Friday, July 30, 2010

When the system works

Way back in April, I started planning for D's placement ARD. And then we had the meeting, and I made my case, and the ARD committee recommended that D. be placed in a general ed first grade classroom and pulled out to the resource room for reading, math, and language arts. And we all went home.

And then I thought about it, and thought about it some more. And we had the ARD at the new school, and we simply put all that into writing, and I still felt a little unsure, and I couldn't shake the feeling, but I also couldn't figure out if there was anything I could do about it.

A few weeks ago, we had dinner with some friends, and I was talking about D's placement for the fall. I said that I was very nervous that we'd start the school year and the teacher would fairly quickly say, "This kid can't cut it in my classroom," and he'd be booted to LifeSkills without a proper chance. I felt like we were setting D. up to fail on several levels. He'd be expected to function in the regular classroom for science and social studies. He'd be pulled out and labeled as different several times a day. He'd have a foot in two different worlds and not really belong to either one.

"You need to write a letter to the superintendent," said my friend. And I thought, Huh. (I think in italics.)

You might think that because I am a writer, it occurs to me to write letters. You would be wrong. I am, indeed, a writer, but I am also sometimes incapable of solving my own problems until someone bashes me over the head with the solution.

Anyway, I sat down and wrote a letter.

Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Houston Independent School District
4400 West 18th Street
Houston, Texas 77092-8501

Dear Dr. Grier:

My son, D, is slated to begin first grade in the fall. D has a rare syndrome, called Sotos syndrome.

Sotos syndrome is a genetic condition causing physical overgrowth during the first years of life. Children with Sotos syndrome are often taller, heavier, and have larger heads than their peers. Because of the distinctive head shape and size, Sotos syndrome is sometimes called cerebral gigantism. Ironically, this rapid physical development is often accompanied by delayed motor, cognitive, and social development. Muscle tone is low, and speech is markedly impaired. Expressive language delay is seen in over 80 percent of children with Sotos.

Fortunately, in late childhood the gap begins to close. Muscle tone improves steadily and with it comes better speech. For many individuals, Sotos syndrome primarily alters developmental timing; despite early trends, the adult with Sotos syndrome may be within the normal range of height and intellect.

For the past two years, D was in a self-contained PPCD classroom at [redacted]. The progress he has made is truly impressive -- at the beginning of the 2009 school year, he could not identify his letters, and now he can read. He has made progress in other areas as well, consistent with the overall trend of his syndrome.

When it came time for D's IEP this year, I reached out to the special education coordinator and others at the school to try to determine the best placement for D. Unfortunately, I did not receive the level of support and help I had hoped for, and I was dismayed to learn that the placement being considered was a LifeSkills classroom.

I proposed that we instead have D repeat kindergarten in the co-teach classroom at [redacted]. This would allow him to begin transitioning into general education with the special education supports still in place. (In fact, at the end of this school year, D was spending an hour a day in the co-teach classroom, with great success.) I was told that this would "violate federal law" because D had aged out of the program. Frankly, I had trouble believing that a law mandates such things, and so I did some research. In fact, according to my understanding, the law dictates that a child be placed in the least restrictive environment, which is generally understood as keeping the child with his same-age peers -- but this is not, in fact, mandatory.

I came to D's IEP well prepared and presented to the committee my research. I told them that rather than telling me it was impossible to meet D's needs, we needed to figure out a way to do what is in D's best interests, which was definitely not a LifeSkills placement.

The special education coordinator for the region said that it was simply impossible for D to repeat kindergarten, but there was an option she hadn't raised before: to put D in a general ed first grade classroom and pull him out to resource for reading, language arts, and math. When presented with this as the only alternative to LifeSkills, we agreed, and this is what is currently in his IEP.

After having some time to think, however, I'm not fully convinced that this placement is in D's best interest. My fear is that we will begin the school year, D will lose ground, and we will have a harder time getting him to where we want him to be. Our goal is for D to ultimately be mainstreamed, and it seems to me that this should be HISD's goal as well. I feel strongly that a co-teach first grade classroom gives D a much better chance for success. I would like to find out if a first grade co-teach classroom exists somewhere in HISD, and if it does not, how we can create one.

I look forward to speaking with you.



The version I emailed actually had a couple of typos, which will forever haunt me, but so be it. Anyway, I sent the email. And then we left for vacation to go visit D. at camp. We landed in Philadelphia, and as we were walking through the airport, my cell phone rang.

"This is [I totally can't remember the guy's name] from the Office of Special Education at HISD. I wanted to let you know that we received the letter you sent Dr. Grier, and we are going to review your son's file. The Director of the Office of Special Education will review it, and we will find a more appropriate placement. We will find him a co-teach classroom. We're going to have a new ARD when the teachers come back to work, and we will figure it out."

I was so flabbergasted I could barely speak coherently, and it never occurred to me to ask the guy to email me with his info.

So, just now, as I was writing this post, I took a break for a few minutes and called the number the guy called me from and talked to a LOVELY woman who was AMAZING and told me the name of the guy I spoke to before, AND reaffirmed that CO-TEACH IS THE WAY TO GO, and she is emailing the school and we will get his the class and the support he needs and THANK GOD.

So, a win -- a huge win.


Jess said...

I am so HAPPY for you! Good for you for sticking up for D, and good for the superintendent for his response!

ella said...

Holy cow, that is AMAZING. SO happy for you and for D. You rock. Way to stand up for what your kid needs! And yay for an example of a system that isn't brokekn - so heartening!

lisa said...

That's fantastic! So glad you are working with people who are interested in cooperating.

Mara said...

Oh what great news! Amazing when it actually works out as it should. (Great letter, too!)

moplans said...

I am so, so happy to read this!Awesome work WG.

I picked up our government guidelines today knowing from your posts that I will need to be familiar with them.I am so very grateful you are on this jouney a few steps ahead of me. thanks for writing about it here.

Kelli said...

Finally, finally, finally they take care of D. like they should be.

Bravo for being such a fantastic advocate for your son.

Sonya said...

That's great, but please make sure that you continue to follow up with him and stay on top of it. We have to remember that we are responsible for our children. We are their first teachers. The teachers do an excellent job, but have alot on their plates. They have twenty something students, twenty something personalities, and this does not include the students' parents personalities. They are overworked and not paid enough. I have been blessed with my son's teachers. Thank God. They were very patient and understanding. I love each and every one of them. They can only do so much. Together we have worked as a team. I really have a new and better understanding for and about educators after working so close with my son's teachers. I too am a proud H.I.S.D. parent.

Have a great school year,

Unknown said...

I wish there were more parents like you in the school system who stand up for your believes and your child's needs and rights. As I always tell by classroom parents: "If you do not fight for your child's rights, who will?" You did it!

Anonymous said...

NAnn's reply is that we should have more parents like you. I agree whole-heardedly that co-teaching does work with the two inndividuals...the special ed. teacher and regular ed teacher planning, collaborating and complementing each other's ideas about "all students" needs! Again, this is a true testament that pairing two people working together will make a difference. I worked years ago with a dynamic Special Ed. teacher in the area of ELA/R in a class of Special Ed. students and the reason why all of our kid were successful is because we both shared the oppportunities to wok with the students...while I taught she monitored and vice versa.

Good Luck!

sugar magnolia said...

Wow! I! What an advocate you are...and what a great response! You must be thrilled!!!!

DESJ and Company said...

I've been oout of blog-reading for forever, and Now all I can say is this: YOU ROCK, WG! You are seriously an amazing advocate for D and much of his growth is due to you.