I won’t keep you in suspense: the meeting went well. Jack now has support services for 30 hours a week. (For those of you bad at math, that’s all school day, every school day.) He will have individual one to one support during the entire school day except for during the morning meeting, lunch, recess, and during specials (art, music, PE, and library). I’m happy. Alex is happy. The poor teacher who is afraid Jack is going to eat a pushpin on her watch seemed happy.
Our meeting was long, and a little grueling. We started by going over the school’s OT evaluation (sorry, no services there) and their review of our speech evaluation (okay, we’ll increase it from 15 minutes a week to thirty).
What followed was a long, and important discussion about specifics of Jack’s IEP, but it’s all kind of blurry to me now. Alex, our lawyer, and our educational consultant stepped up for this. One very important thing that happened here, aside from making sure that crucial bits about Jack’s challenges, behavior, and history were on the document, is that the IEP changed from giving Jack access to support 18 hours out of the week, to giving Jack support 30 hours out of the week.
To those of you without children with IEPs, this may sound like 30 hours of one to one support a week, but it’s not. It means that the aide in Jack’s classroom is accessible to him for 30 hours a week. In Jack’s case, that would have meant that she was available to Jack and three other children for 30 hours a week, thus really giving Jack far less support than he needed.
At some point around this time, I realized that my teeth were entirely clenched and that my body was so tense that I was shaking a little. This continued for the rest of the meeting. Adrenaline is a powerful thing.
These meetings are so difficult, partly because once you start dissecting specific details and sentences on an IEP document, the child is reduced to a pile of paper and strings of words. At these times, even to me, Jack can be reduced to details instead of being a person.
Jack’s teacher quite dramatically brought him back to life with an impassioned speech about his safety. With tears brimming near the surface of her eyes, she talked about how Jack will put pushpins, staples, and unbent paper clips in his mouth. She talked about how with all the other kids in her class, she couldn’t keep her eyes on him every second to keep him safe. She talked about how she didn’t want to see this child sent to the hospital—or worse—on her watch.
This brought me to a place that talk about Jack never getting to the learning centers because he was too slow with his independent work didn’t take us. It took me past the fact that Jack is most definitely not learning with the rest of the class. It carried me beyond concerns that without a one to one aide, Jack’s incentive program can’t be consistently applied.
And then I started to cry. Of course.
I was impressed by her worry and her caring for Jack, but after the meeting, our lawyer noted that it must be very difficult and frustrating that her school wouldn’t or couldn’t give her the support she needed to not be terrified that one of her kids was going to badly hurt himself. I imagine that she was in a really tough position in that room.
I did manage to keep it together, and the conversation continued. Everyone stayed civil, but it got a little contentious. There was a lot of, “But we’re upping his support to 30 hours a week” by them, countered by, “But access to support 30 hours a week isn’t 30 hours of support a week” by us.
Finally, either my attorney or educational consultant, or maybe the principal—it’s sort of lost in an adrenaline-fueled, tear-soaked haze now—suggested we go through the day to see when Jack needed one to one support.
The principal started listing activities that happen during the day and asking, “Does he need the extra support then?” Jack’s teacher and his special educator answered, “Yes, yes!” and sometimes, “God, yes!” to nearly every activity.
So, in the end, he’ll have his own aide for every part of the day except morning circle time, lunch, recess, and specials, at which time there will be an aide present, but available to more children than just Jack.
Thank God, I say. Thank God.
The meeting ended up lasting nearly two and a half hours. My attorney and the district’s special education supervisor were both late to important appointments. The entire school staff that was present spent half their day in this small room stuffed with twelve (12!) people. I am so thrilled to say that it ended well. I am BEYOND thrilled to say that we don’t have to go to mediation or due process.
Obviously we have to go over the IEP carefully once we get it, and then we have to make sure that it’s being implemented correctly, and I’m more than a little concerned that even with more support he may not be able to get to all the activities that the other kids do.
And I have my fingers crossed every day that he doesn’t come home with a pointy finger that he finally managed to sharpen in the pencil sharpener, as he tries to do every day.
But today I feel good. And lucky.
Had Alex and I walked into this meeting alone, we wouldn’t have gotten these supports. I’m so glad we trusted our guts and took the steps that needed to be taken to give Jack the best chance he has.
There are some very important thanks that need to go out here. I know this is a long post, and the following sentences are going to sound a little bit like an award-acceptance speech, but I’m going to do this anyway, because all of the people listed below were instrumental in getting Jack what he needs.
First of all, thanks to all of YOU for your support. It means so much to me. All of you make a big difference. If there was a way to show you all how much your support means to me, I would do it, but I don’t know how, so this will have to do: I’d be a puddle of goo without you. You solidify me.
Thank you to my mom and stepfather who are unrivaled in their genorosity toward us. We literally couldn’t have gotten Jack this support without them.
Thanks to Heather, who took my snotty (and not just in a “he’s kind of a jerk” way, but in a “sneeze boogers all over your house” way) three-year-old for many hours while we were at the meeting. Heather, if your kid can’t go to school next week because we made her sick, I promise to take her for you during school hours.
Thanks to Jodi for referring me to her wonderful attorney friend.
Thanks to my wonderful attorney and educational consultant. If you’re local and you need someone, I’ll give you their info. We wouldn’t have gotten these services without them.
I’m also going to thank the other 11 people in the room who came to this decision and ultimately agreed to put Jack’s interests first.
And also, thanks to Jack, for being such an incredible little dude that so many people are inspired to care about him and his life.
Not bad for a Tuesday, huh?