Monday, November 9, 2009

Those Were the Days My Friends

I used to be such a public-school fan. And then N came along and, without meaning to, he systematically searched out and revealed to me all of that institution's flaws.

They're not pretty. Like pus-filled-pestilence level of not-pretty.

On Friday, I went to meet with the principal at N's school, to sign a document that states, flat out, that he is "at risk of retention" due to very low scores both on standardized tests and in classroom performance in both language arts and mathematics.

Apparently, "no child left behind"? Means "we're going to leave your child behind, because we think he's at risk of being left behind."

What the...?

The form includes a laundry list of at-home interventions of the "parenting for dummies" type: Monitor/review assignments. Make sure student attends school regularly. Be available for support. Establish consistent routine and quiet place for studying. Monitor TV/computer game/phone usage. And my laugh-bitterly-until-there's-too-much-bile-in-my-mouth-to-swallow-back-down favorite? Communicate with teacher and school frequently.

Because, you know, the 17 daily emails to his teacher, his OT, his speech therapist, his advocate...That's not enough. They need to hear MORE from me.

As for the school's part in keeping my failing son from, you know, failing? "Modifications of work as needed."

That's it. They'll make the work easier for him, because that will...

And so I asked the principal: What else are you going to do? Will he get time with the resource specialist? Pull-out groups? A reading specialist? SOMETHING?

Oh, no, says the principal. Only the schools that qualify for Title I funding have those sorts of things. We're too rich around here. So my son? Will get nothing...and like it. Even if he has to like it while repeating the third grade.

Now, if the assessments we're currently doing turn up something useful--like, say, a learning disability--and he qualifies for special education under his IEP, all of this will be moot. Because, apparently, being learning disabled gets attention. That's interesting. But if not? Well, nobody gives a crap if you're just regular not smart.

And so it is with all of that anger and bitterness that I head out, tomorrow afternoon, for our 'emergency' IEP meeting, to set up a behavior-support plan that will hopefully help N feel a little less stressed in the classroom while we go through the rest of the testings and meetings and official IEPs and follow-up evaluations and know, all that business as usual. And because I've essentially lawyered up, what with the hiring of an advocate, suddenly all SORTS of people are planning on being at this meeting, which was supposed to be just a quick check in. At last count, I know of eight people who will definitely be there. All to decide which goal we should focus on over the next month or so (raising his hand in class? partnering with another child during group activities? going to the bathroom less frequently?) and how best to help him reach that goal.

This they have the time and money for, because I'm bringing in someone who scares them. But academic support on a regular, useful basis? Nah. Not that.

I used to be such a public-school fan. Those were the days.


Niksmom said...

WTF?? I'm sure your advocate has already touched on this fine but salient legal point...Title 1 "defense" doesn't fly. If N's disability is enough to qualify him for an IEP then that IEP needs to be structured to provide him with the tools and supports necessary for him to have ACCESS to his FAPE.

Don't know if you read Corrie's blog about her son Jonathan. She shared this with me about meds but it applies here, too. "It's like trying to learn Spanish while your house is on fire. It's impossible bc you are in survival mode." That's where N is every day in school and they (school) need to be made to understand that. He can't learn all those lovely IEP goals and skills when his (proverbial) house is on fire.

Sending you good thoughts for a productive meeting. Or at least one in which no one gets injured. ;-)

Niksmom said...

Erm, meant to add in re Title 1: it was designed to "level the field" b/c those schools' children were "handicapped" by socioeconomics. In N's case, the handicap isn't the same but it is a handicap none the less.

kristenspina said...

Dear god. The countless ways in which districts put up roadblocks, all to the detriment of kids. I sometimes think that half these things they claim they can't do because of expense or because "we don't do that here" would be incredibly simple to implement and execute for virtually no money if they would just OPEN their minds to a little creative thinking.

I am so sorry about all of this, but sadly, not the least bit surprised. Let's hope your advocate keeps them on their toes and doesn't take any crap.

goodfountain said...

Sigh. I'm so so so glad you got an advocate.

I don't think the school realizes what kinda Momma they are dealing with here. Go get 'em.

Jordan said...

Yup. This is why I stopped working for the public schools. The priority is funding - paying for as little as possible - and not the actual children they're mandated to serve. Granted, the federal gov't instituted FAPE and then didn't fund it, so no one's innocent here.

Are you saying that N doesn't have an IEP yet, or that he simply doesn't have a diagnosis at this point that "allows" for the academic support he needs? If their testing doesn't turn something up, I wouldn't stop there - their testing is not usually very thorough. I'd go get a full private assessment myself with someone who will leave no stone unturned, and then bring that back to them. That + the legal representative = major results.

Sorry you have to go through this, it's absurd and just wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. There are so many things wrong... I'm glad you have the advocate. Will be sending good thoughts (and big cluesticks) in the general direction of N's school.

- Susan M.

Ambre said...

Your principal really sinks her boat further every day. I'm not sure how much more back assward she could have things.

I would seriously complain to the district about that comment. Even without the whole IEP issue, it doesn't fly (and I understand that's part of what your anger is directed- because kids without parents pushing for IEPs are just gonna get lost).

A school doesn't have to be a TItle 1 school to be required to have supports for children who are falling behind. Period. DId she get her administrative credential out of a crackerjack box?

