If It’s Almost Fixed, Let’s Not Break It

Published on May 22, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

It’s not even June yet, but my tolerance for the gamesmanship that accompanies so many Annual Review IEP meetings is getting lower by the day.  In particular, it never ceases to amaze me how very quickly some special education administrators want to yank services from a kid the moment it becomes clear that they are benefiting from them.

Kids aren’t cars; it’s not as if you just change the flat tire or replace a spark plug and move on until something else happens.

And yet, here is the pattern I am seeing, more and more.  We hold several IEP meetings, maybe even attend a Mediation, with me arguing on the parents’ behalf that the child needs x or y service or program, and that we are confident that if she were to get it, we would see dramatic improvement.  Begrudgingly, and sometimes at the urging of the school district’s special education attorney, they agree to do it.  Sometimes it happens quickly and easily, other times I have to threaten or file for Due Process.  On occasion, I have to ask the parents to concede some requested services in order to secure the ones they feel are essential.  But, most of the time, it happens.

And then some weeks or months later, the same group of people gets back together again to see how it’s going.  It is such a joy to attend those meetings, where the same speech and language pathologist who you heard state at the last IEP meeting that she didn’t know whether the child would benefit from working with her is now reporting great success with the child; or the special education teacher and parent are chatting about how well the child has been doing and thanking each other for the latest information; or the school psychologist is reviewing test scores, proudly noting the significant areas of improvement since the last testing.

I call these “before and after” IEP meetings.

At the “before” IEP meeting, the staff is hesitant, the parents are frustrated and sometimes angry, the chair of the meeting is defensive, and often the special education attorneys are jumping in to either clarify what was said, or perform damage control on something that shouldn’t have been.  “Unproductive” would be the kindest description of such sessions.  Most of the time we leave these contentious IEP meetings ready to litigate.

The “after” IEP meeting, however, is so much nicer.  People are smiling.  The parents speak and you can tell that the staff is actually listening.  When certain educators express their opinions, they family does not feel the need to dismiss what they have said, because a cooperative relationship has developed.  Birds are singing, and, dare I say it, the atmosphere feels…respectful.

The theme of the “after” meeting is “it’s working!”

Whatever the service, program or placement that has produced the successful special education IEP Team meeting, it’s usually a pleasure.  Therefore, I am always saddened, if not terribly surprised, when we attend an “after” IEP meeting and, just as the Team is looking around at one another, happily reporting on current levels of performance, the special education administrator spoils the moment with some comment like:  “so, if the youngster is making progress, shouldn’t we be scaling back the services?”

Screeeeeeeeeech!  Cue the crickets.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that the goal is to have children with special education needs find success with as little support as possible.  Nobody wants this more than the parents.  That’s why I find it so irritating when I hear school district staff make comments to parents like “we really don’t want to make him dependent on the adults,” or “we really don’t want her to become prompt dependent”…it’s all I can do not to respond “oh, that’s too bad, because that is exactly what the parents were shooting for!”

But to remove specialized instruction and related services just when they begin working is ludicrous.

Times are tough, and budgets are tight, but when school districts pull support from a child with disabilities just as a parent is beginning to feel like the special education program is successful, I assure you, that decision is ultimately costly.  Such moves not only squander the good will which was finally established with the family, but worse, have the potential to result in serious educational loss to the child.

And you can’t put a price tag on that.

2 Responses to If It’s Almost Fixed, Let’s Not Break It

  1. Rochelle Dolim
    May 22nd, 2009 | 9:13 pm

    This is exactly what our district has been doing for years … and they wonder why the girls keep backsliding. They say the girls could choose to benefit (like a hemopheliac could choose to benefit from aspirin therapy) if they didn’t have an agenda against the district.

  2. Catherine Merino Reisman
    May 24th, 2009 | 8:44 am

    I could not agree more – this is increasing exponentially this year!