. You don't always have to pay. People work on a sliding scale, and some advocates work for free. But you need an advocate, a person who will be there to kick your ankle when you start to tear up, who will express outrage when the school makes some lame excuse, and who will support your child in his bid to get the education he so deserves.

Educational advocacy rocks!

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Blogger Robin said...

We've got ours in about a week and a half. Too bad you can't come along (though we are bringing our private psychologist as well as the one from the city, who are both "on our side").

In truth, I'm a lot more concerned about this Tuesday's meeting to receive M's latest report from the Child Dev people - both times the new (and highly inexperienced) psychologist met with her she was a holy terror, above and beyond even her normal "problem" days. We never did finish the evaluation and I've got the distinct feeling that this new report is going to be completely skewed by this very extreme incident. I've asked M's own psychologist to try very hard to shift her schedule around so she can join us as the voice of reason and balance.

Keep your fingers crossed. This is going to be a rough couple of weeks.

6/5/08 4:39 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

We bring an advocate, too. Her presence eases the pressure for me (I work for the school district), and helps the entire team stay on track.

6/5/08 8:02 PM  
Blogger HopewellMomSchool said...

Just found your blog. Very good work. I dread IEP conferences. I dread the annual [and ongoing]fight to make the school obey them. I know how that Mom feels! I had to force the Vice Princpal to totally re-write my kid's schedule since his IEP was "woops, forgotten!"

7/5/08 8:54 AM  

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