Surveying The Landscape

As the self-proclaimed “voice” of the lighter side of special education, I have decided it is past time for me to learn more about you, my loyal (and non-paying) readers. So I am asking all of you to take a few minutes of your time and fill out this important survey which will assist me in determining how many of you need a few more appointments on your lunch calendar. Everyone who completes the survey will be rewarded with a thirty day supply of Ritalin, and a complimentary copy of “Fruitful IEPs – How to Become the Raspberry Seed in Your School District’s Tooth,” by “Litigious” Lola Hockenachinek. 

Thank You for your participation!


1. My child’s disability is:

a. Autism
b. Autism
c. Autism
d. Autism
e. Something else

2. My school district’s performance can be rated as:

a. Excellent
b. Good
c. Fair
d. Poor
e. XXX – not suitable for anyone under age 22

3. I speak to my child’s special education teacher:

a. Once a week
b. 2-3 times per week
c. At least once a day
d. My child’s teacher has moved in with us

4. My school district’s attorney buys her clothes at:

a. Neiman-Marcus
b. Saks Fifth Avenue
c. Berdgdorf-Goodman
d. Gucci-the one in Rome

5. My special education attorney buys her clothes at:

a. TJ Maxx
b. Target
c. Wal-Mart
d. The Dollar Store

6. My child’s inappropriate behavior causes him to:

a. Obsessively watch the Weather Channel
b. Inappropriately stare at women’s breasts
c. Incessantly play violent video games
d. Copy all of his father’s behaviors

7. My school district has decided that my child’s least restrictive environment is:

a. Special education class except for gym
b. Special education class except for art and music
c. Prefabricated trailer located next to school building
d. Separate facility located 50 miles from our home
e. The moon

8. The best office dog for a special education law office is:

a. Bulldog, for its tenacity
b. Bloodhound, for its ability to sniff out the unfeeling
c. Lou, the office dog, for his contribution to the hot air therein
d. A mutt – you can’t afford a purebred

9. The “No Child Left Behind” Act is:

a. A vast right-wing conspiracy designed to take money away from public schools
b. A vast left-wing conspiracy designed to help poor kids learn to read
c. The law allowing all individuals under 16 to get unlimited text messaging
d. A misnomer; it should be called “No Child Left Untested”

10. The term “scientifically based” reading program means:

a. It was once mentioned in Reader’s Digest
b. Comes from outer space
c. Your superintendent discussed it with the superintendent of a neighboring school district and both have “Dr.” in front of their names (thus making it “peer-reviewed” as well)
d. The four-legged mammals living in your home committed “acts of nature” on it

11. As a special education teacher, you feel that:

a. You love your students, but hate their parents
b. You love your students but hate your principal
c. You love your students but hate your hair colorist: you weren’t meant to be a platinum blonde
d.You love your students AND the adaptive phys. ed. teacher

12. The two 30 minute/week sessions of speech therapy on your child’s IEP mean your child will receive speech therapy EXCEPT on:

a. Speech language pathologist’s sick days
b. SLP vacation and personal days
c. School holidays
d. Days after SLP quits but you aren’t notified
e. All of the above.

13. The best food to offer at an IEP meeting is:

a. Homemade chocolate chip cookies
b. Lorna Doones purchased for your in-laws visit last year
c. Five alarm chili
d. Gluten-free muffins
e. Human growth hormone

14. Parent(s) most likely to attend an IEP meeting is:

a. Mother
b. Mother; father who arrives 10 minutes before the meeting is over
c. Mother; father who sits like a lump calculating the odds on his Super Bowl bet
d. Mother; father who proceeds to argue with all of the members of the team (including mom) even though he has never actually read the IEP and has only a vague notion which child they are talking about.

15. The IDEA in its current form was meant to assure that:

a. All children have access to public schools
b. Special education teachers would understand the true meaning of “paperwork”
c. People would stop using the word “handicapped” and use the word “disabled” instead
d. Your SLD child’s MFE results in an IEP which provides FAPE in the LRE so he can meet the standards in NCLB, all of which makes you LOL at the I/Q of IDEA’s authors


Thank you for participating in this groundbreaking survey. As soon as the results are tallied, we will promptly throw them away, or insert them into an act of Congress; we are not sure yet. We have intentionally omitted any space for your comments because we don’t want to hear them. I am currently accepting “donations” from any of my loyal readers who want me to stop writing these articles. All money should be sent to: Please Stop, c/o Lou, 1234 Doghouse Lane, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Due Process Hearing

I love filing requests for hearing because they invariably produce the same response every time – that is, the district is befuddled.

