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.