We are almost two weeks into the new school year, and Finn still languishes without a proper school placement.  He continued to attend preschool two mornings a week throughout the summer, and is also now back at speech therapy twice a week, but still no resolution with the school district regarding his IEP.  We also blew through our initial $2,500 retainer very quickly (it doesn’t take much – a file review, a couple letters, a meeting or two between associate attorneys, a few phone calls, and poof!), and have had to scramble to come up with yet more money that we really can’t afford.  A couple of weeks ago, our attorney sent a letter to the Director of Special Ed formally disagreeing with the district’s evaluations of Finn and demanding independent evaluations at the district’s expense.  We got word from our attorney yesterday that the new Director (the one we’ve dealt with retired at the end of July) would like to meet with us informally to try to resolve this whole thing.  We’ve agreed to a meeting, at which our attorney will be present (cha-ching!), which will take place in about two weeks.  I can’t say that I am even cautiously optimistic, however.  Our experiences with the Fullerton School District over the last two years – since Finn’s initial IEP when he turned three – have been overwhelmingly awful, and in all honesty, I have not spoken to a single other family in the district who has a child with an IEP who has had a positive experience with the district.

This morning I had an interesting exchange.  I dropped Finn at speech therapy, which he receives at one of the other local public elementary schools in the district.  As I was walking back to my truck, the principal approached me.  She was present at Finn’s IEP meeting in June, and prior to that meeting, I had at least one phone conversation with her wherein she expressed her support for our desire to see Finn placed in a general ed classroom.  It therefore came as somewhat of a shock and disappointment when, during the IEP meeting, she stated her support for the district’s recommendation of a SDC placement for Finn.  Finn’s speech therapist, with whom we have a wonderful rapport, also has always expressed her support of our desire to have Finn placed in general ed, and her faith that he would do well there – until the IEP meeting in June, when she was suddenly closed-mouthed.

So this morning the principal approached me.  We exchanged chit chat for a couple of minutes, and then she said, “Have you met the new director of Student Services?”  Warily, I said, “No . . . it’s funny you mention that, though.  You know we retained an attorney, right?”  She gave me a thumbs up and said, “Good for you.”  I told her that we actually may be meeting with the new director in the next couple of weeks.  She said, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I think you guys will get what you want for Finn now.”  I said, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it.”  She said, “There was always just one person standing in the way of what you guys have been after for Finn.  I think you’ll find that now that she’s gone, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

I have to say that this exchange infuriates me.  It makes it clear that the prior director always held the strings, that she made a decision about Finn’s placement without ever having met him, based solely, I assume, on district resources and the diagnosis she saw in Finn’s file.  There was not anything individualized about her decision about his placement, and the whole notion that there was an IEP “team” was a farce – there was never going to be any collaboration or meaningful discussion – she pulled rank, told all the “team” members who are employed by the district what agenda they were to push, and we were always at her mercy.  How is this not a violation of the law, and of Finn’s rights?  He has been deprived of a placement in the Least Restrictive Environment, and he has been deprived of a process which is supposed to be individualized for him.

Sadly, though, we probably have no recourse.  I asked our attorney, after sharing this exchange with him, and he said that these claims are very difficult (and no doubt expensive) to prove, and it’s unlikely that any of the “team” members would be willing to testify against the district – their employer.

So, basically, we’re fucked.  Unless they decide to play nice – and that remains to be seen.  Even if things turn around now with a new director in place, it doesn’t undo what Finn has already been deprived of (and the longer his placement is delayed, the more of a disadvantage he’s at), and what we’ve already had to go through – including the money we’ve had to spend – in pursuit of something utterly fundamental and reasonable.

Meanwhile, Finn has been a challenge at home.  He’s back to repeated tantrums throughout the day – has been for a while.  I’ve tried to pay close attention to triggers, and it’s just really difficult to figure out what’s going in with him when he can’t tell me.  The kid is pretty verbal, relatively speaking, but it’s not like we can sit down and have conversations about what’s bothering him.  He’s entered a new phase of attempting more independence – wanting to do things for himself, like get himself dressed – and that is a triumph, but he struggles (when I look at his short, stubby fingers, it’s no wonder his fine motor skills are so wanting) and becomes easily frustrated.  So I think that’s definitely a part of the whole tantrum thing – he’s wanting to do more and frustrated that it’s not coming as easily as he’d like it to.  I suspect the other part is boredom and lack of structure.  He doesn’t throw tantrums at preschool – not that he doesn’t have an occasional outburst, but overall, he’s just more content and better behaved at school, and this confirms to me all the more how sorely he needs something more than preschool two mornings a week.  Being home with Mommy has lost its charm, I think.  He’s five now, and he needs a structured routine that I can’t give him at home, and he needs to with peers more regularly and consistently.

So, that’s where we’re at.