“We are befuddled,” is the constant rejoinder of the district’s attorney when he contacts me.

“Just because this child is 15 and reads at a 1st grade level and has never received any tutoring of any kind, we are befuddled and yes, hurt. What has happened to the trust we have worked so hard to forge?”

Parents often find that once they file for due process, there is a subtle change in attitude on the part of the district. This is usually in evidence when, at the next meeting, the parents are seated at a table covered in a fine cloth while white gloved waiters serve them champagne. This will only serve to soften them, however, if the champagne is Dom Perignon AND the pupil services director gets down on the floor and kisses their feet.

Oftentimes, these matters are settled without a hearing. Though amicable settlement of disputes is always desirable, parents have to be careful because the district will always refuse to reimburse the parents for their fees when the matter has been settled.

Even where the settlement agreement provides that the offending untrained teachers and staff must be summarily executed, a new building will be erected in the child’s name, and scantily clad slaves will feed grapes to this child during snack, the district will steadfastly maintain that the parents were not the prevailing party.

“We would have done all these things,” the district will say, “if the parents had just ASKED instead of jumping the gun and filing for hearing before we were given a chance.”

Even when cases go to hearing, and a decision for the parents is issued, the district’s attorney will assure all the members of the School Board that the district actually won.

After all, the district must only reimburse the parents for 10 years of private school tuition instead of the 12 the parents requested, and anyway the district’s law firm will only be charging $450,000 instead of the usual half mil because 2 of the firm’s team of 10 attorneys got sick and could not attend the last half of the hearing.

The school board members will then congratulate themselves and pat each other on the back before moving on to more important matters such as the district’s failure to meet 16 of the 17 state standards established by proficiency testing.

Mediation

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process designed to foster settlements between disputing parties and hopefully avoid the need for expensive litigation. The mediation process can be stressful for parents unfamiliar with it unless they know the rules.

So here is a handy guide to the rules of special education mediation.

Rules of Mediation

Special ed mediations must always occur at the district board of education office so that parents and their advocates are the only ones inconvenienced (and intimidated) by the location. Initially, the parties convene in one room, then separate into two rooms because by the time mediation is necessary, they can no longer stand the sight of each other.

A box of doughnuts will appear which will be offered to district staff and the mediator only. Parents and their advocates are left to fish around in their purses for a leftover Certs purchased during the Reagan Administration. But parents need to keep a keen eye on those doughnuts. The mediator will munch on them during the course of the day. Parents should know that as the doughnuts disappear, the sands of their hourglass are running out. If the parties fail to reach agreement by the time the doughnuts are gone, the wicked witch will arrive and take the parties to due process.

Mediator’s Job

The mediator’s job is to shuttle back and forth between the rooms and communicate to one party what the other party said. I have often wondered why this job requires the services of a human being. My office dog, Lou, could just as easily carry a note attached to his collar to and from the rooms, all for the price of a few liver treats. When I offered his services for this purpose, however, I was told that dogs aren’t allowed in the board offices. I think that was an excuse, though, because while I was speaking to the superintendent, Lou was engaging in an embarrassing act of personal hygiene.

First Offer

At any rate, the first offer to settle made to parents at mediation by the school district will be a horribly insulting one such as: 
“We promise not to do ________ at IEP meetings (choose one):

(a) talk about you or your child as if you weren’t there
(b) gasp audibly at your Future Planning Statement
(c) express disbelief at the results of your child’s private, independent evaluation
(d) whisper to each other so you can’t hear what is being said.

Parents must treat this first offer, no matter what it is, as they would a poopy diaper. Pick up the piece of paper on which it is written while holding your nose and deposit it directly in the circular file. Then get up and appear to be getting ready to leave. The mediator, who wants to be paid for the whole day and has yet to finish all the doughnuts, will beg you to stay and to return next time with a better offer.

This process of offer and rejection will continue all day without interruption or until you pass out from hunger and thirst. All the while district staff and their lawyer are dining on pizza and salad. You know this because the mediator now has tomato sauce on his lapel and his breath smells from garlic.

