Unfortunately, things keep happening faster than I can write about them, and I have come to realize that the time has come to fast forward to the present...or the almost present anyway.
I mentioned in passing before about our current situation. Sharky was one of 35 special education students who somehow ended up with no school placement for the fall. Here's a recap of what led up to this little jewel...
We had a very contentious round of communication with the district back in January and February over our IEP meeting. We felt some very sketchy things had gone down with Sharky's placement the year before (more on this in a later post...time permitting), and we wanted some answers. So we managed to convince Colleen Stump, the director of the Special Education department, to come to our meeting. However, at the advice of a local advocate, I sent an email before the meeting to everyone who would be in attendance and outlined the issues we wanted to address, including the previous year's placement. I also informed them that we intended to have a parent advocate with us.
I received a quick response from Colleen Stump saying that in lieu of the issues we wanted to address and our plan to bring an advocate, they would need to cancel the IEP meeting and reschedule for a later date when they could arrange to have their legal counsel there.
This is classic school district bullying. You want to bring an advocate? We're bringing a lawyer. You want to ask questions? We're seizing control of your child's IEP process, and now you meet when we say you meet. You want to bring a slingshot? We're bringing a cannon.
We waited for over a week as the deadline for submitting our forms for school and service delivery model preferences fastly approached, and no word from the district. We sent out emails to everyone involved, giving them dates when we were available to meet, and Sharky's teacher responded with times she was available. No word from the district.
Then I sent this email to Colleen, and CC'd to all her subordinates so my contempt could be witnessed by all those who I'm sure dare not speak to her in such a way:
I admit I was stunned when you abruptly canceled our meeting scheduled for the 14th upon being informed of our intent to bring an advocate to the meeting, as we are perfectly entitled to do. But I am downright appalled that since that time you have allowed 11 days to pass without so much as making any attempts to reschedule. A week has passed since Lillie and I both provided you with dates and times that would work for us, and you have not responded. This in spite of the fact that time is running short and our deadline is fast approaching.
Given your unwillingness to speak with us in good faith or to treat us with any modicum of decency, your presence is no longer requested at our son's IEP meeting. We will work with our IEP team regarding decisions on placements for the 2008-09 school year. As for the concerns I expressed in my previous email, we will be pursuing these matters through different avenues.
A bit later, I received this touching response from Julie Mack, a special ed. supervisor:
It has come to my attention that you were not informed that the District
had proposed 2/19 at 2:00 for the IEP meeting but EEU staff members were
not available during the holiday. The District is proposing 2:00 p.m. on
Tuesday 2/26 at the EEU to hold the IEP meeting. Past emails indicate
Tuesday has appeared promising for Sharkey's family and EEU staff.
I look forward to seeing you,
Three funny notes:
1)Sharky's teacher and school principal also had not heard about these "proposals." So the district proposed meeting dates, but overlooked the little formality of letting ANY of the other involved parties know about it. Who, then, was being proposed to?
2) Lillie had specifically said that Tuesdays do not work for her, as she has to work and as a registered nurse cannot simply duck out for a few hours.
3) She misspelled Sharky.
We responded by repeating that we did not want them at our IEP meeting, and that we would not meet on that date. We scheduled a time of 2pm on Monday, February 25th, with Sharky's teacher and principal.
The district, in the person of Julie Mack, responded by demanding (through the school staff rather than communicating with us directly) that the time be moved to 4pm on the 25th so their "representative" could be there.
We responded (directly to the district) that this time did not work for us and that we, again, did not want them at our IEP meeting, and we would meet at the agreed upon time of 2pm.
Days went by with no response until Friday the 22nd, when I received a call from Sharky's teacher. Friday afternoons are the district's favorite ambush time, and are particularly strategic for them when it pertains to something happening on the following Monday.
She told me that she had gotten a call from Julie Mack saying that the meeting WOULD be at 4pm, as the district had commanded. When she asked Julie what she should do if we showed up at 2pm, Julie told her that she was not to speak to us without a district representative there.
In the interest of not putting the teacher, who is beloved by all of us, in an awkward position, we decided we'd acquiesce. And to acknowledge this, I sent this little ditty to all parties involved:
We received a call from Angela today explaining to us that the district is insisting upon meeting at 4pm on Monday, February 25th. I have indicated to all of you previously, in writing and with valid reason, that this time poses serious inconveniences to us.
The basic principles of IDEA are available in .pdf format through the Seattle Public Schools web site at http://www.k12.wa.us/specialed/pubdocs/TAP1.pdf . It is highly recommended reading. Page three states "the school district must take steps to ensure that one or both of the student's parents are present at each meeting or are afforded the opportunity to attend. This means (1) notifying the parents of the meeting early enough to ensure that they will have the opportunity to attend; and (2) scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed upon time and place."
As for point one, I do not consider Friday afternoon early enough notification for a meeting on the following Monday. The only invitation to a meeting we have received was for 2:15 pm on Monday, the time agreed upon by Angela and ourselves. The district has not communicated with us about the time and place of a meeting at all, first scheduling a meeting for the 26th without our input and forgetting to even inform us of such a plan, then communicating demands through the EEU staff.
As for point two, we have stated, in writing and with valid reason, that we do NOT agree upon that time.
Nevertheless, in the interest of lessening the awkwardness of the situation for the EEU staff and completing the Riser process prior to the deadline, we will consent to meet at 4pm. I will just state for the record that making myself available at that time entails significant inconvenience for me, and potentially jeopardizes my good standing at work. I work in the community with adults with disabilities who require supervision, my schedule is tightly packed, and it happens to be one of those jobs where I'm actually held accountable for the level of service I provide.
