- Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 16:20
- Published on Wednesday, 17 November 2010 16:20
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This story is being written to document the educational regression of a 14-year-old student at King George County High School. It will be written as a series of articles. I am writing it in the hopes the people of this county will stand up and demand answers. Our Special Education system is broken. As evidenced by our recent AYP failures, the Special Ed Department is failing our children. These failures will continue until we care enough to demand changes. The story you are about to read is about one child; I have no way of knowing how many other children are affected. I am going to try and save that one child. The people of King George will need to stand up together to save the rest.
Bobby is 14 years old. I have known him since he was 5. He is a bright, beautiful, loving, young man. He can run like the wind. He can swim. He is clever and funny and sweet. He loves baseball and currently holds his team’s record for the most double plays in a single game. He is the apple of his mama’s eye and everyone who meets him instantly loves him. Bobby is in trouble and it might be too late to save him. He has been left behind.
Bobby has Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are born with an extra chromosome. Learning delays and speech impediments are common. Down syndrome is sometimes fatal, but if the kids live past their first birthday, most can live a normal life span. Many are born with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. Some of these kids are born with physical problems like low muscle tone, heart problems and hearing problems. Bobby was different. He had a mild hearing deficit and an intellectual delay, but otherwise he was OK. He has always been athletic. Remember that kid Corky from the TV show, “Life Goes On”? That’s what I always hoped for Bobby. When he was 7 years old he would read books to me. He could write words in a journal. He knew his address and his phone number. Even at 7, his handwriting was perfect. He doesn’t speak clearly so he calls me “goats” (coach). I have loved Bobby since the first day we met.
In addition to winning the chromosome lottery, Bobby is from a poor family. His dad is disabled and his mom works three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. I have always admired her willingness to work so hard. Bobby has a younger brother and sister. They are ordinary, garden-variety kids. When Bobby was born his mom was only 22 years old. At the hospital, they never actually told her Bobby had Down syndrome. They handed her a pamphlet on Down syndrome and sent her home with her son. Maybe because she didn’t know what else to do, she taught him to walk, how to feed himself and a few basic words. He was potty trained and sent off to school. By beating the odds and surviving, Bobby was on his way. He had a chance. Unfortunately, fate was still conspiring against him. After everything else he had to overcome, Bobby officially became a Special Education student in the King George County Schools. That may prove to be his biggest handicap.
Last year I taught Bobby to swim. This year Bobby won three gold medals for his swimming at the Special Olympics summer games. I was astonished at his abilities. He started ninth grade this year so I thought it might be a good idea to sign him up for the high school swim team. Why not? There are no rules against it. I talked to the swimming coach, she was open to the idea and I asked Ken Novell to work with Bobby to improve his endurance and speed. Since September, we have met with Bobby at the KG YMCA every day. We worked in the weight room and in the water. That’s when I started to notice Bobby wasn’t talking much, and he couldn’t seem to read like he used to, not even basic words. I talked with his mom and she said he had regressed a lot since he started seventh grade. So I did something I swore I would never do. I asked to see his IEP (Individual Education Plan). Every Special Education student needs an IEP to ensure they get the free and appropriate public education demanded by law. This document is designed by teachers, administrators, service providers and parents to make sure the child gets whatever he or she needs to help them learn
As a coach of kids with special needs I had often heard parents discussing the dreaded IEP. I always avoided those conversations. I never wanted to get involved. I didn’t need to. I thought IEPs were about disabilities and I’ve always tried to focus on the abilities of the kids I coached. I told myself I didn’t need to look at an IEP to do my job. Truthfully, I was afraid. At baseball practice, whenever a parent would mention they had an upcoming IEP meeting, the other parents would circle around; they would speak in hushed tones and comfort each other as if someone had died. Sometimes one parent would make the mistake of asking another parent about something that happened in an IEP meeting, usually there was screaming, howling and gnashing of teeth. Occasionally, there was cussing. I am a chicken, so I ran away. Whenever the parents were in IEP discussions I would grab the kids and we would hide in the dugout pretending to talk about baseball until the storm passed. And so I was spared, until I did the unthinkable and asked to see Bobby’s IEP.
I was still a little afraid as I opened the envelope. I gave myself a mental head slap and started reading. How bad could it be?
You will be stunned by how bad it actually was. Here are just a few of the things I found.
The prior written notice to the parents that a meeting was going to be held was dated the same day as the meeting itself. The meeting was allegedly held the same day as open house at the high school. Fifteen minutes after the alleged meeting started, the completed IEP was handed to the person who brought Bobby to open house because his mom couldn’t be there. She had called to tell the school she couldn’t bring Bobby. She tried to make an appointment to bring him at a different time, but she was unsuccessful. She works for the school division. The day of the open house, when the meeting she didn’t know about was supposed to occur, she was at work.