Written Agreement

At the end of the day, parents will be asked to sign a written mediation agreement presented to them by the mediator with the instruction that no changes can be made, and they have only three minutes to review it. The mediator will stare at his watch while you read it so that you will feel as pressured as possible.

The language of most mediation agreements goes something like this:

WHEREAS, Johnny’s parents are a royal pain in the ass, and

WHEREAS, The District has never, ever, done anything wrong and always follows the law to the letter,

WHEREAS, The District is paying its lawyer $300.00 per hour from PARENTS’ tax money,

WHEREAS, the doughnuts are gone and the mediator wants to get the hell out of here,

NOW, THEREFORE, The parties reach the following agreement:

1. Johnny will no longer receive speech therapy from the janitor, but will instead receive therapy from a licensed speech pathologist;

2. Johnny will not be required to participate in the singing of the “Hello” song and “The Wheels on the Bus” now that he has reached his 15th birthday.

3. The previous IEP will be torn up into itty bitty pieces and a brand new one will be drafted so the parties can start fighting about that one in time for our next mediation to occur in three months.

4. Parents agree to WAIVE any and all claims against the District from the beginning of time to the end of time and can never bring any claim against the District ever again for any reason whatsoever, not even if Johnny is accidentally left outside at recess when the temperature is 2 degrees. Also, parents agree that District does not have to pay their attorney fees even though the District’s lawyer made enough money on the mediation alone to buy a small yacht.

5. Parents are prohibited from speaking about the terms of this agreement, even to each other, on pain of death.

6. The parties understand that this entire mediation means nothing since the State Department of Education has not provided any means for enforcement of this agreement.

District staff will then emerge from their segregated room, well-fed and happy, shake the parents’ hands, and remind the mediator that he promised to meet them for dinner at 6:00.

The mediation is officially over when the parents feel as though the “The Wheels on the Bus” have just rolled over them.

My Law Practice

Several years ago, I must have sustained a major head injury (so bad I can’t remember it) because I suddenly came home one day and told my husband I wanted to open my own law practice. At the time, my husband thought this sounded like a good idea primarily because he only actually hears little pieces of the things I tell him (“Honey, I’m…open…to…practice.”) Consequently, it was a big surprise to him when he discovered that what we had previously considered our “supplemental income” became our “no income.”

However, not wishing to quash (that’s “quash”) my entrepreneurial spirit, my beloved encouraged me to follow my dream of representing the poor and downtrodden. Besides, in his innocence, my husband believed that though the trodden may be down, they are not all necessarily poor, and that I could make a living this way.

After three years, I have finally managed to establish a name for myself in the community. My clients know when they come to me that I will bill them at one of the following billing rates:

Rate No. 1: Amount Much Less Than My Actual Billing Rate

Rate No 2: Amount Really Far Below My Actual Billing Rate

Rate No. 3: 0

Sometimes this can become a little confusing as in the instance where I mistakenly offered to pay the client for the representation and they hung up and immediately obtained an unlisted phone number.

The Bar Association, which strongly encourages attorneys to accept cases pro bono (Billing Rate No. 3), has even been kind enough to send someone to my office who explained that they really didn’t mean for me to take it so to heart and that occasionally I could accept a paying client.

As you can imagine, my practice is extremely busy. I even began working with a partner, but when I showed her my billing practices, her husband insisted they pick up and move to Arizona.

There are times, I am sorry to say, when attorneys working for The Other Side who are billing $50,000 per hour try to take advantage of those situations where I am billing at Rate No. 3. I will see them, evilly looking at their watches at what should be a 1 hour meeting, and then stretching it into the equivalent of the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

How these people know the rate I am not charging is a mystery to me and I am considering having my phone lines checked.

Another problem I encountered as a sole practitioner is that of actually sending out the bills. Because of the nature of my practice, that is, that I don’t make any money, I cannot afford to hire anyone to do my billing.

It was this problem that made me realize I actually do have a brain injury because even though I don’t get paid unless I send out a bill, I absolutely hate doing it. As a result, by the time many of my clients receive my bill, they have retired and can no longer remember their own names, much less mine. These clients must then be placed squarely among those being charged at Rate No. 3.

Now that my dream has become a reality, I have achieved that certain sense of fulfillment that only comes when you know you are helping people, and are incredibly poor.

My husband, in an effort to help me appreciate all that I have accomplished, suggested that we use my income to underwrite our next vacation. This will mean, of course, that we will spend it on the concrete slab in our backyard, which we call “the patio,” watching ants scurry in and out of the cracks.

