Today marks the end of a VERY long 7 (or so) weeks. I’ve been in my own private circle of IEP HE!! and I think I’ve finally figured out how to climb out of it (after a long ugly cry planned for tonight).
Since the day we returned from Spring Break (April 3 [and note today’s date is May 21]), my life has seemingly been centered around IEPs. In that time, many other things have happened (wonderful things … that’s a story for another post that I need to write), but underlying everything was this pull of what’s happening in my own private IEP world. And it’s been true for both of the twins.
Literally, the day we returned from Spring Break we had Simon’s “Re-evaluation Meeting”. For those of you not familiar with what this means, this is when we review all the testing that they did to determine what an IEP student’s level of need really is. This is when diagnostic codes are assigned and determinations of what level of intervention is needed to maximize the student’s likelihood of success. Basically, it’s when you sit in the meeting and they tell you all the things that are WRONG with your kid. I know it’s necessary. Knowledge of where their deficiencies lie is the the first step in determining how best to fix things. But as a parent, sitting there listening to them point out that your 5th grader is reading on a first grade level (in terms of comprehension, not decoding) and suffers from what appears to be a plethora of diagnoses is very difficult to do.
But just as I was preparing to walk into this meeting, I ran into Rachel’s case worker who wanted to confirm my availability for a meeting about Rachel the following week (April 11, which happens to be Big Brother’s 13 birthday [with Bar Mitzvah pending … again, another post I need to write]). Apparently, the notice had been sent home, but I hadn’t seen it and she wanted to know if I was coming. As my mind was so focused on this meeting I was dreading (as I had done one of these for Rachel the previous year and knew what I was stepping into) and about to step into, I agreed thinking that we can just get this out of the way. Afterwards, I realized that may have been a mistake ….. we had already done her annual review and the only thing that really would be discussed would be middle school placement. I had not yet visited any of the programs (planned my visit to 2 of the programs literally 2 days after this newly scheduled meeting) and I really hadn’t figured out how she would be successful at our home school even in a co-teaching environment. I just hadn’t taken the time to figure this out, even if I had been starting to think about it. So I emailed her case worker telling her that we should still have the meeting, but I made it clear that I wasn’t ready to make a placement decision until after I had visited the programs and knew / understood my options.
That was my biggest mistake. After realizing that I hadn’t visited these programs yet, I should have cancelled the meeting. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about things spiraling out of control. But I figured I could get the information from everyone in the room regarding why they felt their preferred choice would serve Rachel best (whatever that choice happened to be) and I could then use that information in making my own decision as to what the most appropriate program would be. But that’s not how the IEP world works. You schedule a meeting, decisions are made. And they placed her in the “Home School Model” at our local middle school because it was felt that they could meet her academic goals at that program. And this kinda happened (at least this is how it felt to ME) with me sitting there with a blank stare of my face feeling like I was having an out-of-body experience. Needless to say, I was just numb by the end and just didn’t know what to do. I went along with it because I really didn’t feel I had any other choice. But the whole time, I was mentally shouting to the room and to myself, “WHAT THE EFF ARE WE DOING RIGHT NOW?!?!?!?!?!”. Note that no words were actually said … I don’t think I would have been able to get them out even if I tried.
2 days later, I went to visit the two self contained programs at a nearby middle school. I was really looking at these programs for Simon, but was considering them for Rachel too. As expected, one of them was clearly my best option for Simon. This program can address his academic and social needs as well as organization and general well-being issues. And it’s a fully academic program so I know he is being prepared for high school at least as far as academics are concerned. But the other program …. that one felt right for Rachel. And I mean it REALLY felt right for Rachel.
But Rachel had already been placed 2 days previously. To a different program. And they weren’t even considering this program for her. I mean there were no representatives from this program at her meeting. And there was no discussion about whether it would be a good fit. The only option we spoke of was “Home School Model” which was her current placement (with the exception of reading and writing where she is currently in the Learning Center with Simon to address her comprehension issues).
That’s when I started to fall apart. Everything up to that point had been manageable. But on the drive back to the elementary school to work on a project that I was doing for the PTA, I began to cry in earnest! How can I fix this? Do I need to fix this? Is this other program really a good choice for her? Or is this just me retaliating against the school for making a decision when I wasn’t ready? When I got to the school, I started working on my project and tried to put this out of my mind. But I just couldn’t. I kept rerunning the whole thing (the meeting as well as the visit from that morning) over in my head and tried to think about what I was going to do. I knew I needed to do something…..just wasn’t sure what the best option was. Then it came to me…..what if I asked to retain Rachel? We could work on the skills that she needed to be more prepared for middle school. Did I believe this was the best option? No. But in that moment, I just couldn’t see any other way out of the situation. I mean the team had already made it’s decision, right? They weren’t going to change their mind. And also, as little as I want to admit it, part of this option gave me the chance to hold off the idea of sending her (and of course I was considering it for Simon as well) to middle school and putting off that nightmare for another year.
