Friday, August 14, 2009

How Does A History Disability Look?

The best gifts are those that are completely unexpected. I received one of those gifts this week in the form of an unexpected advocate.

The IEP meeting to determine Ashley’s placement for her first year in high school, and to develop her goals, objectives, accommodations and modifications, and related support services was held this week. It should have been held before school ended last year, and I don’t know the reason for the delay.

The meeting was expected to be contentious – Ashley’s IEP meetings always have been. The school district had eleven staff attending – people from Central Administration, the teacher, related service staff, and a high school assistant principal. I went by myself because I would feel terrible subjecting any of my friends to hours long meetings where people often cross the line into rudeness.

While I waited for the meeting to begin, a woman I have never seen before joined me on the office couch. I had heard her tell the office staff that she was there for Ashley’s IEP meeting, so when she sat down, I introduced myself as Ashley’s mother. She told me she was a contract vision teacher and also told me her name. I recognized the name. She is retired from a neighboring school district and has the reputation of being a no-nonsense, student-centered person. I immediately felt a connection to her.

After finally being called to the meeting room (most of the school staff meets before Ashley’s IEP meeting to discuss strategy), Ms. Vision Teacher took a seat right next to me. Introductions were made all around the table, and we got down to the business of IEP development.

The school staff first read me their PLOP statement (Present Level of Performance). I suggested changes because there were not enough academic related statements in the PLOP – the fact that Ashley likes beading just doesn’t seem all that relevant to me. I then read the PLOP statement I had written to reflect what Ashley had done and learned over the summer. I also handed out current vision and hearing reports from Ashley’s doctors.

Everyone was still playing nicely at this point. We went through goals and objectives for vision, reading, math and communication. We had all tweaked these a bit last school year when starting to discuss the IEP, so there were not too many changes to be made. We then moved to history and science objectives. One of the Central Administration staff asked why we had those things in the IEP. I looked questioningly at her and asked, “Why not?”

My question was answered with the statements, “Ashley doesn’t have a science or history disability” and “We are not teaching history this year – it’s a science year.” I’m sure the look on my face reflected my astonishment. Surely, I thought, they must be kidding, and just what does a science and history disability look like? But they weren’t kidding. Obviously, we went on to discuss these issues some more, and Ashley will have science and history in her IEP.

It was then time to move to accommodations and modifications. These items don’t usually cause too terribly much discussion, but when the one that stated “Ashley will have assistive technology for computer use”, the vision teacher spoke up and started listing exactly what she wanted Ashley to have. The Central Administration staff responded by saying, “We have something like that we will use instead.” The vision teacher said, “No, she needs exactly what I specified.” I thought there would be arguments, but the Central Administration staff conceded. I was really, really liking this vision teacher.

We then discussed orientation and mobility, a service that any and all blind children should have from the time they enter school. Ashley, however, has not had O&M services since preschool. The argument always was that the school district had no O&M teacher on staff. That is a true statement, and O&M teachers are indeed in high demand. But, as I always reminded them, that was their problem. But, because I always have lots of battles to fight, that one got pushed to the back burner. But the vision teacher insisted it come to the front burner.

Again, the vision teacher was adamant, and brushed off any disagreement. So, Ashley has O&M in her IEP for the first time in eight years. Did I say I really, really love this vision teacher?

The meeting had lasted about 3.5 hours at this point. The only item left was the biggest one – the elephant in the room we were all ignoring.

Because Ashley is deaf, I believe she needs an interpreter. To me, it is a no-brainer. The school district feels otherwise. We have fought this issue for years and years. Some years, Ashley has lucked out and gotten an aide who is a fluent signer. More often than not, she gets an aide who may know 10-15 signs.

We’ve been through state complaints, independent consultant reports, more state complaints, and always the school district hears that Ashley needs more sign language support, and still they fight it. In fact, we are in the middle of a complaint right now – a complaint that has progressed to involving attorneys.

So we all knew we were not going to finish the IEP that day. We tabled the discussion about sign language services, and will reconvene next Wednesday. If the complaint is not resolved by our state Department of Education, or if the school district continues to refuse to provide an interpreter, I’m not sure where we will get with the meeting.

As we were ending the meeting, the Central Administration staff asked me if we could just include the core participants for the Wednesday meeting. I agreed. The vision teacher asked if she needed to be present. The Central Administration staff said no, but the vision teacher turned to me and asked, “Do YOU want me to be there?”

Again, did I say I love this vision teacher?


Heather said...

Can I love her too? An advocate like that is worth far, far more than just her weight in gold.

Janet said...

WOW -- thanks for sharing such a positive story.

So the question I have, are the central office folks REALLY that dumb? Or were they just pretending, hoping (beyond hope) that you would fall for the history and science disability?