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Preparing for Battle – Part 1

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It’s been a stressful 2 months.

In the month of March I was sick twice, had 2 ARD meetings (both tabled) and took 2 trips. So far April has been all about waiting.

But, this month (April), at long last, I hope, closes the loop on an ARD that has been tabled twice thus far, and will send my child and I into the happy downward slide that is the end of the school year.

But, I can’t celebrate yet.  In fact, for as cool, calm and collected as I really and truly am, holding burn out at bay, I am single minded on what I hope is the conclusion to this unending ARD.

The first ARD, on the last day of February, was pretty contentious.  I had hired an advocate, a friend, to charge into battle with me.  She had done an evaluation on my son and found, that even after all of the remediation he has had, that there were a couple of key underlying weaknesses that could and would bring forth a plateau that he would find very frustrating.

To throw a curve ball into this dynamic:

The team and I had met with some district representatives in January in order for me to ask several questions and get answers regarding district positions / policies / practices in general regarding dyslexia and how all of this applied to / impacted my child as well as my thoughts on their answers.

Part of this meeting was focused on a December report from our private tutor that my son had made a dynamic leap ahead in the Neuhaus program.  Intrigued, the school team performed an ad hoc evaluation and agreed with the commentary from our private tutor that my child had made a dynamic leap forward.

According to their ad hoc report and by their interpretation, my son was now reading on grade level, the ultimate goal.

This meeting was fruitful if not still frustrating.  I was happy that I had finally met some of the district reps and been able to get the measure of some of the people making decisions that impacted not just my child, but all of our dyslexic children in the district.

I like getting the measure of someone.  It satisfies my curiosity and lets me know exactly the type of person I’m dealing with, and that just enables me to do what I do best, negotiate.

Anyhoo, approximately one month later we met for the first ARD.  I woke up that morning with the beginning of sickness number 1 and felt like I had been run over by a train.  I called my advocate and told her how I felt and she said she had my back, which I knew was 100% true.  We altered our already pre-arranged game plan to do good cop / bad cop and decided she would do all of the talking and I could sit back and enjoy the ride of the meeting while descending into the depths of illness.

My advocate had to conference in and is a passionate go-getter and I love her to death.  She’s feisty!  However, the team in the room were NOT responding well to her at all and the meeting quickly disintegrated into chaos and enmity.

I found myself having to play peacekeeper between the school and the advocate and trust me when I say the bizarre reality of that was not lost on me in the moment.  If I could have recorded the dialog inside my head it would have been entertaining.

Before the meeting even began I had decided I was not signing the IEP paperwork in the meeting.  (You should NEVER sign the paperwork there in the meeting but take the time to take it home, re-read it, discuss it, debate it, seek advice and go back in if necessary to make changes.)  During the heated exchange I had doubly decided I was not signing the paperwork, especially as we needed to table a couple of topics.  As we went through the goals that’s when the team choose to blind side me.

Note, we were almost 3 hours into this meeting.  I felt like absolute hell, was running a slight fever and had to pause the meeting every 20 minutes to go to the ladies room as I grew more and more dehydrated.  So, at this point I’m frustrated, a bit angry, very tired and feel like death warmed over, and they blind sided me.

This is an excellent point to talk about Prior Written Notice.  This part of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is defined as:

Required written notice to parents when school proposes to initiate or change, or refuses to initiate or change, the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child.

“Your son is reading on grade level so we are removing the reading goal from his IEP.”

I wish I could have seen the look on my face.

I am well practiced at keeping a poker face, but I have a skin condition called rosacea so sometimes my emotions will drive the color in my face to bright red.  I HATE this aspect of myself, but I try to compensate for it in other ways so that I never show my hand.  At least because of my fever my face had been red for the whole meeting. I know my eye brow arched (and I can do that quite well).  I know I uncrossed and recrossed my legs as I shifted from one side of my chair to the other.  The teacher closest to me shifted away from me and her face was priceless.  The principal touched his face and adjusted his jacket.