I brought this up with the school principal, mainly to find out what the process in requesting this would be. As she wasn’t the administrator in on the meeting on the 11th, she didn’t witness the meeting itself and I filled her in on my perspective (which may not have been what actually happened … just from my viewpoint) of what was discussed and how the decision was made when I wasn’t really ready to make such a decision. And, now the the decision had been reached and I got to see what my options were, I was concerned that it was the WRONG decision. She put me in touch with someone else and by the end of the day, Rachel’s placement decision had been pushed to the side and we agreed to set a meeting to review her placement with more of the programs represented in the room so that a better picture could be gleaned and everyone would be in a better position to make a placement decision.
Fast forward 5.5 weeks to today. In that time, there were several events involving Big Brother (which I won’t get into right now) and we had Simon’s placement meeting (uneventful, but yet another IEP Meeting with all the stress that relates to it, especially given the knowledge that the person who made the rushed decision for Rachel would be in the room). This time, the school principal made sure that she was the administrator in the room, however (longer reason as to why I suspect, but I’m already rambling quite a bit here and this post is more concerned with Rachel rather than Simon). I’m not sure if that made a difference in reality, but it definitely made me feel more comfortable with everything. I also had gone to visit our home middle school to see if I was making a mountain out of a molehill and that Rachel would be successful there. And I had several discussions with both the school principal and Rachel’s case worker about what was the right thing to do to best help her (and myself) get through this process in terms of her actual placement and the ongoing question of retention. Once again, the meeting was scheduled so that the principal could be the administrator in the room (this time it was very much intentional) as well as making sure that the other programs were represented.
Walking into the meeting, there was (as is often the case) a snag. The representative from the specialized program where I felt Rachel could be a good fit wasn’t physically present. She was an active participant in the meeting over the phone however, but again walking into the meeting, knowing that a key representative was missing, filled me with dread. They did make sure that I was OK with this situation before we started, but to be brutally honest, I just needed this process to be done and over with and as long as she would be an active participant, I felt I really had no choice but to say yes. We had a discussion and I explained that I really didn’t know what the right choice was, a fact that has had me very much on edge these last 5 weeks as I feel it’s my responsibility to know what the right answers are by the time I walk into an IEP Meeting, and decided to spend much of the meeting listening and questioning the reasons behind the choices that were being made. This time, even though I was going to let them guide the decision, I was going to be sure to be an active participant rather than someone just sitting quietly on the outside feeling like I was having another out-of-body-experience like I did the last time. The main reason I did this was because I expected the decision to remain the same. And, even though I wasn’t sure if the more specialized program was the best option, I now really needed to understand WHY she would be better off in a more mainstreamed setting when I knew this other program was out there that would suit her needs.
As we discussed her current levels and behaviors, the decision was made to move her into the more specialized program. Her anxiety these last couple of years has been increasing, her rigidity has always been an issue and her inability to adjust to changes in routine or expectations has impeded her ability to be successful in school and receptive to learning. This program can help her learn to deal with these issues. And universally, everyone felt that this was the better program for her. And that was with me not even outwardly voicing my opinion, although I wouldn’t be surprised if my approval of this decision was strongly implied by the way I was questioning things throughout the meeting.
In the end, I was vindicated. I was right that the wrong decision had been made initially. And if I didn’t start this process, that decision would have stood and a huge mistake would have been made. And one that I don’t know if Rachel could have recovered from. And my guilt of not saying anything would be something that I would have to live with.
But right now, despite knowing that, that’s not what things feel like. Everything that has happened in these last 7 weeks is just sitting on my shoulders with such a burdensome weight that I feel about to be crushed. I plan on doing something about that later today…..I have basically “booked” time for myself to just sit and cry and let everything go, when I don’t have to worry about taking care of a child or putting on a face for anyone else. It’s just going to be me, my car radio (as loud as I dare), and approximately 35 minutes of just reacting. Hopefully, when that’s done, I can finally feel like I can move on with everything and go back to enjoying the moments.