(This information was prepared for folks living in Florida, but you can contact the appropriate organization for your own state as necessary.)
INTRODUCTIONI wish I never signed that initial consent form eight years ago. I wish I hadn't felt intimidated by the authority figures seated at the "round table." I wish I hadn't felt like I was back in school somehow, afraid to speak lest I show my ignorance. But I did sign it, I was intimidated and above all IGNORANT!! No matter how many "I wish I mays - I wish I mights" I choose to throw around, the fact remains that I have spent the past few years undoing my mistakes because I didn't know any better. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Approximately four years ago, while my son was good and labeled, many inappropriate and unjust things were done to him. Some of these things were actually done to and against his person. Some were done to cover up the inadequacies of the school personnel because they failed to follow the letter of the law. This is when I began asking valid and long overdue questions.
Why did these powerful people feel he needed Ritalin, a drug, to fit into their norm. Is my son still in this Emotionally Handicapped (E.H.) class because I refused to have him drugged, or is there possibly money involved here? Why does he seem to be fine and "normal" at home, in clubs and in the neighborhood? Why doesn't any of our extended family see anything wrong with him'? I guess our entire family is strange and different! Oh, what a revelation!' How could any of the general population dare to be different!! I was ecstatic to realize that my son would never fit into their robotic mold. I was then sorry to see they hadn't any time in this busy world for a child who needed a different approach to learning; for short term or long term. Maybe that's just too much trouble these days. That's the day when a scared ignorant mother became her son's researcher and "defense attorney."
These are our children, but the school system , in cooperation with psychiatry and psychology, is authorized to:
a) collect our taxesThey are not authorized, however, to control the lives and minds of our children. This is where the fine line must be drawn ....
Now, if in fact you are struggling with the decision to sign your child up for labeling, please take a moment to read PHASE I. If, like me, you and your child are already labeled, PHASE 11 is for you....
ESCAPE THE LABELLoss of a pet - a divorce - a move - an illness!!! How many more reasons can you think of for you, an adult, to become moody, fidgety, unproductive at work? Does anyone suggest that you must have an Emotional Handicap or a Learning Disability? Or maybe you need drugs in order to cope with life's everyday problems. Don't we presently have too many drug addicts in the world? People who cannot deal effectively with the world unless they can take a little something to ease the pain. Think for a moment of the effect of the above disruptions and/or tragedies on your child's state of mind. Because your child needs understanding and extra help you will be pressured to put him or her in a convenient class or worse, on a convenient drug.
Your first involvement must be to notify your child's teacher when you suspect any behavioral differences due to changes in the family scene. Follow this up with a letter reemphasizing the points of the meeting and your expectations of your child and of the teacher. Send a copy to the Principal and the Superintendent of your school system.
There are still plenty of teachers who are not experienced or qualified enough to deal with a child needing a little extra help and attention. This same teacher, however, is apparently qualified enough to be the deciding factor in recommending your child needs to be diagnosed for "SPECIAL HELP". If this happens, you will be summoned to a meeting attended by the teacher and any number of school personnel they deem necessary to validate their suspicions.
Remember, you are your child's defense attorney! You can submit a private psychologist or psychiatrist evaluation on your child if affordable and if the evaluation is complimentary. I do not recommend this because very rarely will it be complimentary. Any given professional would have to be familiar with your child for a number of years, not hours or days. FAMILIARITY is the key word. Just who is familiar with your child? Your extended family, friends, neighbors, church organizations, and clubs to name a few. Have these people write a letter on behalf of your child. Put the letters in the form of an affidavit if possible. Have them notarized if applicable. Make an appointment to visit your child's classroom while school is in progress. Take notes of your child's behavior in comparison to the other children.
At the initial Referral meeting bring along your signed letters, your notes, your questions and last but not least, a tape recorder. Before the meeting begins, turn on your tape recorder and ask their permission to tape the meeting. It is the law that you can do this, they cannot refuse.
You will be presented with findings, possible test scores and personal evaluations OF THE TEACHER on social and academic behavior. You will be informed that the next step is a formal evaluation. Your child would then be tested academically and psychologically. Now before this meeting goes any further you must remember the word FAMILIARITY. Just how familiar are these people with your child. Now submit your signed papers, ask your questions, disagree when you feel strongly against it and most of all, look and listen. You see, they are also evaluating you and your beliefs to compare your child's behavior with.
Do not sign any papers except for the one that states you were in fact at this meeting. Ask for copies of all the information including test score screenings. Tell them as you leave the meeting that you will review all pertinent information at your leisure and with whom you deem necessary. Do not sign anything consenting to the evaluation of your child. If you decide to sign your child up for the evaluation hoping it will disprove their ' r suspicions, you probably have made a mistake. Once they get their hands on him or her, it will be harder to disagree and say NO.
Let's say you did sign the consent form. Maybe you have doubts about your child or yourself. You might feel as though the opinions of the professionals can erase Your doubts. This is where you must stand firm. We all have doubts - nothing is written in stone. Remember, no decision by the school can be made until the evaluation is completed.
