“Appropriate” Education Ain’t Free.

In the U.S., every child is entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE).  This is an easy thing to say, but what does it mean?  Every state has it’s own interpretation and every child has his/her individual needs.  But when you get down to it, what is going to happen is that every parent of a child with a disability meets with school officials at which time an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be drafted and signed by all the parties.

The IEP serves as the basis for determining what goals you expect your child to achieve during the year.  It is the basis from which everyone determines whether the education your child receives is an appropriate one.  Remember that.  When you sign the IEP, you are agreeing that it states the goals that you expect your child to achieve during the school year.

A school must be able to implement the IEP in order for there to be an “appropriate education” for the child.

This is now where I am.  I am involved in meetings to determine the language of my son’s IEP.  Friday afternoon, there was an IEP meeting between me,  the school’s special education director/psychologist, the school’s teachers, the school’s speech therapist, the school’s occupational therapist, the behavioral therapists, our state’s disability funding agency and the school district’s “facilitator”.  Full house.

This was an adversarial meeting.  Their goal is to cut funding.  My goal is to spend it to the full extent of getting my child every last drop of “appropriate” education to which he is entitled.  It will always be adversarial because we are always on opposite sides.  No matter what they say about it being about my son – it’s about their funding – they are going to have a slant that it can be done on the cheap, and a bias that they can do it just as good if not better than anyone else.  That is not appropriate nor adequate in most cases.

What I see coming is that my school district does not want to pay for ABA one-on-one tutors that currently attend kindergarten, full time, with my son, in my son’s class.  They want us to give up my ABA one-on-one aide and use one of their non-ABA teacher’s aides.  This is not “appropriate”.

What I saw the school administrator doing, with the facilitator’s aid, last Friday, is to try and isolate out a traditional “school’s role” and portion it off from the other assistance my son receives in ABA. The school is asserting it is only interested in providing assistance for an “education.”  Their way would lead to them not being responsible for funding the ABA programs and, instead, using their own non-ABA aides to “babysit” my kid at school.  Cheap and untrained, this would not be “appropriate education” but it would be “free”.

The problem is:  what is part of his “education” that makes ABA “appropriate” for it?

This is what I wanted to share in this post.  I was falling into a trap about what “education” is.  I think I pulled myself out of it today when I took some time to think about it.

Here is where it is tricky.

I’m a lawyer but I’m not a lawyer that specializes or has any experience in litigating the area of education law.  I don’t do education law.  I’m starting to do education law by default for my son.  But I have no expertise in this area.  I’m learning – just like all you parents out there are learning – by doing.  My advantage is that I know that simple words have complex legal interpretations. I can read and interpret cases and statutes, and I intend to try and “rubberize” those meanings to cover my son’s needs.

So, what I share with you in this post is me as a mom.  Not me, as a lawyer.  I’m sharing what I know from watching my son in ABA and in watching ABA one-on-one school tutors facilitating my son’s education.

During the meeting, ABA representatives presented their goals.  Some of those goals include things like introducing new foods.  The “facilitator”, whose role is suspiciously like an advocate for the school district (although they tell me he is supposed to ‘bridge’ the school with the parent),  tried to say the ABA goals don’t need to be included on the IEP.  At first, I thought – well, yes, they don’t have to do with his “education.”

But, on further reflection – they actually do.

In fact, everything ABA does with my child is part of his “education” in reality.

My child requires “special” education because he doesn’t learn the same way the neurotypical children do.  For example, most of us with ASD kids, have kids with food peculiarities.  This seems to have nothing to do with “education” at first glance.  It actually does.

At school, at least in kindergarten, children have snack time.  During snack time, they play, talk, and they eat.  My son usually does not eat.  He certainly doesn’t talk or play in the traditional sense.  To learn to eat a new food (and for him this would be as simple as cheese and crackers) enables him to bridge one of the many isolating features blocking socialization with his peers.  He may not express that he knows he is different in this way but he knows.  He tells me.  Maybe three weeks, or a month, or six months later, but he tells me, and then I realize he knew all along.

That isolation, as it is lessened by ABA programs, will translate into classroom participation, self-confidence, and ultimately in furthering his overall education.  Each tiny step which, by itself, can appear, unrelated to education, is, in fact, related to education.  So, I want these goals on his IEP.

If school personnel cannot or are not trained to accomplish those goals, guess what?  They have to use public funds to pay for them.  And thus, ABA is funded.