But it will be worth it to say, “I did it My Way.”

Parents and Kids

Before you read this article, you should be warned. If you are among those humor- challenged individuals who believe THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT DISABILITIES, then I urge you to stop now and go back to biting your nails down to your elbows.

I understand how you feel.

When my child was born, and we found out that he had special needs, I was seriously bummed. I know that if anyone had suggested there was anything funny about this situation I would have called them callous and unfeeling and burst into a torrent of hysterical tears.

As the years passed, I began to realize that my child actually provided me with some pretty funny moments. For example, I recall one year when I took my son to the pediatrician for his annual checkup. The nurse asked my son to pee in a cup. As I waited outside the bathroom door, my son called to me to get him another cup. I couldn’t imagine that this might be necessary so I asked him why. He replied, very naturally, “Because this one is full.”

As an advocate for other parents, I have also had opportunity to observe the antics of both families and school districts, and all these folks provide me with hours of amusement. Unfortunately, this amusement has not been accompanied by large amounts of money (and sometimes no money) so I don’t know how long I can afford to continue laughing about this.

Anyway, if you believe that this subject matter is NOT APPROPRIATE for humorous treatment, please do not read any further. Oh, and by the way, you’d better not call me. I doubt we would hit it off.

Parents

There are 2 kinds of parents of disabled children: moms and dads. There is a very important distinction between these types and one could never be confused with the other.

Moms

As moms, we are usually seen as crazed lunatics, a characterization I consider to be grossly unfair. We are actually crazed obsessive lunatics and consider it an unpardonable offense for anyone to discuss anything with us other than those matters that concern our disabled children.

Moms of disabled children invariably find one another, primarily because no one else can tolerate us. I am always amused when people describe my son as being “perseverative.” At least he lets go after a while, while I can go on and on long after anyone has demonstrated any ongoing interest in my subject matter. The friendships formed by moms serve the necessary purpose of allowing us to feed our obsession by constant discussion of our favorite topic at all sporting events or any other work related or social occasion where conversation is present. (We do try to refrain while in theaters, for example).

Moms are easily identifiable because they are always engaged in one of the following activities:

  • talking on the phone to another mom of a disabled child;
  • reading the Catherine Maurice book;
  • spending hours of time online where they communicate with other moms and obtain vast quantities of information about their child.

Of course, these activities necessarily take Mom away from spending any actual time with her child, or other children if she has them. But she is happy because she is convinced that what she is doing is even more valuable.

Dads

Dads play an interesting role in this milieu. They do not feel the same need to spend every waking hour of their lives focusing on this child because, after all, they never thought anything was different about this child anyway. They are always telling people that they were just exactly like that as a kid.

Mom knows this to be true because she has always secretly told everyone in the universe that the child’s disability had to come from his father’s family.

Dad is pretty happy to let this child do as he pleases. Dad does not mind when Johnny is brushing the turtle’s teeth because Johnny is GENERALIZING the skills he has learned in school, and besides, its football season. Of course, Dad is in serious trouble with Mom because he has failed to notice the trail of toothpaste plastered in every upstairs room, all of which will now be used to decorate Dad’s pillow.

As parents, we all know the financial commitment we must make in order to pay for all the services our child requires and which will never be covered by insurance no matter how many times we switch companies. I am amazed, however, at the money families will throw at the many varied and sometimes esoteric therapies, some of which were developed for no other purpose except to give us something else to throw our money at. These include things like:

  • The Miller Method
  • ABA
  • DTT
  • AIT
  • DDT
  • ZZ Top
  • Swimming with Dolphins
  • Running with Bulls
  • Fast Forward
  • Ass Backward, and
  • The Lawrence Welk Method.

This last therapy involves teaching the child to communicate through really geeky music and dance. It has been around for years but is only now being rediscovered, primarily in New Jersey and California.

Kids

Poking fun at kids with disabilities is a chancy thing. But some of the things these guys do are hilarious.

I remember a recent episode involving my son when I received the dreaded CALL FROM SCHOOL. This is every parent’s worst nightmare because we know it means our child has done something horribly inappropriate such as emerging from the locker room into the swim area without a bathing suit.

In this instance, the principal called to inform me that my 12-year-old son had cornered an 8-year-old girl in the coatroom.

” Oh no,” I thought, “Here it comes-sexual harassment, lawsuits, humiliation (again).”

