T-minus 12 business days until the end of June, and therefore the close of yet another whirlwind Annual Review IEP Season. Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to make it without another few rants. In my special education law practice in Connecticut, I attend most of the Annual Reviews on behalf of my clients this time of year, and so starting in March and increasing in frequency through June, I am in IEP meetings almost daily, sometimes more than one a day. So, please forgive me for being particularly cynical at this time of year, as I hear the same things in IEP meeting after IEP meeting, in district after district, coming out of the mouths of numerous staff members.
Let me be clear, there are differences in each IEP meeting, just as there are similarities. I’m not talking about hearing similar things from meeting to meeting; I’m talking about THE SAME refrains repeated over and over. And here is one I’ve heard three times this week alone, each time in response to a significant concern raised by a parent about their child’s progress or behavior:
“Well ALL kids do that!”
Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I realize, as do my clients, that there certain things, and certain behaviors, which most kids at some point might say or do. However, when a parent is giving an example of something that their child is doing at home or in school at an IEP Team meeting, sitting next to their attorney who is there because they have such serious concerns, does the school district really believe that they are giving these examples just to point out that their child is just like all other kids in this regard? NO, they are not! They are letting the Team know that this particular behavior or statement is prevalent or significant enough that it goes beyond the norm.
Perhaps the school staff think responding that the child’s performance is “typical” will make the parents feel better; it doesn’t.
In fact, when the teacher’s or administrator’s response to the concerns of the parent of a child with special needs is “all kids do that,” the parents actually hear “that’s not a concern.” Well, it’s THEIR concern, and they are raising it at the IEP meeting for a reason. They are exercising their legal right to meaningfully participate in the development of their child’s IEP, one of the most important procedural safeguards under the IDEA.
To make them feel like the examples they give are not valid is dismissive and, sometimes, insulting.
For instance, if a mother suspects that her child might have an autism spectrum disorder, and she says “sometimes he won’t respond to his name,” she is letting the IEP Team know that her son is routinely unresponsive to his name, and that she is very worried about it. The insensitive response: “well, lots of the 5 year olds in our class don’t respond to their name sometimes” is an uncanny grasp of the obvious. My guess is she knows that already. Or when a father says “when I do homework with her I notice she is reversing her b’s and d’s,” he is expressing concerns about a learning disability, perhaps dyslexia. So hearing “some kids will occasionally reverse their letters, it’s perfectly normal” is not helpful.
The purpose of the IEP Meeting is to discuss a child’s special education needs, not to “sugar-coat” them.
Now, don’t get me wrong; a child’s strengths are vital to understand in order to develop an appropriate program; and of course sometimes parents and the school district don’t see the child the same way. In addition, it can be very helpful for a family to understand which things are developmentally or age appropriate as compared with other children, which is information teachers can often provide.
Yet, school district staff would go a long way towards establishing a trusting relationship with the family is they assumed that when they raise a concern about their child, it is a genuine expression of just that.
And the school would go even further if they actually addressed those issues in the services outlined in the IEP, but that’s another rant.