Several pages were missing from the IEP. There is no services page. It appeared Bobby’s services were reduced. His speech therapy changed from one time per week, to two times per month “at a monitor level.” I guess that means someone can just look at him once in a while and determine he still can’t talk but doesn’t need anyone to help him fix it.
IEPs ordinarily define what a child will be expected to learn (goals) and what the short-term measures of success (objectives) should be. Here are some verbatim examples from Bobby’s IEP. All of the misspellings and other errors are exactly as they appear in the actual document except where I underlined sections for emphasis.
There are more than 50 spelling and grammatical errors in the current IEP.
Annual goal: Transition.
“By 6/16/2011, Robert will be exploring different job types, by the PAES Program and CO-OP program offered through the school, to be able to figure out what job skills she will need to best suit her job interests when she turns 22 years of age and leaves KGHS”
“By 06/16/2011, Robert will demonstrate understanding of and basic use of vocabulary from themed units acheiving 90% accuracy consistently”.
“Bobby is functioning well below his age level. However he has show steady progress this year.”
“On 09/02/2010 Robert was asking to fill out and answer questions on the getting to know you interview sheet.”
There are actually two things wrong with that last statement. 1.) Bobby can’t read. How was he going to fill out anything? 2.) The print date for that statement was 08/31/2010, how did the teacher know what he did two days before he allegedly did it?
The IEP had been checked by whoever checks those things. I don’t know who because it wasn’t signed. We know it was checked because there is an item marked addendum that tells the teacher what needs to be fixed. Whoever did the checking apparently didn’t care that the dates were wrong, the spelling was atrocious, most of the goals were vague and had no corresponding objectives, or that Bobby was referred to as a girl.
After reading Bobby’s IEP, I didn’t know whether to cry, scream or throw up. So I did all three. I immediately realized this was beyond my skill set. I didn’t have a clue how to proceed. This is a legal document. Without a proper IEP, Bobby might never learn how to read or how to communicate his basic needs.
Bobby’s IEP has to include things like “functional reading” and “functional math.” If those things are left out, he can be warehoused in a room with some of the most severely disabled kids in the system, where, if he is lucky, he will get to paste macaroni to a paper plate and color every day. At least until he turns 22. Then he will be sent home, not having learned anything, and not because he was too disabled but because his mom did not know she had to demand that he be taught.
Bobby’s mom had always made the mistake of thinking they would just teach him, because that’s what schools do. She thought they would know what needed to be done and do it. She was wrong. Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do isn’t the law. We don’t owe Bobby anything that the IEP doesn’t stipulate. If she wants anything beyond feeding him lunch and keeping him locked up and safe for the school day, she has to ask for it. If she doesn’t know what to ask for, or she does know, but doesn’t make a formal request for it, Bobby ain’t getting it. That’s how the game is played.
As you can see, this is important stuff; obviously, I needed help.
I started calling people. I called teachers, parents, friends, advocates and anyone else I could think of. At first, everyone’s reaction was the same as mine. As expected, there was screaming, howling, gnashing of teeth and cussing. I heard things like, “they can’t do that, it’s against the law”, “forget it, it’s KG, that’s how they are,” “do you know a good lawyer?” A Special Education teacher and friend of mine, with a Ph.D. said, “This is the worst IEP I have ever seen.”
In fairness, a former teacher did say, “Services cost a lot of money, maybe they didn’t have the money to give him the services he needed.” She was kind of right. Services do cost money, but by law they can’t be denied because of a lack of money. In case you didn’t know, the federal government subsidizes school divisions to help offset the costs of special education services. And since Bobby started school, the King George County School Board has returned unspent funds in excess of $5,000,000. In that time, the KG Board of Supervisors has never, not once, ever, denied a transfer of funds to Special Education. I don’t think this mess can be blamed on a lack of funding.
I was just getting more confused and angry, so I started shopping around for a professional who could help. I had heard about SEME (Special Education Made Easy) Educational Consulting. SEME is owned and operated by Lisa Wilson Gidcumb, former Supervisor of Special Education for King George County Schools. I sent her a copy of the offending IEP. I was thinking she would read the documents, tell me how awful they were, wish me luck, and send me on my way. Instead she called me right away. She was calm and rational. She didn’t scream, howl or cuss. She just said, “I’m in. We need to call an IEP meeting immediately. Bobby needs to be evaluated so we can get this fixed.”
Bobby’s mom contacted the teacher and asked if we could have Bobby evaluated. The teacher responded, “If you want Bobby evaluated, he will need a new IEP meeting.”
We have scheduled an IEP meeting. I will update you next week.
Special to The Journal