Tag Archives: Children

Can School Districts Really Ignore Students Who Need Help?

On Disability Scoop this morning, there was an article on school districts and their obligation to identify students with special needs under the “child find” clause of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  But this school district (in Compton, CA) was more worried about being liable for  “educational malpractice” than getting this student help. This case was about a girl who was promoted to 11th grade after testing below the 1st percentile level and who performed at less than a 4th grade level as a 10th grader. Counselors and teachers noted issues, but no one ever suggested she get evaluated.

Yes, budgets are tight; yes, there are many students who need help, but what are we educating our children for, if not to get an education and not just be shunted through school, grade after grade even though there are signs of trouble.

School District’s can’t ignore students who may need Special Ed services and then claim they had no duty to notify the parents. In this case, “[t]he School District asserts that, because it chose to ignore Addison’s disabilities and take no action, it has not affirmatively refused to act. The School District therefore contends that the notice requirement does not apply… We reject this argument.” Thankfully, the 9th Circuit rejected this argument outright. Frankly, I don’t know how that school district made that argument with a straight face – “we ignored it so we have no duty to notify the parents of an issue???” Really? If that were true, school districts would ignore every issue and claim no duty to do anything about it. THE Court went on to say, “[t]he School District’s wilful inaction in the face of numerous “red flags” is more than sufficient to demonstrate its unwillingness and refusal to evaluate Addison.”

There are many reasons the signs may be missed that a child need special ed services – but something seems off, you just can’t put your finger on it. Sometimes their performance (or lack thereof) may be attributed to behavioral issues or to something the child will grow out of. At the end of the day, we all (the parents, the child, the School Districts, and society as a whole) have a vested interest in educating every child. This case was decided on the pleadings, meaning that facts weren’t presented, that means there aren’t a lot of factual details presented.

The few facts that are mentioned in the case directly: “Addison’s mother was reluctant to have the child “looked at,” and School District officials decided not to “push.” Instead, the School District referred Addison to a third-party mental-health counselor. The third-party counselor recommended that the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. Despite the recommendation, the School District did not refer Addison for an educational assessment, and instead promoted Addison to eleventh grade.

In September 2004, Addison’s mother wrote a letter to the School District explicitly requesting an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting. The assessment took place on December 8, 2004. The IEP team determined that Addison was eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005.”

There are many lessons to be learned in this case — put requests in writing, find out your rights as parents (read the handbook that the school district hands you), don’t trust that school districts or school administrators know the law,  inform yourself and don’t stop asking questions about how your child is going to be helped, specifically.

What I find most fascinating in this case is that the Supreme Court is requesting the Obama administration to weigh in on the situation. I think the Supreme Court is capable enough to balance public policy needs versus what the law plainly says and requires.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please share them in the comments.

You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

Am I Really a Special Ed Advocate?

Having a child with special needs or special ed requirements can be disappointing, overwhelming, and unexpected. But, as you will discover (or already have discovered), your child needs you. Your child needs you to advocate for them with many people who do not have your interests or your child’s interest in mind. Your child needs you to have their best interest in mind at all times. Your child needs you. Period.

1. Get Over Yourself

I don’t mean to be or sound harsh with this advice of “get over yourself” because you will need to do just that to advocate for your child and his/her needs. I’m not sure how my section title ended up in this giant font size, but I decided to leave it that way because this is the big one; this is the difficult one. This one you have to do before you can do anything else. Get. Over. Yourself. It may take months or years of denial before you accept the role of your child’s advocate, but you will need to accept your advocacy role to do what is best for your child. If you find yourself asking “why me?” or “why my child?” types of questions, you fit squarely in this category. You may need to do some soul searching and acceptance of the situation before moving on. Once you have accepted that your role is being an advocate for your child’s needs and education, you can focus on educating yourself and making decisions about what is best for your child.

2. Educate Yourself

My husband and I spent an enormous amount of time educating ourselves about special ed and the special ed process, but there are so many things that we didn’t know, still don’t know, and probably, don’t want to know. But, in order to help our children, we needed to educate ourselves about the needs of our children and the special ed process within the school district. Thankfully, with the internet it is much easier to find information, people, resources and medical treatment or doctors. We attended seminars and conferences, asked many questions of our doctors, did a ton of reading, but it is still a learning process. Three resources that are extremely helpful in getting started in your own education are:

  1. Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings
  2. You Gotta Know the Rules If You’re Gonna Play the Game
  3. Ten Related Services For an IEP You May Not Know About

A word of explanation about these recommendations — One of the most helpful items I ran across was a list of the top 10 mistakes people make with IEP meetings. We certainly have made our share of those! Another article that is very helpful is one that my friend Grace Tiscareno-Sato wrote on knowing the rules of the game. These are just two examples of the type of information that is out there. Take the time to find this type of information and educate yourself – it will definitely be time (and money, in some cases) well spent!

3. Decide What is Best for You and Your Child

You are your child’s own best advocate. You know your child the best, you spend the most time with them – use all of that knowledge, reflect on it, and then decide what is best for you and your child. This acknowledgement even ended up on one mom’s top 10 list of things she learned from having a special needs child. I had lunch with a friend who I wanted to introduce to a special ed advocate, and after the lunch she said “You are right. I am the person who knows my son the best. I have to stop letting others decide for me.” You decide what services are appropriate for your child – there are many to choose from and you may not even know about them. Don’t let school districts, special ed directors, doctors, or anyone else decide for you. Use what they have to say as one piece of information you consider in making decisions, but don’t let them tell you what to do or decide for you.

No parent sets out to become a special ed advocate when their child is born, but that’s what happens when you find out your child has special needs or requires special ed services. Accept it, educate yourself, and do the best you can for your child.

If you have other advice to share about special ed advocacy or your experiences with it, please leave a comment.

You Twit Face

My middle son turned 10 last night (and I have no idea where the last decade went…) and at dinner, or maybe it was when he was opening presents, he told us a joke, which is unusual for Bryce. We were in the middle of coming up with trios of names for our three new kittens. We looked at Sega character names, car names, black cat names like Blackie, Shadow, or Licorice, and National Park Names that we didn’t use on our own kids. Bryce said Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter. My husband thought he was suggesting those as a trio of cat names. But after a few minutes Bryce clarified that he was actually trying to tell a joke. Once we all settled down and stopped laughing about those names, which would quickly become obsolete, as company names and as cat names, Bryce told his joke, which went something like this: you know You Tube, Facebook and Twitter are all going to merge, right? What is the newly merged company going to be called — wait for it…

You Twit Face.

I found it especially funny considering all three of my kids, even the 8 year old, are masters at programming the phones, the remotes, and finding apps (like the farting sound app and the gunshot app) for their new iPod touches (that they saved for and bought with their own allowances). The fact that all three of them knew about those companies was interesting in and of itself. None of them have their own accounts on any of these websites, but you can find me or Greg on each one of those websites. The kids do spend a fair amount of time perusing funny cat videos on You Tube and now that we have our own, they want to make their own cat videos. Yesterday, the first full day of having all three kittens, started with the sleek black kitten, temporarily known as Runner, playing the piano. Instead of internet company names, we ended up with a tentative consensus of using car names for the cats: Jaguar (see the  ladder picture above), Tesla (the one on the left on the ladder), and Maserati (see the picture on the far left; the names Mustang and Tiger haven’t been discarded for him yet), and now the cats have all been claimed by one of the kids as their own.