She then told me that my son got into this child’s face and told her that she “must vote for Al Gore.”

Though I did not want to diminish the gravity of this offense, I burst out laughing.

This is expected behavior for my son who loves the election process. Besides, I was relieved because his speech was protected by the First Amendment.

I especially like it when kids respond, in kind, to the way they are treated in school. One client, a child with somewhat limited communication skills, was coming home every day from school with notes such as:

Johnny said “shit” 5 times today and “Goddammit” to his aide 10 times.

Of course the parents think this is a hoot and encourage Johnny because they know he is ably expressing their own beliefs that this child’s teachers have the combined brain activity of an eggplant.

Another child, Ben, also with very limited communication, was still able to eloquently express his feelings about his teachers and class as revealed in the following series of notes:

12/1 Ben attempted to bite 5 times and scratched the teacher 5 times.

12/2 Ben tore the teacher’s clothes and hit her 5 times.

12/3 Ben punched the teacher’s lights out today and wrestled his aide to the ground with a bear hug.

12/4 Ben won the National Boxing and Wrestling Titles today. Please do not send him to school tomorrow.

Actually, Ben is my hero. He loves the opera, the three wise men, Emeril (“Bam” says Ben), and country music. He also went through a Stooges period. Despite his deficits, Ben is the cultural elite of his family.

One thing we all know is that these kids all run circles around us.

As my son frequently says to me when he knows he is in trouble, “But Mom, it’s not my fault. I have a disability.” Yeah

The IEP

One of the things I find most amusing about being both a parent and an attorney for families is the IEP process. This process begins when your child is first evaluated as A CHILD WITH A DISABILITY.

The Invitation

Your school district, in an ongoing effort to remind you of the incredibly small role moms and dads play in this process, will start by sending you an “Invitation” to attend your child’s IEP meeting. Of course, the parents are the only ones on the team who receive such an invitation, as though the district expects that you may politely decline and simply send a gift instead. Some more affluent districts will include a statement on the bottom such as “Sandwiches and tea will be served.”

The IEP Meeting

When you appear for the meeting, you will again be reminded of the peripheral nature of your participation when you discover that the school has rented a small baseball stadium to accommodate all the members of your child’s team. You are the only ones who are not in the employ of the district.

Moreover, all district personnel are seated on full size chairs while you are left to sit on the little plastic children’s chairs made by Fisher Price.

The members of the TEAM will fix their collective glare on you because you had the gall to have this child at all, and look how many people are inconvenienced by this.

The IEP

The first order of business is to READ THE IEP. This is a necessary feature of every IEP meeting because school districts are of the firm belief that no parent of a disabled child has ever learned how to read.

This activity serves the added purposes of assuring that parents don’t have a chance to speak, and of consuming the full 45 minutes allotted for the meeting. You will then be asked to reschedule at a time that is designed to be as inconvenient for you as possible, such as next year on Christmas.

The Beliefs & Assumptions

I have found that one of the main areas of difference between parents and school personnel involves the level of the child’s programming.

Parents usually believe their children are capable of reaching greater heights than the district has programmed for in the child’s IEP. Whenever this happens, the district will discreetly remind these parents that the CHILD HAS A DISABILITY. These reminders are usually accomplished by having the special education director make this statement at regular 30-second intervals, or by simply using a megaphone.

Districts feel these methods are unfortunate but necessary because if they do not constantly remind parents that the CHILD HAS A DISABILITY, parents will forget.

The school psychologist will tell you that she “knows how painful this is,” at which point you will have no alternative but to smack her. No one will care, however, because it is obvious that she has forgotten to take her meds.

Once parents are successfully assured that they are the intellectual equivalents of plants, the other TEAM members will then happily agree upon all goals, objectives, services, and placement and the meeting will conclude.

The Future Planning Statement

The Department of Education recently designed an especially torturous device for IEPs called the Future Planning Statement. This Statement purports to allow the parents an opportunity to say where they see their child in the future.

The Future Planning Statement is completely nonbinding on the District and serves no purpose other than to create an emotional outburst from parents who have no desire to speculate about their child’s future in front of this unfriendly crowd, or anywhere else for that matter.

I always advise my clients to tell the district they envision their child attending Harvard Medical School-starting tomorrow. This usually sets an appropriate tone for the remainder for the meeting, and may help to avoid some of the pitfalls discussed above.