The Dreaded IEP Meeting

We finally had Sam’s long-awaited IEP meeting. For those of you who don’t live in the world of IEPs, I’ll briefly explain: IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. It’s basically a learning plan for students who may need some extra services or accommodations to succeed in school. Theo has one because he has a fine-motor delay. His IEP just states that he’ll get 30 minutes of occupational therapy a week at school, and it has several goals for him to meet each year. The goals are revised as he meets them and needs new challenges. Eventually, when his fine-motor skills catch up to those of his peers, he’ll no longer need an IEP (in theory).

Sam’s IEP is more complicated because he has global delays in almost all areas. The only measurable area in which he doesn’t have a delay is socialization. Mr. Personality tests quite high in that area. 🙂 But he has delays in fine motor, gross motor, cognitive development, self-care, and speech, so his IEP will be pretty comprehensive. This initial IEP also determines his preschool placement, and that’s been our sticking point. The school district only offers special ed and thus wants him in a special ed class. We feel he’d be better served in a general education or a full-inclusion environment, so that’s what we’re fighting for.

Let me take a moment to define general ed vs. inclusion, since that’s a bit of a hazy topic. General ed is the type of program that any typical child goes into. The kids have a variety of skill levels, as everyone does, but it’s not considered special education. Inclusion, on the other hand, is a program where some kids are typically developing and some have special needs. There are different levels of inclusion. Some programs have kids with special needs in a contained (i.e., no typical children) class for part of the day and then they spend the rest of the day in a classroom with typically developing kids. Full-inclusion classrooms have typically developing kids and kids with special needs together for virtually everything. The kids with special needs may get some pull-out or push-in services, where they are either taken out of class for certain things or have an aide in the class for certain things, but in general it’s a classroom where kids with special needs and typically developing kids comingle and work together.

For Sam, I would’ve been happy with either general ed or full inclusion. His Early Intervention program is actually like an inclusion program—most of the kids have special needs, but there are some typically developing kids in the program, too. And the level of needs varies greatly—a couple of kids have Down syndrome, like Sam; some appear to be vaguely on the autism spectrum; some have speech delays; and some I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about, because they appear to be typically developing as far as I can see. (Some special needs are more obvious than others, so it’s hard to say. I can pick out a kid with Down syndrome at 20 paces, but when it comes to something like autism, it can be difficult to tell.)

I have loved the inclusion in Sam’s EI program. It’s been wonderful, and he has learned so much and had a wonderful time. If they had a preschool program like that, I would’ve been thrilled. I also would’ve been happy with a general ed program. I think Sam will do absolutely fine alongside typically developing children. Sure, his play will be a bit less mature in some ways, and he likely won’t learn some of the skills as quickly as his peers, but I think he would hang in there and thrive. Any interaction I’ve ever witnessed between Sam and other kids has always been positive—and that’s typically developing kids or kids with special needs. He’s just very social and friendly and gets along with everyone, and other kids tend to warm right up to him, too. (Yes, I realize we’ll reach a point where kids can be cruel, but at this young age, it’s still a very level playing field, from what I’ve witnessed.)

But all our district has is special ed, and the special ed class they suggested for Sam was 0% inclusion. His draft IEP says right on it, in black and white, that he would spend 100% of his day in a segregated classroom. And the bigger issue is that the class only has three students, and at least one of them isn’t talking. Since we’re focusing heavily on helping Sam with speech, we really want him to have other children who are using language as models. Plus, the teacher of the special ed class emphasized that they spend a lot of time working on social skills…and as I mentioned earlier, Sam scores very high in social skills already, so that’s really not a focus he needs.

So now that you’re up to speed on the background (if you didn’t already know it!), I’ll tell you about the IEP meeting itself: It was uneventful. I made cookies, because I’ve read the tip countless times that you should bring a little something. Not that I think such a “bribe” actually works, but I figured that everything is better when done with cookies, so what the heck? Made my homemade gluten-free coconut chocolate-chip cookies, and they were a hit. The team coordinator can’t eat gluten, I later discovered, so she was thrilled to be able to actually eat one!

Everyone sat around the table and had a very pleasant discussion about Sam and our goals. On the district’s end, we had the team coordinator and four other representatives from the team: the psychologist, the occupational therapist, the physical therapist, and the speech therapist. On our end, we had me and Chris, and we had Sam’s wonderful EI teacher, Merci. Sam’s Regional Center caseworker didn’t show up and didn’t even respond to anyone when the notification of the meeting was sent to her almost two months ago. I guess she couldn’t be bothered. Harrumph.

But we all had a nice chat. There was no drama. We agreed with most of the goals they’re setting for Sam, although we’re iffy on the one about learning to cut with scissors for one simple reason: His hands are so darn tiny that they don’t fit even the adaptive “loop” scissors that they use for young children with motor difficulties. Sam’s teacher confirmed this—they’ve tried them in class, and his hands are just too darn small. (They actually have a new piece of artwork up in his EI class that consists of each child’s handprints on a canvas board. When they put it up the other day, I was struck by how much smaller Sam’s hands are than any of his classmates’ hands. Yikes! Tiny but mighty…)

And, as expected, we disagreed on the major point: where Sam will go to preschool. But it was a cordial disagreement. The district presented their reasoning for why Sam should go into special ed, which was a rather vague discussion about “feeling as if he would benefit from a specialized environment.” I presented our reasoning for why we do not feel that’s the best placement. And we agreed to disagree. Two days later, I signed the IEP with the correct legal documentation to ensure that I was not agreeing to a special ed placement and that the district is aware that we are taking legal action to get reimbursement for general ed preschool tuition for Sam, since they offer no general ed program. And so it begins: Our lawyer has begun drafting our complaint, and the district has let me know that someone higher up in the ranks will be calling me soon.

Will this make it all the way to court, or will we reach a settlement with the district before that? I honestly have no idea. But the wheels are in motion now, and the one positive thing I can say is that everyone at the district has been extremely cordial—I honestly have no complaints about how they’ve handled Sam’s case. I do have issues with the fact that there’s no general ed or inclusion option, but that’s a separate issue from how the people involved have handled things thus far.

One bit of amusing information: Apparently, Sam’s delays are not significant enough for the district to qualify him for special ed under his intellectual disability. Instead, they have to qualify him under a medical disability. Evidently his skills are very close to borderline in many areas, so technically, he does not yet qualify as intellectually disabled. He likely will at some point in his life, as the gap between his cognition and that of his peers widens, but at this point in time, he’s not so very different from his typically developing peers, in the grand scheme of things. Which proves my point that he’d do well placed among them. 🙂

Sam starts at his general ed preschool next week, the day after his birthday. I’m so sad to leave his EI program, but I’m excited for him to settle into his new program, because I think he’s going to rock it! And deep down, I have a sneaking feeling that the representatives from the district know the same thing. 🙂

What's that you say? I'm headed to general ed preschool? I'm ready—bring it on!
What’s that you say? I’m headed to general ed preschool? I’m ready—bring it on!


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