I simply do not understand the attempt by so many school districts, and their counsel, to portray the genuine concern of parents of children with special education needs as exaggerated, or worse, fabricated. Having practiced special education law in Connecticut for many years, and represented hundreds of families in that time, I am just getting fed up with this approach.
Do these people think that there is some massive, epidemic case of special education Munchhausen’s Syndrome running rampant throughout the country?
In the majority of the IEP meetings I attend, the school district is trying to portray the student as performing better than the parents are seeing. Obviously, when the parents are there with a lawyer claiming that a Free and Appropriate Public Education is not being provided, the school has an interest in “propping up” the progress. I get it. But what I DON’T get is how special education administrators can continually insinuate that the concerns the parents are raising are disingenuous.
For example, if I have to hear one more special educator tell a parent of a child with autism that “lots of 5 year olds do that,” I’m going to throw a shoe.
You’ve been there…the school is saying that the student is doing just fine, the parents are saying that they are very worried about their interaction with typical peers. It goes something like this:
Parent: “He doesn’t seem to be having any conversations with the kids on the playground.”
Special ed administrator: “Well, his teacher said she is seeing him talking to other kids, right, you see that, right?”
Parent: “Well, yeah, he’s talking, but we’ve noticed that what he’s really doing is repeating the entire Diego video he loves. The other kids just look at him like he’s weird or something.”
Special ed administrator: “Well, LOTS of five year olds talk about the videos they’re watching.”
This is the part where I start itching to throw my shoe.
I just want to ask these administrators, what parent wants to see their child as struggling, if they aren’t? In fact, don’t most parents generally see their children in the best possible light?
This whole attitude that, somehow, parents of children with special needs set about to make their child’s needs seem greater, so that they can get more special education services, is just ridiculous! I actually had a Board attorney write a brief once that focused repeatedly on the parents’ “plan” to set the school district up to have to pay for their child’s services. As if, years before, the parents, newly married and with stars in their eyes, looked at each other and said “honey, I have a GREAT plan…let’s have a really impaired child just so that our school district has to spend a lot of money on him in 10 years. What do you think? Great plan, huh?”
Or, those cases where the parents are fighting to have their child attend a private special education program because their child’s needs are so significant, and the school acts as if they want the town to pay for Choate. Do they ever stop and think how incredibly difficult it must be for a parent to look at some of these self-contained schools and think that this is where their child needs to be? Wouldn’t any parent be happy to just put their child on the bus and see them head to school like everyone else in their neighborhood?
I wish more people who work in special education would consider that the parents of children with special needs want the same things that the parents of children without disabilities want: a successful education and life for their kids. It’s just that parents of kids with special education needs are far less likely to get it, at least not without a fight.
With very few exceptions, I can tell you that the hundreds of parents I have met are not making this up. In fact, many have had to work hard to acknowledge their child’s disability, or to have their spouse do the same. Instead of making them feel like their concerns about their child are “in their head,” perhaps school staff should consider whether the parents might have more insight into this one child, who is in fact THEIR child, than they might have given the number of kids for whom they are responsible.
It would be a good start.