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13 Responses to Finn

  1. Deborah Mitchell August 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    “He doesn’t throw tantrums at preschool – not that he doesn’t have an occasional outburst, but overall, he’s just more content and better behaved at school, and this confirms to me all the more how sorely he needs something more than preschool two mornings a week. Being home with Mommy has lost its charm, I think. He’s five now, and he needs a structured routine that I can’t give him at home, and he needs to with peers more regularly and consistently.”

    He sounds like every other kid I know. I hope you get through this tough part and get the placement you want for Finn.

  2. Sonia August 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    I hope he will be able to start school soon. For us, Lillian still has no IEP, but is still attending a typical kindergarten class. She has speech through our insurance. Her teacher and bus driver has said she is doing fine. I really wish it wasn’t so difficult for you guys.

  3. Sheila August 23, 2013 at 12:51 am #

    Oh I’ve been wondering how its going. Why am I not surprised the former Director held all the cards. I hope the new one turns it around. I really, really feel for you & all of this unresolve you’re going through, just to get what’s automatically given to every other child. Sending good vibes…

  4. Carolyn Gabriel August 23, 2013 at 3:01 am #

    I taught Chris to read at home. After we adopted Melissa I no longer had as much time to continue with his reading. If things are let go, even over the summer, it’s difficult to pick up where you left off. I saw an ad in the paper from a lady who was a tutor. I called her, she was willing to try to work with him. After the first session she said “he can work for 45 minutes straight and has comprehension”. When school started a standard greeting letter was sent out to which I responded. I called and asked why my son could not get reading at school. Question: “who says he can read?” Reply: His tutor with a PhD. They asked for a meeting, I consulted a lawyer. We really could not afford a lawyer. He advised that the tutor attend the meeting, which she did. The department head said “people ask me if Chris can read and I say yes he can but he doesn’t understand what he is reading”. When that ploy wasn’t accepted her question was “who is going to buy the book?”. This was a cooperative school and our district was paying for Chris to attend. I called them, told them a lawsuit would come back on them and they had absolutely nothing to do with this learning center not giving Chris the privilege to read. So other people were called in for their evaluations. I got a phone call from another PhD, told him this supervisor had a ‘hang up’ and he agreed with me. We were waiting for an adoption to be approved, the supervisor’s husband was a Family Court Judge—-so I was a nervous wreck. Chris worked so hard and I worked so hard, for the school system to just let it fall through. The tutor thought that Chris could go through the Catholic school system. I was concerned about the possible discrimination from other children, wanted him to be a top performer rather than a bottom one. I called and called a Catholic school for Exceptional Children. Finally I got a call back. The school didn’t like to take children that didn’t start out with them. We weren’t Catholic. It all fell in place. Chris went to school there, was able to continue his reading……became their ‘Golden Boy’…grew up there, saying he was ‘holy’, even turned Catholic, not a prerequisite. So I went through the mill. Could you get a tutor to work with you on this placement issue? I thought all this BS and prejudice would have stopped by now… my experience was perhaps before you were born. Get in there and fight! Get people with credentials to vouch for Finn, his abilities and his needs. His mind is so malleable now. Chris doesn’t have to do anything except just ‘be’, if he had never progressed at all we would have enjoyed him, but he did and he can and wants to do something, why not? Now he just goes to work in the mail room, enjoys life, has a new hippie tie dyed shirt to wear tomorrow that says “Love, Peace, Joe’s Crab Shack”. Pan handlers hang around the pier and the beach. Some guy picked us up, we bought his dinner and he cracked all Chris’ crab legs for him, even cut his corn off the cob. We even got to ‘rock out’ a bit. Try a tutor, try threats, do not give up, you will win, counting on you!

  5. Alyson August 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    When we went through our school district fight for Cullen (almost exactly 2 years ago),he didn’t end up in placement until the beginning of October. He missed a whole month as well. Here is the thing about that (which I was insanely furious about while going through it),somehow it ended up better for him because he started after the classroom had their first month of beginning of the year chaos,so it actually ended up better for him. However,I was very vocal about the fact that I believed they were violating his rights to his education. So then of course they set up therapies,special ed instruction time within the school that I was supposed to traipse him back and forth to all day…um yeah F that,I refused it and just kept him home.
    I am not surprised one bit that the director held all the cards and everyone was afraid for their jobs to speak up. These administrators can be incredible bullies. I told you about mine slamming the conference room door on us and storming out. Even this past April,while he was trying to bully me into Cullen’s Summer placement he said things to me that would blow your mind. It’s not fair,it’s fucked up..period. What I have found is that once I drew the line and refused to back down they knew I wasn’t someone to screw with…though he occasionally still tries. Therapists are sometimes afraid to go against the directors because not only are their jobs on the line,but they know if they go against them,they will take it out in the form of screwing other kids the therapist works with. Again not ok,not at all but it’s the way it can be.
    So here is my advice,from my experience when we agreed to the meeting after all the insanity,try to believe that it is possible to get what is appropriate for Finn. I don’t blame you one bit for being furious with those who backed down from what is right previously,but try to not let it spill out onto this new director unless it has to. I went in to that meeting on the defense and very hostile,how could I not be? About 10 minutes into it,I saw that the superintendent did “get it”. He saw we were educated loving parents who were really trying to do what was appropriate for our son and listened. In the end,after my notebook full of law quoting,he said “what do you want?”. Then he actually listened to everything about Cullen (after Mr.Douchebag stormed out) and told us how much he respected us. He actually gave me his cell phone number and called me from home to see how Cullen was doing after placement. There are people out there who aren’t only looking at the bottom line..$$…unfortunately it seems we have to go through immense stress to find them.
    Ok,so after this ridiculous novel…I promise you that Finn will be ok if he starts a little later and may even benefit from it. Doesn’t make it right,but try not to worry about that part. You are doing an amazing job Lisa (and Michael). I swore the fight for Cullen aged me 10 years and nearly gave me a stroke at points. I really hope this new director has a different outlook. It can happen. (((HUGS))

