I always knew that my first born was different. From the moment she entered this world, she exuded a unique energy. Her cries were so loud that I remember hearing the nurse say, “Let’s hurry up and get her back to her Mom!” As she grew, I noticed that she had more than her fair share of anxieties and struggled in preschool and Pre-K. She hated loud noises and profoundly avoided certain activities during school. We were told to get her into a school where the class size was smaller (where can you find that these days…no where).
Her Kindergarten teacher expressed concern and attempted to suggest ways to help her along throughout the school year. Comprehension and focus issues were the main talking points. My husband and I buckled down and really worked with her and by the end of the school year she was able to pass into the first grade.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought perhaps this small hurdle was over and that our daughter would be able to progress even better in the first grade. I was wrong.
Not even a month into the school year, her teacher pulled me aside at dismissal. She informed me that our daughter was struggling and that she was concerned. The teacher spoke to me about my daughter’s polite and kind spirit, but expressed serious concerns on passing our daughter into the second grade. Those previous fears returned and I immediately began to research. How would my daughter be successful if she could not understand what she was being taught?
I asked the teacher what the next steps were and she referred me to the school counselor. Little did I know, I had entered the proverbial merry-go-round. This is where school personnel will assure that work is happening – when it really isn’t. I had requested changes for her regarding her spelling tests, only to be told that special favors for students weren’t allowed. I requested reports regarding what she was learning during Title I time – no response. I emailed the principal – to no avail. In the meantime, our daughter was coming home in tears and frustrated.
Disgusted that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I headed back to the Internet. The Michigan Alliance for Families and WrightsLaw have a plethora of information available for parents in similar situations. Having learned what to do, I began to push and push and push. I was ready to go to the Federal Department of Education if I had to (and I almost did). Nasty phone calls between the school psychologist and I were had, causing me to go over everyone’s head to get my name out there. I knew my daughter needed assistance and I wasn’t afraid to fight for it.
FIGHT PARENTS. FIGHT PROFESSIONAL AND FIGHT HARD.
My efforts proved to be successful and my daughter is improving. I realize that the battle is not over, but we are progressing. After getting advice for numerous resources including two advocates, mediators, friends that are Special Education teachers and family, I offer the following nuggets:
- You know your child. A friend of mine told me this when my eldest was born and I put it aside at the time. Over the years, I recalled it when I got poor advice from busybodies, but it is also true in this instance. I was told because my child was sweet and polite that they didn’t think it was necessary for my child to be evaluated. They only want the kids with the “behavior issues” to be evaluated. Press past bad advice and remember that you know your child better than anyone else on this planet.
- Put it in writing. You will read several articles that tell you to put your requests in writing to have your child participate in a full-comprehensive evaluation. DO IT!!! Verbal requests mean nothing to this process. Also, every verbal conversation you have, whether it is with the teacher, principal or school psychologist, should have a follow-up email. This will give you something to show and help you keep your notes honest. I took notes at every meeting; even the parent-teacher conferences.
- Know your rights. As the parent, you have a right to know when your child is being discussed and what strategies are being used on your child during the school day. My child was discussed during support meetings during kindergarten and I had no idea this was happening. However, when I learned about it in the following school year, I demanded to hear more information and if the strategies suggested were working.
- Take a deep breath, this is tough. During the initial IEP meeting, we learned where our daughter was struggling academically. This was tough to hear. It’s one thing to know deep in your spirit that your child is having a tough time, it’s totally different to see charts and graphs describing just how tough a time she is having. I had to leave the room for a few minutes just to get my bearings. If you can, take a support person who understands the process with you. In our case, we took my Mother-in-Law who has a background in early childhood development and mediators from the Oakland Mediation Center.
- Stay the course. You may feel relief when you are assured that your child will receive the necessary services in order for them to be successful academically. But just wait, the struggle continues. Now you must make sure that the IEP is being enforced and that goals are being met. Make sure that you get separate progress reports and keep up with the resource teacher and other specialists.