That’s just my mommy opinion, of course.  I’m no expert, I’m just a mommy. One that happens to carry a bar card and legal research in her back pocket.  And a mommy who doesn’t have to pay for a lawyer.  She is one.  As a mommy, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Moral of the story:   Don’t forget to put these things in your IEP.  You can’t get what you don’t ask for.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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18 Responses to “Appropriate” Education Ain’t Free.

  1. I once asked Mr. Tony (a teacher and advocate) how I would know if I pushed too hard for something at an IEP meeting. His answer was simple… he told me that if I pushed too hard, I would be asked to get a lawyer. I guess in some ways you don’t have that benefit, LOL.

    The IEP meetings are such a delicate balance. On one hand, you don’t want to alienate your child further by asking more than the teachers can give — but on the other, you want the full extent of services your child deserves. I wish you the best walking that fine line!

    • solodialogue says:

      Lol!! Yes, I don’t think they’d tell me that for some reason. If they did – I’d just bring the daddy in…

      See, the odd thing is – is that my son is not at the school where the IEP is taking place – none of those teachers provide him with any service right now. I have no problem demanding everything little T needs. And maintaining him where he is. It’s a bit confusing but he is in a private school outside our district of residence. He has never been a student at the school where services are determined. It’s a bit muddy because of the manner in which they structured the IEP and their failure to ascertain whether T would be attending kindergarten this year. No one bothered to ask. Now, we’re all in a bit of a pickle trying to figure out how the law applies to these odd circumstances. When I talk about bending the law – I’m in a gray area and bending it to favor the best interest of T. They are trying to bend it to save money. But you can save only so much and then – you have to put the lawyer on retainer – oh wait – I don’t but they do. 🙂

  2. blogginglily says:

    We’re in the process of trying to push through for a “dedicated” aide to Lily. The district is paying lip service to doing it but is openly defiant about changing the IEP to reflect it. . . meaning, to the jaded parent. . . if they don’t follow through, I have nothing to require it. I find out Wednesday whether a new permanent full-time aide will be assigned to her moving forward. If not. . . our IEP meetings will become “adversarial”.

    • solodialogue says:

      Pssst, Jim, your IEP meetings are already adversarial. Whether you have to openly display your weapons and ammo is the question. I hope you don’t. If you can get a medical provider to give you a note, even on a prescription pad, to help make your case at the IEP – just some mommy advice…

  3. Grace says:

    Your timing of this post is perfect! I’ve been typing up notes for our next IEP meeting all morning, then I saw this. I’m printing this one out, and it’s going in the file for future reference. I’m thinking of asking not only for a 1:1, but an ABA 1:1 because of our increasingly frequent aggressive outbursts. This will probably get me laughed out of the room, so I need all the help I can get.

    • solodialogue says:

      Haha Grace!! I knew there was a reason I adore you -aside from the Jimmy Choo shoe envy, of course!! I’m glad to bolster your folder of IEP material. I hope you get everything you ask for. And just remember… if they are laughing, it’s just because you’ve scared them by your demands! It’s my feeling they are very nervous when it comes to lawsuits – they have to put an attorney on retainer and pay money that could be easier spent on services. Let me know how it goes! 🙂

  4. Good luck, Karen. It’s all so hard, isn’t it? I’m usually a pretty calm, level-headed person who is capable of making myself heard at meetings, but it just doesn’t go that smoothly at IEP meetings. I think if it came down to the point where AJ was ready for mainstreaming, I would hire a lawyer to help us get him a full-time aid. For me it’s just so emotional fighting for your own kid that I get worried I’ll start bawling and screw the whole thing up.

    • solodialogue says:

      It’s funny you mention that bawling thing. You would think I would hold it together as the tough mama lawyer. I got to the point where I was talking about the progress T has made through ABA and tears came. I felt so weak but they just leaked out. If they think that will make me cave though, they are in for a surprise. I will just fight harder…

      Someday, when AJ is ready for mainstreaming, you may not have to make that argument if you are in a school district like Julie’s. It all depends. If you do, you know we’ll all be behind you and give you all the support we can!!

  5. Julie says:

    This hurts my heart so much. I am blessed to live in a school district where the education of ALL children is valued. Meaning our special needs program is wonderful. My IEP meetings (which I initially dreaded) have become “let’s tell Dylan’s parents all the silly things he does and how much we love him and oh, by the way, here are his services on a silver platter” meetings.

