Navigating the school system can be a nightmare. Trust me I did it this past year and even knowing what is going on it was still challenging. There are groups out there designed to help you and be advocates for you in the IEP process. I do not know much about these groups as I did my work independently. One of the biggest challenges is navigating a system you do not understand. This post is designed to help break down some of those illusions. Yes, they do give you rights and give you the whole “speech” but being told what your rights are is different than understanding them.
- Your child is money. The first and in most ways the evilest part of the system is that your child is a check. Ever wonder why schools are so dead set on attendance. They give out awards which seem like punishments to students who got sick. If you miss more than a few days you can get in trouble with the law and even when schools neglect other issues they are OCD about checking and reporting attendance. Well, each school gets money each year based on enrollment. In an ideal world ,they would get a set amount and if the child had to move that amount would be prorated for that month and split between the schools. In the real world, most schools get paid on a day by day basis. If your child is in the seat 3 out of 5 days in a week then the school only gets paid for those 3 days. That creates a huge insentive to keep your child in school. If you kid is having a bad day, needs a break, or you both just feel emotionally abused by the system that is just to bad.
- Extra programs cost more without a comparible pay bump. If your child needs additional services with the district then they have to pay for the additional staff to support it. Now often special education students will bring in a bit more money per days in their seat than a normal student. However, many of these systems have been in place for a long time and have not adapted for inflation so what they need vs. what they get is not comparable. Now schools are often rated based on their test scores which can also determine funding. So it becomes a tug of war game. It might become profitable for them to spend lots of money to boost special education children if it raises the average on their testing scores. A school that specializes in or has a high demographic of special education students can hurt the score. If they have enough they can cover it with grants but if they don’t then they will be out money to help that they are unlikely to see returned.
- Admitting failure is costly. My son was transferred to a nonpublic school after a bunch of school transfers. For several months he basically took a cab back and forth 30 minutes a day to school. If you have ever taken a ride in a cab you can just imagine that cost. Then they have to pay for the tuition. If they can they are going to hold onto your child because it is a significant loss to let them go.
- Pushing for your rights can hurt you. If you feel your child needs special placement fighting for it can hurt. You have a few avenues. Giving up on the system entirely there is the homeschool option. For some students this is better but in most cases it isn’t because they need to learn social skills. If you choose to pull your child out of school yourself expect to pay for it yourself. There are some public electronic schools that use district funds but you teach at home such as K-12. You can kiss any full time job goodbye though. Some parents choose to put there kids in private school and charge the district. First, you have to pay upfront out of pocket and the district can fight you if they feel your child could have been served within the school district. Expect paying out of pocket, potential legal issues and you might lose. Some schools have the option to move the child to a different school in the district. If you request it and the district doesn’t back you then they do not have to cover transportation.
- Better scoring schools do not mean better schools. One of the most diverse and amazing schools in our district has the lowest score. Many of the parents bought into the idea that better scoring schools where better and transferred their kids. So at the amazing school there are a lot of low income families and minorities. The more parents transferred the lower the scores got because low income frequently have troubles with academics. They also have a higher population of special needs students. What they are is receptive and they work hard to help the students. One of the worst schools in the district is one of the best scoring! I transferred my son there though this was due to location and carpooling rather than score based. The school had a high population of wealthy families and tons of extra curricular activities. Except for a bully problem the school is amazing for a neurotypical child. My son tried to run off campus multiple times because he wanted to “come home and be with mom mom.” Since I was in school in the afternoons a friend would pick up her and my son from the school. Running was a huge issue with him so the school requested that she pick up the boys in the office. Due to a lack of parking if you pick up your kids you have to park across the street. She requested special parking privileges and the principle basically told her no. I was there (and since she was the one picking them up I let her handle it) and she said “I am concerned about having to take a child who is prone to running across a busy street.” The principles response was to the effect of “I don’t know what to tell you it is what you have to do.” Fortunately my friend can be b*tchy and manipulative. She drove right up to the pick up line, moved the blockade that is up before school hours and drove up. When maintanance saw her and challenged her she stated “I need to pick up a special needs child from the school office.” She got her way because she did not give the school a choice. Other problems happened at that school and if I had the skills to cope with it at the time I would have sued. I went in with a fever and was told about his behavior and started to cry. The special education teacher turned to my son and said “look at what you are doing to your mother” and I did not have the presence of mind until I lowered my fever to realize how abusive this statement was. With the income level in that part of the district I got the feeling most parents with autistic children had them placed in private school out of pocket and this school had never had to deal with it before. It was a mess.
- Even good schools might be a bad placement. We ended up in a behavior intervention program in a special school. The teachers were amazing and trained well and we loved them to death. That said, my son got worse because it wasn’t the right fit for him and we cried when he had to leave.
- You are protected from extended expulsions. Your child can be expelled but not for long because they are protected because they have autism. If they try to expell your child for more than 10 days they have to prove it was because of something not related to their autism.
- In some cases your best option is to wait and suffer. My son was running off campus, not accessing the curriculum, and hurting people. It took multiple school changes to finally get him in a good school. I never had to pay anything out of pocket because I waited and suffered and since the school came to the determination that they could not service him they had to pay. You might be able to speed up this process if you vocalize your belief your child is not in good placement at IEP meetings. There are hidden costs, at the behavior intervention class the principle had to deal with my crying and when I appologized she said she was used to it. Often when parents got to that point they had already had to quit jobs or lost them because they were called into the school so often. I was lucky that I worked for the school district (hard for an employeer to fire you for not showing up when they are the same people calling you away). It hurt though and while money issues are looking on the up and up we will likely end up homeless between now and when the money comes in. (See my gofundme link at the bottom of this post). I wish I had an easier road to recommend but if you don’t have the funds and means to fight back there is little you can do.
- You can put conditions on transfers. The last school my son was sent to had a later start time and pick-up time would have been 10 minutes after I needed to be at work. I made signing the IEP contingent on finding a way to get him transportation that did not cause me to lose my job. In the end took him to work with me (20 minutes farther away) so they could pick him up before I had to start and still get him there in the approprate time phrame.
- Remember you do not have to sign the IEP. Schools will sometimes make it sound like what they recommend is what your child needs. This puts parents in the position of feeling guilty if they don’t sign. If you don’t understand it sign it later, take the time to think about it and don’t ever feel pressured to sign.
- If you fear for the safety of your child do not wait homeschool. Another friend thought her child was being abused at school. He would often come home hungry and she was concerned he was not getting the food she sent in. She walked into the classroom to see other students beating her childs head into the wall and the teacher did nothing. While she fought to get him removed she kept him out of school as long as she legally could but she had to send him back. Her child was nonverbal so he could not report what was happening for himself! When a hearing was done with the school board they took the word of the teacher over hers. She pulled him out to homeschool him. Collecting his things on the last day of school the teacher handed her a large trash bag, containing all the food she had sent in (and toward the end she started sending in junk food she knew he would not refuse just to make sure he ate). Even now the district tries to call her up and pressure her to put him back in public school (cause as I said your child is money). Not all places are equal. I am in a decent state for autism care and they messed up other places are far worse.
It is hard to see your child struggling and it is hard to know where to turn to get help. When your in the cycle of watching your child struggle it is easy to lose hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are proper placements that will work but it is a process. The process can hurt, and even now with my son in proper placement my family is still struggling with the long term effects. However, you can get there if you are willing to stand your ground.
Feel free to share this blog with others! Here is the link to my gofundme page.