And even with the outcome of the Monster’s IEP process for SY 2015-2016, I’m still very upset.
Look, the fact that it took this much fighting to get to this point, when there is so much evidence of the fact that he’s needed more help all along, tells me that the system is absolutely, positively broken. The law requires that students with disabilities get a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE), and according to national standards, Maryland is “meeting requirements”. But there’s something that’s missed in the midst of all of this – the Monster is only getting the help he needs because my wife and I dug our heels in and fought.
And fought. And dug into our financial resources, hired an educational consultant and an attorney, and made it clear that we were going to keep fighting. If we’d not done all these things, I’m absolutely convinced that they would have bullied us into whatever course of action was that was easiest and cheapest for them.
Because, let’s be honest: Not giving us the draft IEP after the two prior meetings to review within the timelines, or before the original date of the third IEP meeting? Giving us a draft marked as ‘Approved’ after the first of the IEP review meetings, when we’d not agreed to it – or even completed the process of defining goals, supports and placement? Not telling us in advance that they were bringing their attorney? These are power plays. These are attempts to intimidate and strong-arm us into giving in to their positions. These are a direct response to the March and May IEP meetings when we fought them tooth and nail to ensure that the Monster was getting the help that he needs, as expensive and intrusive as it is.
BUT, my family happens to have the wherewithal to go through with something like this. I personally dislike feeling like I’m being bullied, and I have the financial resources to fight the battle through… which is not common in Baltimore City.
So, some facts:
- The Baltimore City Public Schools System has a student body of approximately 85,000 students for SY 2015-2016.
- Of these students, approximately 15,000 are classified as requiring some form of special education (IEP/504/et cetera).
- The vast majority of students’ parents do not show up for meetings.
(And yes, I know that 15,000 of 85,000 seems like a huge number, because it is – that’s 19.2% of the student body. But lest you think I’m making it up, the latest data I could find online – from the 2012-13 school year – places the district at a student population of 84,747, with 14,327 students with an IEP. If you look back 10 years, the Abell Foundation published a report that would bear out that 15-16% seems to be where the number has been hovering for a while.)
The fact is, IEP meetings are hard. They’re often long, they’re inconvenient, they require a lot of preparation, and they’re in the middle of the work day. In a lot of households, it’s a question of going to the IEP meeting or going to work and being able to put supper on the table. It’s easier not to attend… and it’s certainly easier not to drag the process out if you disagree with the team and they make it clear that they’re going to push back. It’s absolutely terrifying if it becomes apparent that they might make you take them to court to get things rectified, because that can mean massive costs if you lose the fight or if the city decides spontaneously to settle the matter without a resolution. (They pay your legal costs if you fight them in due process and win.)
Consider, also, that Baltimore City Public Schools just dis-established the Office of Special Education. (Read that twice more before you continue – they actually got rid of the office.) The various functions have been spread out through the rest of the infrastructure of the school system, but there is no longer a single one-stop-shop that manages special education in Baltimore City. While the most glaring problem (the call-in system) has been rectified to ensure that special-education parents have someone to call into, the various people who are responsible for assembling an IEP and providing service levels are now scattered across BCPSS. What they have kept in place is a very large due-process department that seems structured to push back against parents who disagree with their decision-making process.
Against this backdrop, my family was lucky that we are able to fight for what our son needs, but what genuinely upsets me is the thought of the number of families who cannot, for one reason or another, push hard enough for their children, or don’t truly understand their rights to push back against the process. These are the kids who fall through the cracks, who desperately need more help than they are getting… and don’t get it, because the school’s successful enough in managing the services they have available to “meet requirements” without anyone being the wiser or asking too many questions.
We need to fix the system, and we need to hold the people who set this system in place accountable for the stumbling blocks they are putting in the way of our vulnerable children.
We can publicize.
We can talk about what it’s like, going through this process. We can make sure that fellow parents understand what we’re going through, what they need to be doing for their kids.
We can question those in power, and make them stand up in public and explain what they’re doing to ensure that every child gets a FAPE.
And in the end, we can change the system, because there are a lot more of us than there are of them.