    • Lisa August 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      Thank you, Alyson xo

  6. triplezmom August 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I hate hearing stories like this – I’m so sorry you (and Finn) are going through this. I’m not surprised that the director held all the cards, though. I taught in a large, urban district where people who heard things third hand made all the decisions and those of us who actually worked with and tested children could only make suggestions. It sucks.

  7. Andrea August 24, 2013 at 12:12 am #

    As a special Ed teacher, this makes me sick. It seems to me that, many times, the people in positions of power have no clue what a child is capable of doing, and go for the “easiest” decision. I know I’ve put myself on the line to fight for my students, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    Good fpr you for challenging the district! Good luck! I hope Finn gets a more appropriate placement soon.

  8. Anonymous August 24, 2013 at 3:00 am #

    Often those IEP “teams” meet before the actual IEP to hash our their disagreements. These meetings are most often more heated than the meeting with the parents. I always advocate for my students. I’m sure the rest of my “team” hates it but I do. I get emotional and cry. I get angry and have to leave the room because more than I want the child to be in right placement, I want my families to be at peace and enjoy their child’s educational experience. I want my parents to celebrate successes and not always hear what their child cannot do. I want parents to be the voice for their children and be listened too! Sometimes when you feel defeated by your own “team” it’s easier to keep your mouth shut in an IEP in front of parents. Some district people do retaliate against those who speak out. Sometimes those who speak out, not only aren’t the one’s with the final say, but only represent one aspect of a child’s program. Lawyers change the dynamics too. Everyone goes on the defensive. In the 15 years I’ve been participating in IEPs, the dynamic has changed. For some reason IEP teams are seen as week and indecisive if they come to meetings unprepared. These days unprepared means not all on the same page. What’s wrong with starting these discussions at the table with parents? What’s wrong with human dialogue where we discuss the strengths and weakness of the child and pros/cons of the different placement options (and their should be options)? Even further, what’s wrong with saying, “we have discussed it at length this is why a particular program is our recommendation but what do you think”? Or how about “this is what we recommend but we understand that you want x for your child”. Doctors make recommendations and patients can choose to follow them (or not). I don’t understand why this doesn’t apply in school. Especially for a first time placement. Sorry for the ramble but my heart breaks for families like yours where nightime conversation is rooted in anger and frustration over not feeling like you have any control over your own child’s path in life. In the long run, I’m sure that Finn will be fine and continue to grow in whatever setting he is in. I long for the day that I don’t take the same conversations home to my family out of frustration for my voice not being heard. Until things change I will keep doing what I know is right and will work to make sure that my parents feel supported by me, even if I am just one piece of the puzzle. Good luck!

    • Lisa August 24, 2013 at 4:10 am #

      This: “What’s wrong with starting these discussions at the table with parents? What’s wrong with human dialogue where we discuss the strengths and weakness of the child and pros/cons of the different placement options (and their should be options)? Even further, what’s wrong with saying, “we have discussed it at length this is why a particular program is our recommendation but what do you think”? Or how about “this is what we recommend but we understand that you want x for your child”.” That’s how I thought it was supposed to be. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not the way it is.

  9. Carrie August 25, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    I wish you lived in Kansas. We are in a suburb of Kansas City in a fantastic school district. Whatever resources you need, you get, and then some. I hope your local district can pull their heads out of their asses and get your boy where he belongs. Best of luck.

  10. Mrs Odie 2 September 7, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    I spoke to the head of sped (hee hee) at my school. She said that they are supposed to put Finn in the “least restrictive environment” he can function in. SDC is the MOST restrictive environment. It’s exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to do. Plus, there are precedents for children with DS being educated alongside their typical peers. I hope that you will soon get what your son is legally entitled to. He is supposed to be in a regular ed class with an OT or other assistant in class with him paid for by the district. And they probably know that already.

    • Lisa September 7, 2013 at 6:04 am #

      Yes, everything you say is true. Our district has been jerking us around, absolutely going for the most restrictive environment because that’s what costs them the least – screw the kids. We had a meeting with the district and our attorney this past Wednesday and finally reached a resolution. I’ll write about it soon – just waiting for the settlement agreement to be signed.

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