The other item I want to address is the reason, as I understand it, for forbidding our son's kindergarten teacher from speaking with us without a representative from the district being present. I was told that the Arc of King County informed the district that we had hired lawyers and intended to make a legal case out of this. First of all, this in incorrect. We have not hired a lawyer, we have not spoken with any lawyers, and we have no plans to do so. The only involvement of legal counsel has been on the part of the district, which was done over our strenuous objections and repeated assurances that we were not interested in hiring lawyers.
Second of all, I simply do not have words to describe how disgusted I am that the school district and a local advocacy group are engaging in gossip and innuendo of this sort. It is not the district's place to be talking about us with the Arc and it is certainly not the Arc's right to be disclosing misinformation about us to the district. Frankly, I find it demeaning to even have to address such a travesty.
We will be at the EEU at 4pm Monday to meet with our IEP team and whomever this unnamed district representative happens to be.
OK. Now the first thing I need to do is quickly point out that we have since learned the ARC of King County did not do this. The ARC of King County is an outstanding organization which we are very grateful for. I sent an email to Jodi Reimer at the ARC, which was regrettable snippy, asking her about this, and she assured me they would never disclose such information, as it would be a breach of confidentiality.
And besides, the story ended up changing. Julie Mack showed up to the Monday (at 4pm) meeting and claimed that the ASTAR Center was actually the one who had tipped them off about the fictional lawyers.
The ASTAR center is another wonderful organization, beloved by many families with children with Autism. I sent another email, this one to Katrina Davis, the person I had communications with at ASTAR. This one was (hopefully) less snippy, having learned from my experience with Jodi and now getting the gist of the fact that the district was full of it. She also told me that she had not spoken to the district and that this would be a breach of confidentiality. From my dealing with Katrina, I'd just about die of a heart attack if it turned out that she ever did anything contrary to the interests of families, and the staff at Sharky's school expressed the same sentiment. (By the way, it was Katrina who put us in touch with Paul Nyhan of the Seattle PI, which led to the story in the paper, which led to many of you reading this ungodly long blog post).
So where'd this all come from? Who knows? Maybe the district knew we were talking to the ARC and ASTAR and suspected we'd talked lawyers. Maybe they have a mole out there. Maybe they get their information from the same people who told the Bush administration about all that uranium Iraq was purchasing. I don't know. I'd like to know. But I've got bigger fish to fry.
In the end, we met. Julie Mack was there. No lawyer. Sharky's moms and I, his teacher and assistant teacher, and the school principal also were present. There was no argument, and we hadn't supsected there would be. We knew we were on the same page.
But looking back, we realize the district won that round in a way. Because we never did get to address what went down with Sharky's placement process in 2007. When I told Colleen that our concerns would be pursued through "different avenues," I was referring to a citizen complaint through the Washington State office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). I have since filed complaints against the district with both of these agencies, but not over what happened in 2007. Rather, it is over what has happened since that meeting (at 4pm) on the 25th of February, and I have learned that they are no longer able to investigate what happened in 2007 because it's been over a year.
What happened in 2007? that will have to wait until some later date.
What has happened since 2/25/08 that caused me to file these complaints? That will come next.
For a parent of a child with a disability, it is absolutely exhausting just to chronicle all the indiscretions of the public school system . Imagine what it's like to actually live it.
But then, I know most of you don't have to imagine it. You've lived it. And our exhaustion is what they are counting on. They know how demanding it is to raise a child such as ours. They know about the sleepless nights, the tantrums, the need to work extra shifts to cover your expenses, the deer-in-the-headlights effect of trying to navigate available services, and the general overwhelming nature of life as a parent to a Sharky or some other such lovely and amazing creature.
And they try to use this to their advantage. First they assume total authority, and tell you how it's going to be, figuring you'll obey. If you sniff around for information or additional services you imagine your child might be entitled to, they start playing the hand behind their back game:
"what's that you've got there?"
(revealing left hand ) "oh nothing"
"in your other hand"
(shifting something from right to left hand, then revealing right hand) "oh nothing."
If you persist, they puff up real big, make random demands in order to assert authority, and try to scare you away with their henchmen (AKA lawyers).
There are a couple of things they don't seem to know about.
One is what I call "the rope theory." When you raise a child with Autism, or other similar condition, you inevitably reach a point where you say "I'm at the end of my rope."
A little while later, you might say "I'm beyond the end of my rope."
A little while later, you might say "I'm so far beyond the end of my rope, I don't even know where my rope is."
A little while later, you might say "Who needs a rope? Certainly not me! ropes are for the weak!"
And once you've found that extra strength, that endurance, that ability to successfully navigate the terrain of this strange yet majestic new world you find yourself in, all the techniques of intimidation and misrepresentation the school district or any other corrupt entity might attempt to reign upon you are simply a minor nuisance.
The other thing they do not seem to know about is just how much we love our children, and how much strength this fills us with, and how fiercely we will fight on their behalf. As I wrote in an email to Sharky's school principal, in which I was apologizing in advance to her for the fight I was about to stage with the district on the grounds of her lovely school:
I realize...that this is likely a losing battle I am going to fight. But my hope is that other benefits for us and for other families will come about as a result. Additionally, I liken the system as it is currently constructed and implemented to a predatory animal. If I were walking with Sharky in the woods and a wild animal leaped out at him and attacked him, I would do everything in my power to drive that animal away, even if I knew it was a futile effort. And this is the approach I intend to take with the school district.
Coming up next: the many many colorful things that went on from February 25th, 2008, to the present day..including the woeful tale of "The Great Displacement," my formal complaints, and our individual (but not collective), victory.