All of these people are shpowing up because a) your hiring of the advocate told them you're serious and are arming yourself with whatever resources are available, and b) their previous assessment failed to note the issues that would severely hamper his academic progression, and THEY KNOW IT. They told you he'd probably be OK. The test results were there in front of them that should have told them that he'd need serious help to get through the transition to upper grades. They get a huge fail. HUGE.

Ambre said...
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Ambre said...

Deleted my other comment because I accidentally put his full name ;) I'll just talk to you about it... someday.

TC said...

You may have deleted it, Ambre, but I got it in my mailbox first. And thanks. I sometimes wonder if I'm overreacting to these things because my pride is wounded at the idea of my son not being Smart. (And I'm sure that actually DOES play a part in it...but it's good to know that it's a righteous indignation in other ways, too.)

Ambre said...
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Ambre said...

Argh, I did it again. Just freaking shoot me.

Time for a nap!

Green said...

But the thing is, I think N *IS* smart. And I've never been wrong in pegging a kid smart. Never. I just think they can't tap into his smarts, and N can't tap into it either. But he's the KID, it's the school's job to draw it out of him and to build on it.

Here is my problem (would you like me to attend your meeting? I'm all riled up now): what will holding N back do that will be helpful? How will that help him to raise his hand? Or stop going to the bathroom so many times?

How will holding him back help him achieve his/your/their goal of him learning? Unless they can articulate this, I would not allow it, because he and his peers are at the age where they're old enough to ridicule for such things, and N already has enough struggles socially. He doesn't need to be tasked with having to get used to a whole new grade's worth of kids.

I would want definite and specific instances that explain why holding N back would be successful. Because it sounds to me like it's a blind effort on the school's part. What is their plan for if he doesn't succeed after being left back? To leave him back again? And again? Until what? He's 12 years old and in second grade?

Please bring your husband. Please tell him to wear a suit, or at least business casual clothing. My mother swore up and down that her results were different when my father took time off from work to attend my IEP meetings. "It must be serious if the FATHER is getting involved."

Ambre said...

And just to reiterate- "needs extra help" is not at all synonymous with "not smart." In 3rd, for one thing, reading is an integral part of most, if not all classwork. A processing issue in that one area could affect academics globally- even though the child has no problems with the skills (conceptual problem solving, visual processing, creative thinking,etc) that are actually needed to excel in those areas.

So once appropriate services are offered for the actual weaknesses, the child quickly gains ground in other areas as well.

So stay optimistic.

Ambre said...

And just an addition (if you can't tell that I'm spitting mad and have both ideas and invectives flowing freely).

If the retention is brought up in the emergency IEP, ask them why his 2nd grade teacher never informed you that he was so far below grade level. And remind them that reducing expectations reduces performance- that's not the goal here. The goal is to raise his performance to the level of his ability.

Meg said...

Your school doesn't have any type of support for kids that are behind but not IEP-eligible? I know there are horrendous budget issues, but from every possible view, that is ridiculous. A kid that is having a tough time in third grade may not do better if they repeat third grade and are taught the same way they didn't get it the first time! And it costs a lot more to educate a child for an extra year, than to have them go for extra help a few periods a week.

Having "extra help" from a qualified teacher as a pull-out is the first step here for a struggling student and is actually designed to avoid giving kids the Special Ed designation. With the full SPED, an IEP is required which is much more work and money for the district.

I would go above the principal's head to make sure she is interpreting district policy correctly. In the meantime, you may want to get a tutor for him if you can (I know it may be costly) to go over the work with him one on one. He is certainly bright enough for third grade, it is the school that is not meeting his needs.

I am angry for you and for N.

Jane said...

I understand you are angry, and BOY are you angry, but I wonder...what happened to that zen attitude you were rocking a week or so ago?

As far as public schools sucking--some of them do. Some of them don't. Some private schools suck. At least you're not paying $25,000/year to get screwed over.

po said...

Ugh, where to begin... Yes, if N requires a service, they HAVE to provide it. Like the principal in MA who tried to tell me, "I don't have an aide in first grade." My answer to her should have been, "Well, then you'd better hire one!"

Third grade is a huge sea change academically. The requirements very dramatically become more difficult. And as Ambre noted, academics become much more cascaded, with each skill leading to the next, so if a kid doesn't get one skill, it impacts all the others down the line. Matthew went from perfect scores in math to real difficulty, since he couldn't memorize his multiplication tables and ALL math that followed depended on knowing your multiplication tables.

I almost swooned when I read Niksmom's quote about learning Spanish when your house is on fire, because it is so strikingly perfect. For kids with intense anxieties, their systems are on full alert. How can much learning penetrate that level of self-protection?

Was this state testing the state tests done last school year? How are the results indicating his potential for failure only now?? Or if they were more recent, damn it, it's only the beginning of Nov. It's not even first report card period for us. How can they think he's so at risk of failing a grade that's barely begun?

I'll leave "intelligence often has little correlation to school performance" to Ambre, since that's her drum to beat :p.

Hugs, PLEASE update and let us know how today's meeting went!

Tamar said...

I don't really have anything to add that hasn't been said by your wise cadre, but just wanted to throw in a "grrrrr!" on your behalf. This is beyond absurd. That the principal is saying this now, in the middle of the assessments and everything else, speaks loudly. Too loudly.


PnP said...

I have nothing to say, literally, im speechless. That the administrators at N's school care so little is so incredibly infuriating! I feel like I heard that if a school doesn't have the programs a child needs, they are required to pay for the child to go to a school that does have the programs. I could be way off but maybe there is a way to get him to a place worthy of him...on the districts dime?