    @blogginglily – we had that challenge last year. His teacher, the classroom educational assistants, the therapists, hell, even the principal all said he needed a one-on-one. We met with the caseworker right before she went out on maternity leave. “See this rubrick here? He doesn’t meet the qualifications for a one-on-one”. The compromise was to have a functional behavioral assessment done. When I got the report, I fell over laughing and called for a CST meeting. At the meeting, the idiot, I mean behaviorist, went over her report. Telling us how great Dylan does with an adult but when in a group of peers or left to his own devices, he fell apart. Her recommendation was positive.feedback.every.three.minutes. I asked her if they planned to put this in my son’s IEP. She said yes. I asked her who would be responsible because there are 5 adults minimum in his class at any given time so who will be responsible for blowing smoke up my kid’s ass (then I explained my son is smart and will figure that one out quickly). Ultimately, they threw the rubrick to the wind and agreed to get him a one on one. Don’t give up the fight!

    • solodialogue says:

      Goodness Julie!! I need to come live in your town!! Can you bottle whatever that is they are breathing there so I can put it in the room at my next IEP meeting?! I’m very happy to hear someone has received what they need! What I’ve seen is that there are limited funds here and no enough services so someone is going to get majorly screwed or all of us get the shaft just a little… depends on what the school district can get away with. It’s a shame and a pity but I will not allow them to pull it on my child. Whatever it takes on my part will be done. Thanks for sharing your experience for all of us through Jim @blogginglily! We must never give up the fight!!

  6. Kelly Hafer says:

    Karen, IEP is code for “we really despise having to do anything out of the ordinary for your child. We are faking this due to federal funding. The funding we get for your son’s education will go a long way to pay for some other project if we can skimp out on your kid.” Or, this is how I feel.

    We are in the midst of a very serious battle with T’s public school. He had a meltdown on Wednesday. The teacher and someone else (story is very murky) moved him. T was bruised all down his back. Talked to principal. Not a single teacher in their school – even the spec ed teachers with autie kids in their classes – have been trained in crisis intervention and physical restraints. Principal’s motto – verbatim – is that they “wait until someone gets hurt before they train their staff on how to” handle situations and kids like T. When I freaked the eff out, she said (verbatim) “when you say it like that, it DOES make more sense to be proactive.”

    …AAAAANNNNNDDD that’s when I pulled T out of his second school in three months.

    Jesus help us.

    • solodialogue says:

      Gawd almighty, Kelly!! There is no forgivable excuse for this. None. I hope he is recovering and that it is just superficial. Please tell me you have photographed it. Confirm what that idiot said in writing. And then please – please consult an attorney. Even if you don’t want to sue, you need to hear your options. And you need to make sure your little T is okay. This is a CPS matter – really. I know we make our choices and it’s 100 times harder without the hubs there. I respect what you choose no matter what. I just feel I have to say it. And like I said on your blog – if you need anything, you know how to reach me!!! xoxo

  7. Holy crap, Kelly, that’s awful!

  8. mamafog says:

    I’m in a similar position, my daughter is transitioning to kindergarten next year and the school dept.’s standard is to drop ABA services. My daughter’s ABA provider is part of the school dept and they can not work on anything not on the IEP. I would definitely get any ABA goals on the IEP that aren’t there. Maybe play with the wording to get them to be more agreeable.

    Does your ABA service have an end date? Have they rejected you in writing? I’ve been reading about Prior Written Notice.

    Good luck, and know that you are not alone.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks for your comment, MamaFog! No end date on ABA because we cannot end ABA. We did not get the special services intervention that are provided up to age 3. We started at age 4 with ABA and we definitely still need it for some time into the future. No one has rejected anything yet. Actually, they have failed to make any kind of offer yet. But I can read between the lines. I’m lying in wait. I will not agree to the IEP until they include the ABA goals. The moment will come and trust me, I’ll be here to share it with you! I wish you all the best with your struggle as well and am very grateful for your suggestions!!

  9. eof737 says:

    Yes, you must ask for everything and spell them out and follow-up and read the fine print and then ask again. You are right, the goal is to cut costs for school districts so being a vocal advocate for your child is critical… I know this one well.. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Thank You, IEP Party Crashers « That'sRightISaidIt.Dot.Mom

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