The evaluation is under way, including a variety of tests or assessments given by teachers, psychologists, social workers, therapists etc. etc. Once they finish the battery of tests they are sure to find something abnormal about Your child. They will present their factual opinions to you at the Evaluation meeting along with the necessary label needed to gain extra funding. At this point your child is as good as labeled.
Another meeting will then be set up to formalize your child's eligibility for E.S.E. ('Exceptional Student Education). This meeting is called the Staffing. This meeting would decide if your child is to be placed in a special class or possibly on a drug to calm him or her down. Oddly enough, the school does not have to invite the parents to the Staffing.
After the Staffing the school will send you a notice of the results regarding their decisions. They will suggest a "proper label" and program. They will insist it is in the best interest of your child because they know best. Guess what - the school still cannot put your child in E.S.E., or on drugs until you agree and sign your consent. If you've gotten this far - DO NOT SIGN IT. Do you not know your child best? Doesn't your child deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least from you? Offer your own suggestions, plans, help in lieu of a label. There must be and in fact are other ways of helping the other person, big or small, when a cry for help is heard. Believe me, if you do sign your consent you will have to fight tooth and nail to prove your child needs OUT' In this program a child is presumed guilty of a handicap. You, the parent, are the only one left to plead and prove his or her innocence!!!
Please continue . . .
PHASE I I
THIS IS CRITICALThis section is devoted entirely to those of you who agreed to have your child placed in a special class or placed on drugs.
I ended Phase I with the Staffing meeting. Let us begin there.
The Staffing meeting will have left you with a signed consent form, a copy of your Due Process Rights, and a recommendation by the group from the "round table" of your child's special classification needs under E.S.E.
1. E.H. (Emotionally Handicapped)Remember you may or may not have been invited to this meeting....
Following the Staffing always comes the I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan), otherwise your child cannot start the special classes. A parent is always formally invited to this meeting because the authorities deem its time to include you in the decisions they're making for your child. This meeting designs the format of the who, what, where and whens of your child's alleged handicap.
This I.E.P. format must be reviewed and revised at least once a year under the Florida Statute 94-142, called an I.E.P. review meeting. You can ask for the meeting as often as you like. DO IT OFTEN. This is your chance to recommend new testings, a new teacher, new ways of helping your child. Possibly, the new way could be partial or total mainstreaming. This is their famous way of saying your child could resume normal classes. Your child has the right to the LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT, Florida Statute 230.23(4)(m)5.
Always have your notes ready, pertinent questions and your trusty tape recorder. Remember that no changes may be made until you and the school agree and the I.E.P. is rewritten.
The next step would be re-evaluation. It is handled much the same way as the initial evaluation that started this process. The re-evaluation must be done every three years no matter what, but can be done more often if there is a good reason. A good enough reason for a parent to request this meeting might be you simply want him/her out. Of course you must have specific reasons, proof; such as letters of recommendation from family, friends and neighbors. But before that you must have done the following:
1. Made an appointment to review and get copies of your child's entire cumulative record. Request deletions and/or insert your own statements.Another Staffing meeting will then be called. You must be present at this one. If at this meeting they will not agree to DISMISS or EXIT your child from the program,
you must do this:
a.) Send a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education/Office for Civil RightsIf actual laws were thought to be broken the Dept. of Education will send an investigator to your school and school board. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone and to fail to follow each Statute designed to protect these children. Once an investigator is present, everyone should be most cooperative. Usually, your child will be dismissed into a regular class possibly a new school if you demand it. After all, the present school personnel are now familiar with your child, his/her alleged handicap, and the fact that you pushed this issue so far.
HOWEVER . . .Once your child is out, the road will be as rocky as ever. The system is not only after your child for "their"
special help, but you as well because of your persistence. DO NOT GIVE UP OR GIVE IN. Do not allow them to discriminate or insinuate you made the decision to mainstream your child and it was a mistake. Talk to your child, help your child with schoolwork. It is likely your child will be behind academically because of the E.S.E. courses or the drug. Get your child involved in a social activity outside the school environment. Scouting, sports, church activities and neighborhood gatherings to name a few. And let the school know whether they like it or not, you will be there for meetings regarding misbehavior and academic failure. Be ready to send another letter off to the proper authorities who are there to safeguard you and your child's rights.
Then do it if necessary! I have - I will continue to - I will never sign my consent again.
WON'T YOU JOIN ME?
FOR HELP WRITE TO:
1. U.S Department of Education - Region IV, PO Box 1705, Atlanta, GA
30301 / Office For Civil Rights
FOR INFORMATIONAL LITERATURE:
1. Ask the Administrator of E.S.E. at your school for the Information
Series (Booklet 1-5). It is supplied by the State of Florida Department
of Education for YOU - the parents of exceptional children!!!
WRITE THEM ALL . . .
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