Yeah, they knew I was enraged and they were quite uncomfortable. But, I stayed very, very, very calm.

“This is not per IDEA.”

“Yes, it is per IDEA.”

Small smile.  “Unfortunately you’re incorrect and I will prove it to you.”

I announced to the room that the meeting was officially over.  I said I disagreed vehemently and was not going to sign any paperwork and we would regroup.  We settled on a date 3 weeks into the future (Spring Break was pending and I had a lengthy business trip scheduled immediately after Spring Break).  We concluded and I packed up and left.

I called my advocate from the car and we spoke for the next hour or so while we took turns raging over the events of the meeting.  I told her what my thoughts were on how to regroup and she agreed.

Over the next 3 weeks my child underwent 3 new private evaluations.  One for spelling, one for IQ and lastly his annual mid-year review with Lindamood-Bell.

See, Lindamood-Bell is the baseline.  They were the first group to evaluate our child when he hit the wall.  The full private evaluation we have was after 140 hours of Lindamood-Bell remediation, so I take advantage of the annual mid-year review, lay the results out next to the prior years, do a deep dive with the LMB director into what’s progressing, what’s regressing, etc., in other words what is my son’s evolution on the remediation path looking like, and adjust accordingly.

So in three weeks I shelled out another $2000, on top of all the money we’ve already spent these last three years (and EVERY SINGLE PENNY HAS BEEN 100% WORTH IT!)  just for 3 new evaluations to counter the school’s position, which I knew to be inaccurate.  Every evaluator knew my timeline and all had their results to me with enough time for me to prep for ARD #2.

In addition, the amazing feisty advocate was sending me articles, benchmarks and language that I needed.  I was also reaching out to my circle of friends asking questions about measurements, benchmarks, interpretations, etc.  I found myself having to act like a sieve, distilling everything that I was being bombarded with (and I had asked to be bombarded), filter my emotions, take the poorly written IEP draft that existed, and get down to an end product that would show exactly where my son stood, what his needs were, and where we needed to go from here.

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47+ pages later, I had achieved just that.

In case you’re wondering, the image above is my typed and printed reply.

  • Approx 12 pages of original content, authored by me with the support of my circle with book excerpts and VENN diagrams,
  • the IEP Draft converted to Word and significantly marked up and commented on,
  • a revised parent statement for the PLAAFP section,
  • and 4 bell curves.

12 copies.  Oh, and I had 3 appendixes which were the 3 new evaluations.

(And yes, that was a lot of fun!)

The night before, I sent the document to three different people to read.  They consisted of one super amazing Neuhaus trained teacher and friend, one of my two dyslexia sisters in arms in The Dyslexia Initiative, and my advocate.  They all blessed the document, felt I had left no stone unturned, and wished me good luck.

For once, I knew with certainty, I was going to dominate the room.

Oh, I forgot. This time, I was going in solo.

They threw three district reps at me.  I had known about them because I had asked for the list of names.  I do this out of caution and I look each one up in the district directory to understand exactly who they are and where they fall into the org structure.  Two I had met before.  One was the head of general education dyslexia curriculum, one was in charge of special education curriculum and the third was listed as a teacher at one of the district schools.  I had to seek clarification on why a teacher from another school, with no knowledge of who my child was, was in fact attending the ARD meeting.  Turns out she had been promoted out of the school to the district offices and was a compliance officer.

I found that tidbit VERY interesting.  Compliance officer?  Really?  Ok.  Noooo problem.

Oh, and the last thing I did was inform the school that my son was going to attend the meeting and they needed to make the appropriate arrangements.  They said no problem, he would be there.

Normally I don’t sleep well the night before a school meeting. I play out scenarios in my head, run through conversations, questions, retorts, etc.  I work diligently to purge all of my emotions so that I am as cool and collected as possible, but, that night I slept like a dream, took the next day off of work, took my time getting ready that morning, and went back into battle.

To be continued….

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