Conspiracy Theories and our first IEP
Having Down syndrome automatically qualifies Whitney for government funded early education services. Since birth she has met with a teacher and/or specialists each week through the county’s Early Start program.
Over the last month or two we have been preparing to enter the public school system. (!!!) When Whitney turns 3 she “graduates” out of the county program and into a pre-K special classroom. I have mixed feelings about this change and preparing for it has opened me to the world of district/parent conspiracy theories in public school.
Everyone who needs a little extra something in public school gets an IEP, a contract between parents and the school to get everyone on the same page for the child’s goals and services. As our first IEP approached I started to get anxious about squeaky wheels. I know that school districts have limited resources and I started to wonder if my easy-going and trusting tendencies would result in a treatment orchestrated around minimizing the strain my daughter would place on the resources rather than on what is truly best for Whitney. Sometimes I fear that I need to be a squeaky wheel parent. These fears were amplified when I read about other parents’ experiences (I subscribe to a massive Yahoo group for parents of individuals with Down syndrome in the Silicon Valley). It’s crazy out there. A lot of parents are certain that the school districts are out to slight children with special needs, offering them the bare minimum, whatever is most convenient for the staff, and making it really difficult to make adjustments to services or classroom placement. These parents say I need to read up on my rights for a Free Appropriate Public Education and to be prepared to fight for what’s best for Whitney (assuming that it’s not what they offer). Yikes! Aren’t educators good-hearted people guiding our children to a brighter future? I mean. I’m related to at least a half-dozen of them and they seem quite sincere. Conspiracy. We are mama (and papa) bears and are very protective of our baby bears. Parents are crazy. But it’s not without good reason.
I learned the district expects me to be difficult. When I asked the members of Whitney’s Assessment Team about the different classrooms that the district have for children with special needs my question was continually evaded with “once we are done with the assessment we will determine which classroom is best for your daughter and will offer that to you.” I felt helpless as a mom because I’m supposed to agree to a plan for what is best for Whitney without even knowing what the options are. If I don’t know what other classes look like how will I know if I should agree with the one they offer? I started getting frustrated and I think the district lady could sense it, which made her more guarded and in turn me more suspicious. I understand districts are afraid of being sued, but evading questions leads to less trust and more skepticism, so they’re basically making a self-fulfilling prophesy for difficult parents.
Fortunately, our first IEP went very smoothly. Whitney was placed in the only classroom that I knew about (because it was the one we visited for her assessment), but ever since we visited I had secretly hoped we could go there. I ended up not feeling the need to research other options. This classroom is close to our home in a nice neighborhood, has a teacher who has a teenage son with Down syndrome and seemed to already connect with Whitney through her evaluation. The classroom was organized and full of things that caught Whitney’s attention. And there is a private preschool with typical kids next door with whom they integrate some of their activities. She’ll be going five days a week all morning. They wrote out categories and goals that will be worked on throughout the year, many of which Whitney will probably meet early on, and then new goals can be written. So…first meeting was pretty smooth. Maybe there isn’t a conspiracy after all. I haven’t had to pull out the squeaky wheel and I feel hopeful about Whitney’s educational future. Bring on the transition!